I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands
One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all
Every single morning, before the start of school, I would mechanically recite these words at assembly, with my right hand over my heart. Now my daughter is doing the same thing.
For the average American, this tradition would not be unusual. But I have spent the majority of my adult life in another country, and coming back to these patriotic traditions has taken me a little by surprise.
In the UK, public displays of patriotism are rare. Sure, you find the Union Jack waving from buildings of national importance and places like Harrods, where tourists tend to flock. The reality is that few Brits I know are outwardly patriotic. I’m sure they love their country, but they hardly brag about it or take part in stirring renditions of their national anthem.
Most Brits have a pragmatic view of the UK and are more than willing to talk about its shortcomings with humor and common sense. This kind of conversation – at least if I’m involved – would often touch upon the weather, which Brits tolerate like a stroppy child. They don’t like it, but they have no choice but to stoically put up with it until the moody clouds lift.
Generally speaking, being patriotic in the United States is the norm. It’s people like me who are the exception. Yes, I love my country, and always have, but I don’t really like flying flags or being nationalistic. The English Husband might disagree with this perspective.
Is it your land or my land?
Last week, the Chatterbox had a patriotic performance at her elementary school. Her kindergarten class had to learn the words to My Country ‘Tis of Thee and This Land is Your Land. For a couple of weeks, I would hear my daughter occasionally hum a line or sing a few words. I’d ask her about what they were going to sing, and I would get a vague reply. The only thing she ever knows with any certainty is what she has for lunch.
On the appointed day, I dress the Chatterbox in red, white and blue. She looks like she is ready for a barbecue on the Fourth of July. I thought perhaps this kind of patriotism would make me a little uneasy, but it doesn’t. I am incredibly proud of her, and I am also glad she is learning a little about her nationality.
It’s my worry that I will return to London and she won’t care about where I grew up and what it means to me. Isn’t that the case with any immigrant? Of course, when I ask her what the words to This Land is Your Land mean, she shrugs, ‘I dunno.’ We might as well be talking about advanced calculus. But she does know the president of the United States by name. I’m afraid the same is not true of David Cameron.
All this talk of nationality reminds of when I became a British citizen. I didn’t have to do anything at all. I paid my money, filled out a few forms and showed up to Islington Town Hall for a small ceremony. The mayor of Islington was there and she talked about all the many restaurants in the area. This is what I remember most.
After this rather bizarre speech, someone turned on a ghetto blaster and God Save the Queen blared out. I was then handed a folder telling me what it means to be a British citizen, and a paper weight from the borough of Islington. We were then invited to have tea and sandwiches in an ancient-looking room. It was all very civilized and very British.
When my dad finally became an American citizen a few years ago, he also had to fill out a few forms and pay his money. He also had to study for an exam and had to learn the answers to approximately 50 questions about the United States. The only thing he was ever asked was the address of the White House. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know this, but my dad got it right.
His ceremony for becoming an American citizen wasn’t as personal or quaint as mine. He was ushered into a room with about 200 people and told to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. My dad kept his mouth shut. He was then given a small American flag that still resides on our bookcase. My paper weight is somewhere in London and is also sitting on a bookcase. It’s a curious reminder of how long I have lived outside my own country.
My children will never have to go through what my dad or I have. They will always have dual nationality. Lucky them. I hope one day they appreciate what this means.