A few years ago I was watching a Hollywood movie with a friend here in Spain. Just minutes into the story the camera panned over a building with an American flag blowing in the breeze. My friend joked, “You know, the filmmakers get paid each time they show an American flag in their movie.”
He was only referencing an urban legend, but it made me paid attention. Once I was alert, I started seeing American flags everywhere in movies and TV shows. It seemed like there wasn’t one that didn’t show it. It had been such a normal part of life for me that I hadn’t completely noticed it.
On the other hand a US visitor to Spain might notice the comparable lack of Spanish flags hanging from buildings, schools, and houses. You will not, with some minimal exceptions, see the red and yellow flag posted at anyone’s house or apartment, in windows, on key rings, bags, or stickers (except for souvenir shops). Some public buildings do show the flag, inevitably lined up next to regional and European Union flags.
As opposed to the States, walking down the street in Spain a visitor might see an occasional t-shirt with the Spanish colors, almost exclusively to celebrate the Spanish national soccer team or another sporting event. She will, however, see several people wearing some form of the Stars and Stripes on their clothes.
What’s going on here? Sure, most Americans would admit that the US is a particularly patriotic country. But still, why are we wallpapering our lives with flags in the US while the Spanish usually pull them out for major sporting events alone? Since I have lived abroad I find myself constantly pondering “why?” Sometimes it’s about serious matters like gay rights or values concerning work and family. Other times, it’s just the seemingly mundane (Why do strangers greet each other in an elevator?). Of course, you don’t have to live in a foreign country or culture to wonder about things, but it helps because it accentuates differences and habits. It’s part of the reason that everyone should have a chance to travel – it constantly wakes you up to little (and big!) differences that make you start to question why people do things the way they do. It’s also the reason that I get so frustrated by stereotyping and rash judgements about cultural differences; you must piece together a deeper understanding of cultural values, history, and politics to really get thorough answers to these questions.
Back to the question of the flags. There are some straightforward answers, although it’s undoubtedly a topic for more consideration. The Spanish flag still reminds people of Dictator Francisco Franco and his political party, thanks to his consistent use of the Spanish colors. Furthermore, Spain is made up of 17 autonomous communities (somewhat akin to states or provinces) and two autonomous cities. Many citizens feel greater affection for these regional identities, especially in places like Cataluña.
And that is the short answer as to why you won’t see Spanish flags hanging all over Spain!
About the Author: Maria Snyder is part of the Melibee Global hive and resides in Spain with her family. You can learn more about her here.