Monthly Archives: January 2014

Ridiculously and unnecessarily large flags

I was driving to the mall the other day (more on this in a later post, malls being a quintessentially American institution) and as I was working my way along the main boulevard I spotted something waving in the distance. It was a GARGANTUAN American beast of a flag, hoisted up on a big fat two-story pole and flopping lackadaisically in the wind (some pretty gusty conditions must be required before the weight of all that fabric to be fully unfurled).  I wondered what was going on there… A special occasion? Some sort of government office?  But when I drove closer, I realized it was… a car dealership.

On the way home from the mall, I spotted the colossal flag again.  I was momentarily confused, because I was pretty sure I was driving home a different way than I came, although I’m only just getting to know the area.  Then I realized I WAS on a different road, this was just another gratuitously large flag adorning another random business.  I’m not sure if it is intended as a way to draw the attention of prospective customers to the establishment, a demonstration of the patriotism of the owners, or both.  In any case, those are some damn big flags.

This led me to wonder, what and where is the largest flag in America?  Which, of course, led me down a Google rabbit hole and irrevocably lost me 15 minutes of my life.  Because there seem to be as many flags that claim to be the “world’s largest American flag” as there are British towns that claim to have “the most pubs of any town in the UK.”

SUPERFLAG: the World's Largest Flag, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

SUPERFLAG: the World’s Largest Flag, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

As far as I can ascertain (not wishing to waste further valuable moments of my life), the American flag which appears to have the most legitimate claim to the title of “biggest” is the so-called SUPERFLAG, which measures 255 feet by 505 feet and requires 600 volunteers to carry.  And, this being America, you can visit and pay to rent the flag.  I think I might get it for my back yard…

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January 30, 2014 · 7:43 am

Welcome home! Or rather, what is the purpose of your visit?

I’ve been back in the US for about 10 days now, and I already have a long list of “very American” experiences that I’d like to blog about as I readjust to life in my own country.  So, time to get started!  I figured why not start at the beginning – my arrival at the Los Angeles International Airport and my entry into US territory.  It’s been so long since I’ve been home that I had totally forgotten how utterly unsmiling, serious, and downright rude the US Customs and Border Protection Officers are.  They look as though they suck lemons for breakfast and haven’t gotten a good lay in years.  What’s up with that?

Nothing says “welcome home” like a poker-faced interrogation, after enduring the tedium of an hour-long wait in a line that moves at the pace of molasses flowing uphill in winter, the only diversion being that it is punctuated every so often by the harsh barks of a suited PMSing officer directing the front-most customer to advance forward to the booth.  Because, clearly the reason the line is going so slowly is not because the officers are relentlessly questioning US citizens about entry into their own country, but rather because the people at the front of the queue are not moving forward fast enough.

I was reminded of my polar opposite experience with Immigration New Zealand when I arrived at the Auckland Airport in late December.  New Zealand was one of my last stops on my journey home, and I couldn’t have received a warmer welcome.  When I approached the desk and the immigration officer asked for my landing card (after first wishing me a Merry Christmas), I realized I didn’t have one because I’d slept through the whole flight and missed them being handed out on the plane.  When I told him this, I fully expected him to tell me to go get one, fill it out, and come back to the desk when I was done (this is what usually happens).

Instead, he said “Here’s one!  You can stay here and fill it out.  Take your time.  No rush.”  As I slowly filled out the landing card, he cheerfully made small talk with me.  When I handed him my passport to be stamped, he flipped through the many visa-filled and stamp-filled pages and took an interest in all the places I’d traveled.  He proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions about the various countries I’d been in Africa, not because he was trying to grill me on whether I have yellow fever, am a terrorist, or was attempting to smuggle fresh biltong into the country (which, in fact, I was), but simply because he was curious about those places.

He stamped my passport and wished me a wonderful stay in New Zealand.  In short, New Zealand Immigration gave me the warm fuzzies.  US Customs and Border Protection, on the other hand, made me feel stressed and anxious, like I’d committed a crime or was guilty of something, such as not sufficiently resembling my passport photo which was taken 5 years ago.  And I’m an American citizen!  I can’t imagine how unwelcome the foreigners feel.  I suppose it’s going to be a long time before the US customer service ethos of “service with a smile” and “Have a nice day!” infiltrates the US Customs and Border Protection…

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Home Strange Home

I first left the US in 1999, when I was 18 years old. Since then, I’ve spent 13 years living abroad – 3 in Canada, 7 in Europe, and 3 in Africa. Now I’ve finally returned to the US on a one-way plane ticket. I arrived home on January 15th and set foot in the US for the first time in nearly 2.5 years… this is going to be interesting! In this blog, I’ll write about the ups and downs of my re-acculturation experience.

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