Flags and why the British one so often drives me nuts.
A little while back I started this series in which I compared Canada to the UK (and used some British wordplay that’s humour is a bit out of date now, but the title wouldn’t have worked without, so).
Despite the dodgy wordplay, Fags went don’t really well.
It was about the inability of UK types to give up smoking when compared to their Canadian counterparts, who don’t seem to have much trouble at all, despite the fact the filthy habit is considerably cheaper there.
To be fair, it was more popular in the Maple State, where all and any praise, in fact, even just a mention, is received with that trademark sideways grin Canada is known and loved for.
Surprisingly, Beer didn’t go down that well at all!
It was a bit self-indulgent, then it got political; the conclusion being, regardless of Brexit or Remain, both sides were talking out their arse.
No one in the U.K. was happy with that and they’re a bunch of miserable bastards at the best of times.
Meanwhile Canadians muttered under their breaths, as the comparison used to make the point is the inconsistencies found in the system of Provinces here where compared to how it’s perceived to work by the only people who should care/know how it does.
Elsewhere the 1-10 and on comparison series received rave reviews.
I thought about kinda just dropping the Flags bit, going back and editing the name of the other two, confident someone wouldn’t wistfully ask in the future, ‘Hey . . . whatever happened to the Flags part of that three part series…’
See, the thing is the main crux of the Flags post was to air a major grievance of mine, and to be honest, as funny as I imagined that being, if Beer had been a bit too self-indulgent, Flags was going to be with bells on.
Only thing, it’s not the first time I’ve wanted to bang on about it, and with what V. E. Day 75 coming up, I’m already getting agitated for what is to come.
I’m clearly not going to rest until saying it; only then will I be able to look back on how petty my annoyance was all along, let it go and move on (to another one).
I’m a bit of a vexillologist.
A.k.a. a collector of flags (though, to be true, the word actually means to study).
Much about them fascinates me, from how they come to be, to associated traditions, and the meaning people give them.
As example the amount of importance that even up until recently was put into not ‘losing the colours’ on battlefields; or that people can become so enraged by actions of another country, they’ll stamp-on and burn its flag while feeling they’ve genuinely destroying a real part of it (they certainly look like it, at least).
Flags can tell you a lot about a county’s history at a glance: which religion it predominately is; whether it’s done away with a monarchy.
Thanks to TV and movies, there’s a preconception that in the U.S.A. flags fly outside almost every house. In my limited experience, it isn’t true. The fact it’s only limited still proves it isn’t true given the preconception is it happens everywhere.
In Canada (well, Toronto for sure) there is a bit of a keeping up with the Uncle Sam’s mentality (God knows why), which for my money is manifest in all the in flag flying.
I don’t think there’s anywhere downtown from where the Canadian flag can’t be seen. And if the Maple Leaf doesn’t tickle a flag flyer’s fancy then there’s the Ontarian flag, and from there Toronto’s own.
To demonstrate, I even took to the local little high street I live by at the edge of Toronto with a camera to show how bad it is even there. In doing this, I actually missed one, and went back out with the camera, only to discover I’d still missed even another on account of it being up a particularly large flag pole.
Even the street I live on has two at the end (and would likely be the same the other way if there wasn’t a park there) one of which is on a school.
A school flying the national flag!!!
My surprise and leaning towards this as being a bad thing (above) is due to the British behaviour of frowning very sternly on flag waving at every opportunity unless it’s to do with the Royal family, or something for politicians to stand in front of when addressing the nation.
Of course, some disagree with this disapproval of casual flag waving and indulge it fully, always complaining in the process about those who’d prefer them to stop. So:
- Canada: (Toronto, at least) flags everywhere you could possibly hang one from.
- UK: hardly if ever unless the Monarch.
Based on that ratio, logic would dictate far more flags are flown incorrectly in Canada than the UK.
Not only is that conclusion based on the greater number, but more so the fact that with it being such an everyday thing in Canada there’s far more chance of careless error.
Whereas, in the UK, where only those who really, really care about flying the flag do, there can surely be no mistake whatsoever.
Yet, never have I seen the Canadian flag flown incorrectly in Toronto, whereas in the UK constantly.
To be fair, it would be quite hard to fly the Canadian fly upside down without noticing.
The UK’s isn’t so straightforward.
Nonetheless, and this is what is really irritating, the people who apparently care so much about it there are prepared ‘fly in the face’ of social conventions to do so. Yet, it’s amongst this group that those getting it wrong are found; and when it’s pointed out, nine times out of ten their response is, ‘so what, who cares‘.
In the words of every Canadian: eh?
I can’t name the amount of places I’ve seen get it wrong; even on tattoos; even when two of them are next to each other; I’ve even, too impatient to wait for the band to finish packing up, jumped on a stage to ask a drummer who used one as a backdrop whether he intended the implications of hanging it upside down.
(He didn’t realise he had)
In the 80s I recall a huge political storm when UK dignitaries turned up on foreign soil only for a welcoming UK flag to be flying upside down. I was taken as a huge sleight until much reassuring it was an innocent mistake was done.
It’s happened at sporting events that I can recall, too.
Even during a recent visit of now ex royals to foreign climes.
On that recent occasion nothing was apparently said. After all, it’s not their flag and we don’t have such a big Empire anymore that we can rightfully expect all and sundry to know the intricacies and ins and outs of it.
Especially when those who claim to care the most amongst our own don’t!
(and in case it wasn’t obvious from the header image, I’ll start at the beginning)
Left: the Canadian flag the correct way up; right: the wrong.
There are numerous flags where it’s that easy to spot the difference:
- The United States
to name but a few.
Things get a bit more technical when bringing Éire’s Tricolour into things:
Again, the image on the left is correct, but instead of be upside down to be incorrect, the second is flipped from left to right.
There’s a reason I chose the flag of Ireland to demonstrate this point:
London pubs were predominately run and staffed by people from Ireland in the 80s and 90s (and who knows, very probably still are). The area around Clapham North tube station had some crackers; mostly filled with Irish construction workers seven nights a week.
I used one in particular, the Falcon, due to its pool table. One night a young barman fresh-faced and not long off the boat happily revealed the ink he’d just got from a London tattoo artist notoriously known for nipping in the pub next door for a whisky or two during jobs.
He was missing home, it was the Irish flag.
From the customer side of the bar, a local—also Irish—replied, “It’s round the wrong way.”
The barman had no idea what he meant, was completely baffled, and thought he was joking, so told him to, “Feck ‘arf, an stop taking da piss, now will ya.”
So he explained.
The tattoo showed the flag on a flag pole, attached to it from the orange side. The Irish flag is always attached by the green side.
If the flag pole had been attached to the green side of the tattoo, then it would have shown the Irish flag from behind. Flags are always attached to a pole at the flag’s left. Flags are meant for poles, so this defines their correct way round even when not on one.
In other words, take the flag pole out the equation, and someone using one as a backdrop would have to place the green to the left from the audience’s perspective for it to show as the correct way round to them.
Other tricolours that therefore also follow a fixed colour order:
For what it might be worth, when the barman went back to the tattooist, his solution—which the young lad happily accepted—was to tattoo another flag pole at the other end, so turning it into a banner.
Not only did he still charge for this work, it meant—and was apparently lost on the tattoo bearer—that the banner was still facing away from whoever looked at it.
I’m also aware of a Scottish chap, who while in England felt an equal pang of homesickness. His mistake was being unable to look while the tattoo was done. When he did, he found the white cross on a blue background of St Andrew had been inked the other way round.
The moral here clearly being, don’t get tattoos of flags in a country it isn’t the flag of.
So. The British flag.
- Correctly called: The Union Flag.
- Accepted name: The Union Jack.
- Accurate fact: It should only be called a Jack when flown on a ship.
- Sign of the times: It might not really matter anymore.
- Made by: combining three crosses: St George, England; St Patrick, Ireland; St Andrew, Scotland
- Totally ignored: Wales, and I for one thing that’s a shame, as a nice bit of green or a dragon, or maybe—I know!—a small green Welsh dragon in the middle of the red cross would definitely add an element of je ne sais quoi.
Spot the difference:
The flag on the left is correct. How to tell can be easiest seen by looking at the top left section where the white runs thicker above the red. The flag on the right is upside down as the opposite is found (though, don’t forget, that’s also how it would look from behind when on a flag pole – the pole from that perspective being on the right of the flag).
It might not be easiest thing to spot like the Canadian flag being upside down, but that’s precisely why it’s more important to know when it is, especially if British.
Once upon a time out on the high seas, enemy and pirates would capture ships, then try using them to lure more vessels in by flying their flags and appearing to be on the same side.
Captured crew would also ‘be roped’ into creating the illusion. This gave the British a great advantage.
Without it being noticed by some ignoramus buffoon of an enemy, they could subtlety hoist the Union Jack upside down, so alerting all other British ships they were in fact in captured and under enemy command, allowing them to be approached and dealt with accordingly.
Of course, one needs to know the right way up to maintain the advantage and unfortunately it’s now been completely lost thanks to those claiming to care about flying the flag the most not even caring enough about which way up it goes and why.
Thanks for reading, especially if you made it this far on this very personal journey to air this major annoyance.
For what it’s worth, I took my daily government approved walk today expecting the worst, only to find all flags encountered this V.E. Day 75 to be the correct way up.
That was until I turned the last corner and like a horrible twist in a taught thriller about flag flying found myself looking at one that wasn’t. I almost went and knocked on the door, but didn’t due to social distancing.
To those who gave their lives fighting under numerous flags, anyone who was impacted in anyway, in fact—whether losing loved ones or by having to live through the horrors of being bombed or more simply had to live on rations for years after—thank you for making V.E. Day 75 exactly that; I salute you!
N. P. Ryan.
Other posts UK versus Canada:
- UK/Canada Differences: 11 – 20
- Differences Between the U.K. & Canada: The Definitive List 1 – 10
- From Flags to Fags and Buck-a-Beer: the Biggest Differences Between the UK & Canada Part II
- From Flags to Fags and Buck-a-Beer: the Biggest Differences Between the UK & Canada