Flag use, here and there

After our 6K walk, the girls and I talked over pizza. One said that a friend of hers, who now lives in Florida, was shocked at American nationalism, with all its flag-waving. So I tried to set her straight. I told her that it took a lot more to make me start thinking of out-of-control nationalists than the use of the stars-and-stripes.

Americans use their flag and its pattern of stars and stripes for everything. Sometimes tastelessly so. I’m not charmed by seeing the star-spangled banner as a pair of Speedos. But that does show that the threshold for displaying the flag or its pattern is relatively low in the US – relative to Norway.

Norway displays the flag only on flag days – or birthdays. You can always tell when one of my neighbors has a birthday because a flag will be displayed on their balcony. I have, however, never seen garments that look like the Norwegian flag. The other time I see the Norwegian flag in use, is at Christmas; the Norwegians make garlands out of little paper flags and decorate their tree with that. It’s a habit that got its significance after five years of German occupation – and the ban on displaying the Norwegian flag or colors – came to an end. (Liberation or VE Day is on May 8 in Norway, and it’s a flag day; I took a picture.)

With the exception of soccer fans abroad, who paint their faces and bodies like the flag, I don’t see the Norwegians displaying the flag or its colors outside of the above-mentioned traditional uses. Norwegians do not dress up in the red-white-and-blue for their National Day (May 17), but prefer the traditional striped ribbon pinned to a lapel. Most flag poles fly a banner with the blue-and-white stripe on red based on the flag on non-flag days, and that’s it. Some Norwegians have even protested the new license plates which display an icon of the Norwegian flag, requesting plates without the icon.

Americans, on the other hand, make garments and hats and shoes and furniture and what-have-you based on white stars on a dark blue base and red and white stripes, and will often wear those colors on the US’s Independence Day on July 4 (I know I did). And any other occassion where one wants to display pride in flag and country. And Americans do display, even on license plates, or permanently waving from their home, or as refrigerator magnets. This is why I don’t worry about the level of patriotism in an American sporting the stars-and-stripes.

The most noticeable difference for me is illustrated by two anniversaries: The US’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, and Norway’s centennial in 2005. Throughout 1976, US stores displayed historical or patriotic or just lots of red-white-and-blue in their windows. Regular stores in Norway didn’t do anything like that in 2005.

By Keera Ann Fox

I am a bi-lingual American who has lived most of my life in Norway.
Jeg er en tospråklig amerikaner som har bodd mesteparten av mitt liv i Norge.

5 replies on “Flag use, here and there”

Yeah, Americans do love their flag. Canadians don\’t have the same kind of relationship with our flag. Probably because our nation has never been truly threatened. I hope we\’re always able to be so casual about it.


a Norwegian was \”shocked\” that US is different than Norway? I am shocked that she was shocked. Also lutefisk will never be as popular as sushi, get a grip, and Norway will never be as important as US or Japan for the sake of argument here. These are facts. No offense. Get real. Nationalism is not about flag, it\’s mentality, and Norway truly stands out, sideways.


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