I wouldn’t really consider myself a huge fan of national symbols. I can’t stand all of the jingoistic flag waving and ‘Ooh I’m so proud of my country me-I-am’ stuff. I tend to take the attitude of ‘accident of birth – what’s there to feel so chuffed about?’ Yes, if you ask me what I love the most about my own country of origin, I’d say ‘the hills’ and ‘our freedom to be able to think for ourselves.’
I genuinely don’t feel competitive with any other nation, superior to any other country or inferior to any other peoples (unless we start talking more on the parochial level and then I get all sniffy about the folk who live in Hebden Bridge.)
But I’m not averse to anyone feeling that they appreciate where they live and the sort of community that they dwell amongst. And I do have to confess that I enjoy seeing the white rose of Yorkshire paraded about our streets and towns (although I’m often struck with a fear of being found out … as my birth certificate clearly states that I was born just a few miles over the border in red rose land. Don’t tell anyone though.)
And I have also been heard to say (see previous blog where I bemoaned the geography syllabus in schools today) that it truly is a shame that kids today aren’t taught as much about countries, capital cities and national symbols in the same way that we had it rammed down our throat in the past.
But this week I had to swallow my words as it was a person from the older generation who caused me to stop in my tracks and to gape in astonishment.
In search of a tacky tourist giftie for my kids, I wandered into a little shop in North Wales. After grabbing the inevitable Welsh dragon keyrings, a lady steamed ahead of me and beat me to the till. Looking to be in her early 70’s, she was smartly dressed, had a well-spoken (English) accent and had a small pile of flags in her hand. You know the sort – nylon, A4 sized, attached to a wooden stick.
“Right,” she said to the young chappie at the till. “I’ll have these. Let me just check that I’ve got them all.”
She rattled off a couple of countries and plonked each item down and then I really began to pay attention when she laid out a red and white flag and said;
“And England, of course.”
“Er, no,” replied the young man. “That’s not England.”
“Of course it is! What do you mean?”
“It’s Switzerland – that one. See – the English flag is a big red cross all the way over it.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. That’s definitely Switzerland. And we’ve run out of English ones.”
“Oh, well. Never mind. I’ll get one from a petrol station or somewhere near a council estate.” The woman continued with her final purchase, adding; “And then to finish with, we’ve got France.”
“Er, no. That’s not France.”
“Yes it is. It’s France. See – red white and blue stripes.”
“No. That’s the Netherlands.”
“Netherlands – you know – Holland. France has the same colours, but the stripes are vertical for France.”
“Really? Well. Can you get me a French flag then?”
“Sorry, no. We ran out of them last week.”
“Oh. Oh well. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to find one anywhere else. No one seems to be that keen on the French. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I don’t imagine for a minute that anyone will notice that it isn’t France.”
And with that, she paid up and left the shop. I purchased my little dragons and made eye contact with the guy behind the counter. He was shaking his head as he said to me;
“You know, these older people – you always think that they know more than we do – but they do make you wonder sometimes …”
After leaving the shop, I recounted the tale to my husband. He being a keen fan of ‘traditional geographical learning’ and being an all-round smart-arse when it comes to flags and countries, had a good old chuckle. about the flag exchange.
“It’s the Six Nations this week,” Mr Rugby-Fan informed me. “She’ll have been stocking up on them for a party or something.”
I found all of this to be deeply ironic. Because he has always tried to steer our children away from any interest in football. Telling them that rugby is a far more skilful game than football, that the game retains a much more ethical attitude to money and celebrity and that rugby fans are more intelligent and less rowdy than footie followers.
And yet the lady flag-purchaser was either all too aware that her party guests might not be the most educated individuals – or – that her guests would be so drunk that they wouldn’t notice that the Six Nations has become the Eight Nations and now includes those well-known rugby fixated countries of Switzerland and Holland.