Three years ago there was a big fuss over a small-time country singer who made a shirt out of an American flag. Words like disrespect and treason were bandied about. Apparently, no one in Europe cared about that story, as nearly every clothes store has something with an American flag based pattern on it.
Tank-tops, sweaters, scarves—I have seen more people wearing American flag-based merchandise in Sweden than I ever did in the States! This is a common fad in Europe, my Polish friend assured me as she showed off her American flag print bag.
Here I was, thinking my Captain America backpack would make it obvious I was from the States. If anything the obviously America-based pack has helped me blend in. It especially helps if, should someone ask why you got it, the reply is something along the lines of ‘it looked cool’.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking all these young people boasting stars-and-stripes scarves are politically aware and supporting America’s policies. Most share a marvelously similar outlook to our own youth, in that the only thing they care about is the fact Hollywood is in the United States.
While initially a refreshing contrast to the heavy political discussions that plagued me during and after the presidential elections, it became frustrating to realize that the American flag is in fact, a fashion accessory. I never viewed myself as a very conservative person regarding respect of the flag, but seeing a precisely screen-printed Old Glory wrapped around someone’s neck because they like the way it looks is jarring.
At least if they bought them in the States it could be passed off as silly tourist souvenirs, like the Swedish flag t-shirts I’ve seen, but instead you can pick them up at your nearest clothing boutique. It isn’t a recent fad either, quite a few Swedes in their thirties or forties can be seen wearing the latest American flag knit sweater, courtesy Lexington Company.
Another American, Amber Rousse, had an interesting point though.
“In the States, people had the British flag on things, and the French one too, I think,” she said.
After thinking about it, I realized Amber was right. Using a foreign nation’s flag as a fashion statement isn’t a strange Swedish thing. I remember a friend from elementary school being overjoyed at receiving a Union Jack print comforter while my own sister was thrilled by a scarf patterned after the Irish flag.
Since my family has Irish ancestry and my old friend had family from Britain, the joy over these gifts was considered pride in one’s heritage, nothing unusual. Maybe that slight difference in available reasoning made it more palatable to me, since none of the Europeans wearing American swag I have addressed will admit to family in the States.
Now the question is, do most Americans who pursue things with foreign flags printed on them do so out of respect for their ancestors, or because they look cool? Am I the only one who was offered a Union Jack magnet to put on my Mini Cooper only to stare at it and say, “Why on earth would I put a foreign nation’s flag on my California-licensed car?”
Judging by the strange looks that statement received at the time, it was a fairly unusual question to ask. Maybe I’m just too conservative in my views on respecting the flag. In an effort to broaden my horizons, some friends pooled together and bought me an American flag scarf. At my askance look, they insisted it was okay, since I was American, and this was my way of showing my “American-ness”.
Charming, they abuse the English language the same way native speakers do.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s snowing outside and I have a snazzy new American flag print scarf to test out.