Those of you with a thorough working knowledge of international, American, United Nations and relational flag etiquette and codes may skip straight to the pictures. The struggling laggards picking their noses (and eachothers’) at the back of the class, however, should pay attention. If you get this stuff wrong, you might find yourself declaring war on a global superpower and that rarely ends well.
Much like every immigrant over the past couple of hundred years, I had two simple dreams when I came to America tired, poor, and yearning to breathe free (seriously, JFK was really crowded.) All I wanted was to have a giant American flag on my bedroom wall, and to spend the 4th of July clad only in said flag whilst eating copious amounts of dubiously-cooked meat products. Basic, modest hopes, I’m sure you’ll agree — but these were dashed once I began looking into flag etiquette.
To the first point, my bedroom already contains a large Welsh flag: it’s how I simultaneously proclaim my nationality to stalkers with binoculars, and inform visitors of my love of badass dragons. Placing the American flag above or below this flag would, as far as I can ascertain, be a declaration of war. The international guidelines are, I admit, more focused towards influencing national and military policy, but the wording really does seem to suggest that I could start a major international incident.
An hour or two of exacting measurement with a spirit level, regularly checked and maintained, could probably prevent the recolonisation of America by the Welsh army, but the problem is not yet solved. It is a violation of U.S. Federal Law to fly any flag to the right of the U.S. flag. It is a much more historic and equally important convention (known as Precedence) that one’s national flag must be flown at the left of any display. Having no wish to be deported, but not yet being ready to renounce my nationality, I eventually gave up on my first dream.
Surely though, I thought, there could be no problem with wrapping myself in the Stars & Stripes in a fit of adopted patriotic fervour to celebrate America’s birthday. Even there, I was to be disappointed. Going above and beyond international etiquette, the United States has a flag code unto itself. Section 8d states:
The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
There are a couple of other choice sections in the Flag Code too, including the particularly interesting point that it is legal, and in fact, encouraged, that a flag past its prime should be disposed of in a dignified manner, ‘preferably by burning.’ Those who feel uncomfortable burning an American flag, however, are often afforded other options, such as this box in Oyster Bay (via Jen.)
Finally, note that the United Nations also has a flag code of its own, and that concurrent to this, has a unique rule regarding the display of flags: namely that the flags of the member nations are displayed in alphabetical ordering. Whilst this may seem to breach Federal Law, by suborning the U.S. flag at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York, this is not actually the case as the U.N. headquarters have extraterritorial status and the location is therefore not subject to this law.
Is anyone still reading?