Monday, July 24, 2006

Flying the flag

I guess this explains why national flags are far less in evidence in England than in the US:
Currently it is illegal to fly a national flag without permission from a local council - unless it is flown from a vertical flagpole.

The rule means thousands of football fans were technically breaking the law during the World Cup by displaying the Cross of St George.
(BBC news)
We must have been breaking the law then when we hung both a UK flag and a Stars and Stripes on my parents' house when we got married. From this article I would guess that English flags were very much in evidence recently, until the English football (soccer) team lost. Sounds like another example of an American tradition (flying the flag that is, not losing at soccer) catching on in the UK, just like the increasing commercialization in the UK of pseudo-holidays like Halloween.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Being an American

I recently found this MSNBC site about Being An American. I tend to think of Americans as being more visibly patriotic in general than the British and the survey results on this page on the site seem to confirm that: "Patriotism is mostly a New World concept, the researchers said". You certainly don't see the Union flag flying everywhere in the UK the way you see the stars and stripes over here.

There's a quiz on the MSNBC site called Do you have what it takes to become a citizen? I scored only 65% :-(
65-80%: Hey, you may make a good citizen yet! Look at your wrong answers and a little revision should do the trick.

Hmm, well, I passed the citizenship interview at the INS office - maybe I've just forgotten stuff in the last 5 years! Or maybe the INS officer was just nice and gave me easy questions because I was clearly very stressed. I had travelled to the office with a 6 month old, been told I couldn't eat my lunch in the waiting room, and was suffering pretty noticeable post-partum depression.

There are some interesting comments following this BBC article on "What makes you British?" At least one person comments on the distinction between being British and being English - many Americans (and other foreigners) forget that being British does not necessarily mean being English. Hmm - in the same way, people often forget that Being American doesn't necessarily mean that you voted for the current government!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The view from the UK

The view from outside is often only of the things that hit the news headlines - the murders, the problems, the disasters. Outsiders hear of the extremes, the exceptions, the stories that make the news. If we haven't visited somewhere we judge it by what we know of it second-hand - what we've heard from friends or more commonly through the media. When I told the kids I was teaching at a comprehensive school in Yorkshire that I was going to be leaving to live in the United States for a couple of years, I got the same response from at least one pupil in every class: "Ooh, miss, you'll get mugged!" There were 2 particularly popular American TV shows in the UK at the time. The kids I was teaching knew I certainly wasn't going to be experiencing a Dallas-type lifestyle, so all they knew was the violence and crime of Miami Vice

A recent poll for the Telegraph newspaper suggests that 21 years later, the average Brit's view of the US hasn't altered much. 90% of the respondents said that the USA has "A lot of violent crime". (Hmm - the only place I've ever been mugged was France!) Ironic given today's headlines on the online Telegraph:"Homicides soar by a quarter under Labour" and "A week in the life of lawless Britain". A foreigner reading those articles surely wouldn't feel reassured that the UK was a good place to live! Of course it helps if you have a sense of what the Telegraph's political slant is . . .

Although in general people describe their feelings about the US as "Fairly positive" or "Very positive" (54%), opinion of the USA is generally fairly negative. 51% responded that American culture makes the world a "Somewhat worse" or "Much worse" place to live. 65% think badly of the Bush government. 69% say that their opinion of the US has gone down in recent years. 76% believe that Bush is not using American power and influence in the right way to bring about a more democratic world. I haven't seen any similar polls of Americans, but I suspect if one were done in the very Democratic area where I live, the results of the questions about politics might not be too different to the poll done in the UK.

The overall view of the US is very negative - the respondents say that Americans are
  • uncaring
  • divided by class
  • unequal
  • don't care what the rest of the world thinks
  • vulgar
  • badly led
  • preoccupied with money
  • ignorant of the outside world
  • racially divided
  • uncultured

67% say that, given the chance, they would not go to live in the United States. Interestingly, I had a conversation with a family member this week who commented "You wouldn't want to come back to the UK. You couldn't afford to live here." I'm not sure if she just meant we wouldn't be able to afford the same kind of lifestyle - we wouldn't expect to.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

This I believe*

The Belief-o-matic quiz says my religious tendencies are as follows:

1. Liberal Quakers (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (97%)
3. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (91%)
4. Neo-Pagan (89%)
5. New Age (84%)
6. Mahayana Buddhism (78%)
7. Theravada Buddhism (72%)
8. Reform Judaism (70%)
9. Bahá'í Faith (69%)
10. Secular Humanism (68%)
11. New Thought (63%)
12. Scientology (60%)
13. Taoism (57%)
14. Orthodox Quaker (56%)
15. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (54%)
16. Sikhism (52%)
17. Jainism (47%)
18. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (38%)
19. Nontheist (38%)
20. Orthodox Judaism (37%)
21. Hinduism (37%)
22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (34%)
23. Islam (31%)
24. Jehovah's Witness (29%)
25. Seventh Day Adventist (24%)
26. Eastern Orthodox (20%)
27. Roman Catholic (20%)

Not surprising to me to see Roman Catholic at the bottom of the list given that I went to a Church of England school for 7 years! I might have expected to see the Bahá'í faith a little higher on the list, except of course that they don't approve of drinking any alcohol, nor even using any in cooking and given my apparently alcoholic cultural background (see previous post) it makes sense that Bahá'í wouldn't be any higher on my list ;-) Actually, Belief-o-matic doesn't ask about alcohol and there are many things about the Bahá'í faith that I like, including the fact that children of Bahá'í parents are required to explore other religions before committing to the Bahá'í faith themselves.

Guess which questions put Roman Catholic at the bottom of my list?

I'd be really interested in seeing the overall results from the site so far - what's the 'average' response (if such a thing could be calculated.) What's the average American or Brit nowadays in terms of religion? Is American society as diverse as it seems? Is Britain still the Anglican country it once was? The media portrays faith as either being the central tenet of one's life or playing little to no role.

Thanks to Bernie Dodge for pointing me in the direction of the Belief-omatic site.
*If you listen to NPR, you probably recognize the title. All I can say in my defense is : 1) I'm acknowledging where I got it; 2) Bernie stole it first; 3) I'm too tired to be feeling very creative right now.
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