"Show your American pride!" proclaims the advertisement. Stars and stripes blaze through the block letters of the word "American."
The flag of the United States, in its entirety or bits and pieces thereof, is the decorative element on the merchandise -- clothing, coin purses (one of these in the shape of lips), mugs, flasks, dishes, wine glasses, pens, flashlights and cosmetic bags -- being offered for those responding to the call to display their patriotism. Since Sept. 11, many such items are being worn or used, but even before then, it was not uncommon to see the American flag on sweaters, T-shirts and bathing suits, and as a device to draw attention to goods for sale in connection with Independence Day and George Washington's birthday.
This particular advertisement, however, happened to come from the store on an American military base, where servicemen and servicewomen buy their regulation uniforms and insignia. And there happen to be regulations against using the country's flag in such ways.
Every Fourth of July, legions of Miss Manners' Gentle Readers, fearing she is not strict enough about such things, kindly send her copies of the Flag Code approved by the United States Congress. Among other things, it states that "the flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever," that it should "not be embroidered on such articles as cushions and handkerchiefs and the like," and never be "used as wearing apparel," costumes or athletic uniforms.
Now, if Miss Manners were any stricter, her worried Gentle Readers could probably use her as a flagpole. So although the Flag Code is unenforceable by law, it should be enforceable by etiquette. She ought to be glaring at violators until their toes curl, and righteous citizens everywhere should consider their country's honor attacked and defend it.
But she is not, and neither are other patriots.
Miss Manners remembers when that sort of confrontation was common. The rules were so well known that protesters who wanted a visually provocative way to demonstrate disapproval of their country dressed pretty much the way thousands of patriotic citizens have started dressing in order to demonstrate their support of their country. They have simply flipped the national symbolism to make an explicit sign of disrespect into one of loyalty.
Ignorance of etiquette never surprises Miss Manners, she is sad to say. And the cry of "everybody does it" has never made her shrink from condemning a deterioration in manners.
But this is not a case of rules being defied in contempt of what they symbolize; on the contrary, the rule-breakers clearly intend an enthusiastic display of loyalty. Nor did these customs fade from general use because of laziness, greed, or the other usual motivations by which the courtesies of society are dropping off.
Rather than dropping the underlying emotion, those draping themselves in versions of the American flag intend to project the same concept that is intended in the rules. They may even have mistakenly interpolated legitimacy from flag lapel pins, which were never proscribed, and decided that if a small flag showed pride, bigger items would show more of it.
Symbolism being arbitrary by definition, it does change over time. Think of the generations that wear long hair to annoy their elders alternating with those who symbolize youthful defiance with shaved heads. When military facilities tout flag-wearing, it is no time for traditionalists to go on the attack against their compatriots.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I feel fairly certain that a male friend of my husband's and mine has a crush on me. He's an honorable person, and I trust that this and his regard for my husband will prevent him from ever voicing or acting on such a feeling.
What are my obligations in this situation? I've already tried to refrain from asking any of the normal little favors one asks of friends, feeling that he might feel overly obligated to help out when it might be inconvenient.
Would it be a kindness to avoid him altogether, or should I just pretend not to have noticed and wait for it to pass? And if I should meet an agreeable lady and want to introduce them, would that be acceptable?
GENTLE READER: Your obligation is to pretend you don't notice. This would serve the double purpose of discouraging his hopes and encouraging his self-control by allowing him to believe that it has at least salvaged his dignity.
Avoiding him counts as noticing, Miss Manners is afraid. Introducing him to an agreeable lady is a convincing way of making him notice your failure to notice, much less to share, his feelings for you.