Unrivaled National Pride in the US

American National Pride

Unrivaled National Pride in the US compared to France or Germany

After two weeks traveling through Canada and Québec, I can’t help but notice that there is a notable difference compared to the United States. The Americans have unrivaled pride for their flag unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world.

Canada celebrated its national holiday on July 1st. July 4th is Independence Day, the American national holiday, and on July 14th we celebrated the French national holiday.

Canada Day celebrates the country’s creation in 1867.

The American Independence Day celebrates the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776.

For good measure, and because I hold both French and German citizenship, I’ll include the German national holiday which is October 3. Germany celebrates the reunification of West Germany with East Germany.

I would say that these events are just as symbolic as the 1789 storming of the Bastille in Paris. However, only the Americans fervently celebrate their national holiday.

Overflowed stores

In the United States, even a few weeks before July 4, the stores are overflowing with products displaying the colors of the American flag. But I didn’t see anything similar when I arrived in Ontario. Only a small pallet in a Walmart alluded to Canada Day with a few items in the Canadian colors of red and white, with the maple leaf.

When I came to the United States in 2013, I was a bit overwhelmed by the fervent patriotism. You can see it everywhere. There are American flags along the roads, on public buildings and on houses. You can find them on cars, clothing and even on animals!

National pride takes a backseat in France and Germany

Germans don’t display their flag except during sporting events. Look out for anyone calling themselves nationalist! The Third Reich left an indelible mark in the country’s collective memory. Today it’s not in good taste nor viewed well to joke around about this.

But in France as well, I only associate the flag with national teams or with a political party whose ideas I don’t share.

I have never; truly never seen the French flag (red, white and blue) other than in front of a municipal hall, a cemetery or a public building.

As a child, I remember marching behind a French flag on the November 11 holiday. I returned home chilly and telling my parents that there were only old people marching behind me. In the United States, Americans honor their veterans. In France, they have practically disappeared.

Over the years, a very conservative French political party has appropriated some symbols like the French flag and its colors. This is probably the reason why the French don’t bring out their flags as easily as the Americans; they are too afraid to be viewed as fascists!

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Sad exceptions – Terror Attacks in France

I wrote this post at the beginning of the week. I thought then that France had its own 9/11 in November 2015. Five simultaneous attacks left 130 people dead. But yesterday, a truck barrels through Bastille Day revelers in Nice, leaving 84 dead and many more badly injured. I have never feel more French than now, so far away from my native country.

In November, and viewed from an American perspective, I was surprised about the wave of blue, white and red. Just after the attacks, the social networks and buildings around the world had been adorned with the French colors. Doublet, the French flag manufacturer, was inundated with orders.

“The French flag, often maligned and seldom raised beyond the fronts of government buildings, veterans’ events or by soccer fans, has seen a resurgence in popularity since the Paris attacks.”

wrote MetroNews, an online magazine, on November 25, 2015.

Today, I wear proudly the French colors on my face.

French national pride after a truck barrels through a crowd in Nice
So sad…

Pride for the national soccer team…when it wins!

At the time of writing this post, the Euro Cup had just finished. Last Thursday’s semi-final between France and Germany was thrilling for the whole family. Of course, my heart beat for France, and whew! This time we won!

Soccer is the only sport that truly unites the entire country and France has a very “Latin” relationship with its national team. We love it when it is winning, and at best ignore it when it is losing.

The Germans are also enthusiastic, and the Mannschaft players have always been children’s idols. When they grow up, they turn into fans of the national team.

Getting back to “patriotism” in sports, take a look at the following photos. They show some products adorned in Germany’s colors. Believe me, this only happens in soccer during the Euro Cup or the World Cup. Now compare these images with those from the United States. The Germans are much more discreet when showing their colors.

Love of the American flag begins at school

This is not the first time I’ve spoken about American patriotism. With two children in American schools, I’ve discovered that the love of country begins at school. Every morning for two years now, my son has pledged allegiance to the American flag. His little 5-year old sister will be going to public school in August. She will also soon be able to recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” to us.

My oldest daughter stayed in the German school system. She will finish her degree next year. The American and German flags fly in front of the buildings at the German School Washington, and they can also be found inside the school.

But the students don’t pay allegiance to the German flag and don’t even know the words to the national anthem. Patriotism is quickly equated with nationalism, still a highly sensitive subject 70 years after the end of the Second World War.

Jasmine now knows how to sing the French national anthem, la Marseillaise, but like us, she does not sing along when she hears it.

Why are Americans so proud of their country?

I wasn’t able to find any studies about this, so I will express a completely personal opinion.

The French and the Germans don’t show their national pride in their respective countries, but it emerges once they live outside of their homeland.

Just listen to French people living in the United States: they claim their food is better in France, the TGV (high speed train) is the best train in the world, fashion was born in France and they invented perfume!

Ditto for the German people: they boast that the best cars in the world are German, that they are excellent engineers, and that any beer other than German beer is second rate.

But not the Americans. Taking pride in being American is a fundamental part of their culture. They can travel for days in their enormous country without ever leaving it. They have also never been invaded. The common factor between states as different as New Mexico, Alaska or Kansas is the American flag. Pledging allegiance, singing the national anthem, celebrating the 4th of July are bonds that shape the country.

Most of all, Americans are optimistic optimists. They rejoice for nothing, see only successes and rebound from failures, etc. Sometimes I get the feeling I’m watching big children!

Being proud of the American flag is as much of their culture as speaking loudly and strongly. And if you don’t hear them, they’re probably only half American.

Photo credit by Nathan Rupert

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  • Article très intéressant, Catherine. Je pense que l’une des raisons qui poussent les Américains à être si patriotiques, c’est leur besoin immense de s’identifier à quelque chose de grand, de fort, de puissant. Ce besoin se reflète également dans les sports. C’est un peu le “mon papa est plus fort que le tien” des enfants, et à cet égard, je trouve aussi les Américains un peu enfants, tout comme les fans de sport, d’ailleurs. On s’identifie à une équipe et l’on espère qu’elle va remporter la palme, car si mon équipe est la plus forte, c’est donc que je suis également le plus fort. Pareil pour mon pays. Les gens matures et sûr d’eux ne ressentent habituellement pas ce besoin de s’identifier à quelque chose de grand, car leur grandeur, ils la trouvent à l’intérieur d’eux, et non à l’extérieur.

    En général, les Québécois ne s’identifient pas au Canada, et la plupart ne s’identifient pas vraiment au Québec; ils s’identifient plutôt à leur équipe de hockey… lorsqu’ils en ont une!

    Marc a commenté mon article dans un groupe LinkedIn, et m’a donné son accord pour le reproduire ici.

  • I looked at your blog and I thought it was fantastic. We have been going to Europe and parts of Africa for the past six summers and are always fascinated by the cultural differences. We have close friends in Belgium, thanks to home exchange. We have been “exchanging kids” with the Belgian family for years, and my boys have learned so much. Once, we were having a party with my boys’ schoolmates and the Belgian boys. We played “name that tune.” To make it fair, I included the Belgian national anthem so the Belgian boys would have a chance. They did not recognize it until I gave them hints. The American children were astounded that the Belgian kids did not recognize their country’s anthem and learned a very important cultural lesson. The Belgian boys told the American children that many Belgians would not recognize the song, and that once, the Belgian Prime Minister was asked, on camera, to sing the Belgian anthem. He said sure, and began to sing La Marseillaise, the French anthem. The American children did not believe it until I googled it and showed them. They said that if an American president sang the Mexican or Canadian anthem by mistake, he/she would certainly be impeached!

    • Thank you Mandy. That sounds also crazy for me, but I remember similar talks in France a few years ago.

  • A very interesting read. I would have to agree with you about the Americans. They have a lot of pride. I’ve even heard Canadians worry that they feel they’d be perceived as being “too American” if they put the Canadian flag up on their homes…it’s the American thing to do I guess.

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