Friday, May 7, 2010

Flags make me ponder...

Driving into Assen the other day I was excited by all the flags hanging from the pristine houses in the perfectly symmetrical tree lined streets. Cars were washed, gardens were awash with colour, windows were sparkling, and flags were flying high. Oh I must get a photo of this, I declared to the Dutchman, I even felt patriotic enough to get a family photo in front of the flag at Oma's and Opa's.

So as excited as I was to see all the flags on Queens Day, when I ventured out early morning the following day, I was somewhat dismayed by the fact all the flags had been taken down. I mean seriously, had they all remembered? I drove and drove looking with dismay at the distinct absence of flags. My spirits were suddenly lifted, by one solitary flag still flying, phew, what a relief, at least someone in this country is not organised.

Now the reason why Australians would never hang flags out on Australia Day is because they would forget to take them down, possibly for weeks or months. I could imagine saying, why not leave it up till next year? Groups of young people (not me, people much younger and more foolhardy than I am) would be tempted to do nude runs along the streets carrying their stolen flags proudly. There would be public debate about whether the flags flying high in front of our respective houses should be the red white and blue one (like the British flag but with some stars added to it) or the Aboriginal flag (black for aboriginal people, red for the earth and yellow for the sun.  A flag I saw in Brugge reminds me of it - just rotate the stripes to the right and imagine the heart as a sun).

The public debate might extend to whether it’s okay to hang a Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Afghan, Indian, Sudanese, South African or any flag for that matter, on Australia Day (after all Australia is a very multicultural society and shouldn’t Australia Day embrace just that?). The debate would continue about whether Australia Day should be changed from the date some Indigenous Australians refer to as Invasion Day.

The Netherlands is a multi cultural society too. My Dutch lessons are like a meeting from the United Nations, with classmates from... Brazil, Hong Kong, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Ghana, Morocco, France and the list goes on. Maybe the rich history of Dutch language and society leads to a truly defined cultural heritage. This well defined Dutch identity may also be why I think it’s hard for migrants to assimilate (this view is supported by the fact Geert Wilders is in politics).

So here in the Netherlands, on Queens Day I saw only Dutch flags flying, with the exception of both Dutch and Swedish flags flying outside of IKEA. The Dutch flag gets flown as it is a celebration of the Queen’s birthday (which is quite different from Australia Day). In Australia we also celebrate a Queen’s birthday too. But the reason why we celebrate is because we got a long weekend, in the middle of the year, when everyone needs a break. I haven’t encountered too many royalists in Australia and the Queen doesn't really feel like our Queen. That said at the last republic referendum in 1999, the majority of Australians voted in favour of maintaining the status quo.

So some simple flags hanging from the houses in The Netherlands have led me into a brief rant about Australia Day, an Australian Republic and assimilation in The Netherlands. Flags are much more than a piece of coloured cloth hanging from a pole. They represent symbols, ideologies and a sense of belonging. And isn’t a sense of belonging one of Maslow’s identified basic human needs? I ponder...