America’s Patriotic Songs: What Not to Do If You’re British

Hats on hearts. (Photo: AP Photo/Francis Gardler)

Hats on hearts. (Photo: AP Photo/Francis Gardler)

As most Brits know, the U.S. national anthem is “The Star Spangled Banner.” The lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key and set to a popular British song, “The Anacreontic Song.” (Bet you didn’t know that bit.) It became the official anthem in 1931 and is dearly beloved by most Americans. So much so that it’s played all the time, which comes as something of a shock to newly landed Brits. (OK, not all the time, but a lot.)

Most sports games, big and small, will begin with a rendition of the anthem, a practice that started at the first game of the 1918 baseball World Series. As per the Flag Rules, everyone stands and faces the flag (or the music, if there’s no flag); men remove their caps and place them over their hearts while the hatless of both sexes place their hands on their hearts. It is considered extremely disrespectful not to stand for the anthem, although I’ve never been chastised for not doing the hand-on-heart thing. (No disrespect, but it’s a little bit schmaltzy for this Brit.) The anthem actually has four verses but people rarely get past the first. It might be an idea to learn the lyrics if you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb.

A few other songs often replace, or are sung as well as, the anthem at solemn events. My personal favorite is “America, the Beautiful” (that’s the one with “From sea to shining sea” in it). Apparently, because it has the same meter as “Auld Lang Syne,” you can switch out the lyrics; let me know if it works.

God Bless America” is commonly sung during the seventh inning stretch at baseball games, unless you’re somewhere like Chicago’s Wrigley Field and then it’s “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” (another beloved song). If you’re at a game when “God Bless America” starts up, don’t, whatever you do, go to the loo or remain seated. Bradford Campeau Laurian found out the hard way by getting ejected from Yankee Stadium when attempting to visit the men’s room during the song. Some claim that he was ejected because of his drunken condition, but the ensuing legal case established the rule that fans at Yankee Stadium are now allowed to go potty during the song. (I told you they take these songs seriously.)

Tired of listening to “God Bless America” (which he thought unrealistic and complacent apparently), Woody Guthrie wrote and published “This Land is Your Land” in 1945. You may know this one as it’s been covered by almost as many artists as “My Way”, including Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Seekers, Springsteen and the Counting Crows. It was also performed at President Obama’s inaugural celebration in 2009. Oh, and Man. United F.C. fans have a version entitled “This Badge is Your Badge”.

One song that Brits will be sort of familiar with is “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, if only because they nicked our “God Save the Queen” melody. Be careful if you join in on this side of the Pond however; if carried away, it’s very easy to inadvertently belt out the royal version and make a complete fool of yourself.

Having recently gone through an Olympics, a Jubilee, a Royal wedding and the safe delivery of a future king, we Brits are arguably more demonstrative about our patriotism, but we still have nothing on Americans. They take their country, their flag and their patriotic songs seriously and aren’t embarrassed to show it. Tittering, rolling eyes and other British reactions to such emotive displays are deeply disrespectful and if you get a beer poured on your head while sitting through the anthem at a baseball game, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

See more:
10 Places Brits Love to Live in America
10 Things Americans Do That Drive Brits Nuts

Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.

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  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

    I find it difficult to believe that someone would be kicked out for going to the toilet during any song. What if he was ill? Never heard of such a thing.

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

      I know…but they actually had a rule (which this event reversed) that you weren’t allowed to leave during the anthem.

      • dw

        In the old days, “God Save The Queen/King” was played at the beginning of every concert in Britain. Everyone had to stand. I don’t know when this custom stopped, but I have some recordings from the 1930s that demonstrate it.

        • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Expat Mum

          Probably when rock n’ roll came along. LOL

        • Mike S

          Queen used to close their concerts with it.

          Iron Maiden opted to go with “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” instead…..

      • MrGoodmorning

        They were playing God Bless America. That is not the national anthem. Regardless though, that rule was the antithesis what I think it means to be an American. To quote Roger Williams: “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils”

        • frozen01

          That is a brilliant quote, and I completely agree.

          I also have a problem with what a lot of stadiums are doing lately with veterans. They’ll parade them around, and everyone is required to stand and clap (or face the wrath of a nearby drunk). It has absolutely nothing to do with the veterans, though; it’s all about making the attendees feel better about themselves, even when they turn a blind eye to the mental disorders, homelessness, and unemployment that our returning troops face.

  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

    “Bradford Campeau-Laurion, who was thrown out of Yankee Stadium last year after trying to hit the head midtune.” – Hilarious. Gotta love the NYP.

  • dw

    “Land of Hope and Glory” is repeated over and over ad nauseam at graduation ceremonies, while the graduands walk up to receive their certificates. No words, just the instrumental parts. It’s the weirdest experience.

    • Cyn2

      Because what is played is Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1,” which used the tune of “Land of Hope and Glory.” Why it became the de facto graduation march here in the US, I’ve no idea.

      • dw

        Well, Elgar composed the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in 1901. The future Edward VII heard the melody and asked Elgar to fit words to it for his coronation in 1902. The lyrics of “Land of Hope and Glory” were then written by Arthur Benson and used at the coronation.

        According to Wikipedia, the use at US graduations originated when Elgar was awarded an honorary doctorate at Yale in 1905.

  • JP

    About the hand-on-heart business: only US citizens are supposed to do that, so it’s unlikely anyone will question you if you don’t. They’ll just assume that you’re a foreigner.

  • Time Turner

    You stay standing for respect for the flag. It’s not that difficult, people…

  • Tony

    Always stand for the national anthem. Never go to the bathroom during it. Never, ever talk to the person beside you during it. Respectfully face the flag and think, for a few moments, how great of a country you are standing in. These simple actions, among others, is what sets America apart. Not only that, but the kids are taught the same things from infancy. Nothing barbaric or violent or religiously indoctrinated. Simply, love and devotion toward country. God bless.

    • Irené Colthurst

      Haha. Pardon me, but as someone who knows the actual history behind what became the song we Americans now *call* “The Star Spangled Banner”, the mere idea of any Brit doing as you suggest is … amusing.

      Google “In Defence of Fort McHenry” and you realize that really the most appropriate reaction is some uniquely British combination of indignation and chagrin.

    • dw

      You think the USA is the only country where people “respectfully face the flag”??

    • MrGoodmorning

      The man kicked out of Yankee stadium wasn’t going to the bathroom during the Star Spangled Banner, he was going during God Bless America, which is not the national anthem.

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  • Jmt

    Take Me Out to the Ballgame is played at every major league park during the seventh inning stretch. I’ve never been to a professional baseball game of any level here in California where it wasn’t played. Playing God Bless America as well is a recent tradition that was created after 9/11. At San Francisco Giants games and many others, God Bless America is only played on Sundays.

    • msupp

      I’ve been to Wrigley Field many times, and I’m almost positive that God Bless America is not played. But in most, it is played in conjunction with take me out to the ball game.

  • bill reeves

    1. I occasionally belt out God Save the Queen rather than the ’tis of thee’ because it’s more interesting. But remember, I’m an American and we like to stick out. That Ancreatic (sp?) thing is new to me though – I wonder what its lyrics are…
    2. In my neck of the American woods denying one the right to salute the flag/anthem in your own way, even at the urinal is a violation of our sacred civil rights. Leave it to New Yorkers to take away our freedoms. Tyrants.

    • dw

      Lyrics here. They probably make more sense after a few pints.

  • Jim Cofer

    Yeah, uh… “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is played during the seventh inning stretch at EVERY baseball park I’ve ever been to, ever, including minor league games.

    Some teams play other songs IN ADDITION TO “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and some might play these only on certain days, like Sundays or holidays. But they’ll ALWAYS play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

  • Alexandra Weitershausen

    As many Americans know only a few of the words for these patriotic songs (I’m an American, and freely admit that the only song I definitely know the words to is “The Star Spangled Banner”…and only the first verse), no one will mind if you just stand there and hum along. Frankly, most people will assume you either don’t know the words or are hiding an inability to sing.

  • oeb25

    The ONLY thing ever sung during the 7th inning stretch is “take me out to the ballgame.”

  • katherine

    RIGHT HAND ONLY OVER HEART

  • None

    My last comments were deleted. Well, we Americans are pretty darn demonstrative, I’ll have you know!

  • None

    This is BS

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