Posted by: Andrea | January 26, 2009

A flag of a different color

There’s a certain aspect of living in Scotland that has been particularly difficult for me to deal with since moving here.  It wasn’t something that I expected to face and over the years I have attempted to cope with it in different ways.  But nothing has ever really managed to solve the problem for me.  I’ve managed to cope, but it’s been tough.

There’s no country music in Scotland.

I know what you’re thinking!  How can you LIVE without country music?  Well people, it has not been easy.  I’m currently so out of the loop with country songs that when I first heard Taylor Swift’s ‘Teardrops on my Guitar’ I thought it was from High School Musical!  (Seriously, that’s an easy mistake to make.  Have you listened to those lyrics?  I WAS that girl in high school.  But not since, thank god.  Okay, maybe once.)  Every time I go home I immediately change to the country music station so I can get my fix.  It seems like there are constantly new artists and new songs from old artists, I can never keep up!  I miss my country music.  Nobody can sing about pain like a country artist.  I need my musical pain with fiddles and steel string guitars.

I also used to love going to the country line-dancing clubs.  I know, I know, I know what you’re thinking!  So lame!  So cheesy!  All those cowboy hats and cowboy boots!  Seriously though, they were FUN.  Honestly, I swear, trust me, bring a big group, they’re fun.  I loved going to the bar near my house because each night they’d have a lesson for a different dance.  So even though I was super lame and didn’t know any of the dances, at least I knew I’d be able to do at least one line dance each night.  There was something so intensely satisfying about being able to go up and do all the steps like a proper regular.  And there were regulars.  They were so impressive and they looked like they were having so much fun!  Every time I’d go (which wasn’t THAT often, to be fair, at least long enough to completely forget what I’d learned the last time I was there) I’d say to myself, right, I’m going to come here ALL THE TIME and I’m going to learn all the dances and I’m going to be really REALLY good!

Obviously that never happened.

But I did used to really enjoy going there with my friends.  It was filled with people who at least looked like real cowboys.  There were hilarious signs on the wall with things like ‘Good Cowgirls Keep Their Calves Together.’  It also didn’t have a mechanical bull, which was somewhat disappointing but probably upped the class of the place a tiny bit.

Well on Saturday night I finally got myself over to what I believe is the only line-dancing club in Glasgow.  It’s called ‘The Grand Ole Opry’ and you know I couldn’t make that up.  This place was both awesome and hilarious at the same time.  It was held in what looked like an old community hall, except with murals of cowboys and Indians on the walls.  There were flags of all kinds hanging up (including the Texas State flag, the US flag, both Scottish flags, the Confederate flag and also the Nashville County flag, just for good measure).  There was a band playing and people in the sorts of outfits that you could only buy in a costume shop.  One woman had an entire outfit of teal suede.  WITH fringe.

The music wasn’t anything I really recognized, I think it was pretty old school country.  There were quite a few people there and they all seemed pretty familiar with each other.  A friend informed me that there were people who came every single night, to the extent that they practically had assigned seats.  Apparently she’d arrived and sat in one woman’s seat.  She was not amused.  There was a lot of dancing, so much so that the dance floor was constantly packed.  I stepped on quite a few people in my flailing efforts to line dance.  Whoever put these things together were NOT catering to the newbie.  How am I supposed to copy the person in front of me if we have to keep turning around all the time?

The best part was that during the second of the band’s breaks, there was a quick-draw contest!  (The first break was Bingo)  They actually had all these ‘gunslingers’ who would come up and fire blanks into the floor to see who could shoot off their guns quickest.  These guys were unbelievable.  They had holsters and guns and outfits with LOTS of sequins and often long leather dusters and matching cowboy hats.  They also seemed to take it all very seriously.  They all had their own guns in these aluminum briefcases with stickers with things like ‘If it’s not country, it’s not music’ printed on them.  Another friend pointed out that the bar holds ‘Gun Class’ on Tuesday nights were anyone can come and learn how to be the quickdraw champion.  I was actually almost tempted to go.   I mean come on, where else can you learn to do that?!

I was having a grand ole time until the end, when something a little bit strange happened.  The regulars all got together on the dance floor and had this little ‘ceremony’ which I was told later was done every night.  They played this one particular song (which I didn’t recognize) and then they pulled out the Confederate flag.  They held it out flat between themselves and then held their cowboy hats over it while the song played.  Then they folded the flag up all reverently and when it was folded they shot off their guns.  I was watching it and I have to say, I felt a bit conflicted about it all.  I mean, the Confederate flag?

I realize that most of the people there that night have no idea what the flag represents to people in America.  Hell, I don’t even truly understand that because I’m not from the South.  But to perform that kind of ceremony with a flag that is so divisive and controversial seemed a bit thoughtless.  My friend who went there often came up to me before hand and warned me ‘they do this thing with the Confederate flag, but it’s not racist!”  I sort of felt like saying to her, well, if it’s with that flag, then it’s going to be seen as racist by certain people, no matter what you say.  I wasn’t offended, but I wasn’t totally comfortable with it either.  I honestly just didn’t really know how I felt about it.  I had a very strong gut feeling that it was pretty inappropriate.  But I also knew that it wasn’t being used there to represent anything other than an affinity and appreciation for the south, where country music originated.  Even so, I still felt that it shouldn’t have been used in that manner, without completely understanding what that flag could represent to certain people.  Or if it WAS used, knowing that it could be interpreted that way (and come on, how could they not be aware of how some people could interpret the use of that flag, being a country music bar) then that seems both insensitive and a little tactless.  But I was still a bit torn.  We’re not in the US after all.  Should they be allowed to do as they like with the flag, attaching whatever significance to it that they see fit?  Does the flag lose its symbolism and any possible emotional significance to people depending on where and by whom it’s flying?

In a way it’s no different than my sister coming to Glasgow and buying a Celtic jersey to wear because she likes the colors.  She has no idea what that top or those colors could represent to certain people.  It’s the same way that I can’t completely understand Sectarianism because I’m not from the west of Scotland.  I can conceptually understand that for some reason Catholics and Protestants don’t seem to like each other much and certain colors mean certain things, but it’s something I’ll never truly be able to understand.  All these people line-dancing and wearing cowboy outfits, is it really that different from the people back in Portland who wear kilts and compete in the highland games?  How do we know that some of what we do isn’t controversial to other people?

I know I’m not one to really comment about the use of the Confederate flag.  I have no idea of how that ceremony would have been perceived by someone from the south.  I’ve never even been there.  But if I’ve never even been there and it made me somewhat uncomfortable, how would it have been to them?  I told my parents about it and they were as shocked as I was, while at the same time also acknowledging that most likely it wasn’t meant to be offensive in any way.  But honestly, how appropriate is it to adopt certain aspects of another culture without fully understanding the significant of that object or symbol?  In the end I just accepted that people probably do this all over the world without it being much of an issue.  I’ve been to the highland games in Portland several times, which much seem as funny to Scottish people as this line-dancing club seemed to me.  I guess other cultures are always going to be more exotic and exciting than your own.  Who would have though there’d be people idolizing country line dancers in Scotland?


Responses

  1. EEEK. I would’ve died. Really. I spend many years living in the deep south and that flag represents nothing but racism, hatred and treason. To see a group of people who don’t even have the slightest twinge of what it means treat the flag with reverence would be astonishing. It’s one thing for Southerners to do it, but the Scots? I can understand why you’re conflicted. I can’t grasp the Catholic – Protestant issue either so what means the world to them (symbols, colors, etc.) doesn’t mean diddley to me.

    On the other hand, the world obviously associates country music with the south and of course all southerners have the Confederate flag hanging in the back of their truck along with a gun rack.

    On a lighter note, while in college I used to go country dancing every Thursday night and I loved it! Not line dancing, but country swing dancing. Had a blast! I miss it.

  2. The only way I could describe it was that it was all a bit icky. It made me uncomfortable but I couldn’t really blame them for that, but at the same time I felt like they MUST know that that particular flag is incredibly contentious and to use it anyway?! I’m in the same boat as you Pammy, that flag has only ever represented hatred and racism to me. Unfortunately this club has been around for over forty years so I can’t imagine they’re going to change their traditions anytime soon.

    I would LOVE to go country swing dancing! The country bar I used to go to would have a few different couples dances that looked so incredibly fun. Just another thing I need to put on my list of ‘things to learn to do someday.’

  3. I don’t know if I would have been able to control myself… I would have to ask one of those flag-holders what the heck that was all about. Couldn’t have kept my mouth shut, honestly… it just seems wrong.

  4. Yeah, it was all just a bit…not good. Looking back I probably should have asked one of them exactly what that was all about. It’d be interesting to learn what the members of the club thought it all meant.

  5. Everything country and everything western were all the rage in the UK back in the 90’s. My sister was stationed just outside of London for a time. When she arrived at RAF Chicksands, she was in demand almost overnight by the RAF guys. In her spare time, she made some extra money teaching the Brits to ride Western and line dance. She said it was all quite bizarre. Country music of the time had somehow finally seeped in to their brains and it was an obsession.


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