A Picture of an American Flag, Plus a Question

It’s my American flag, actually. As for the question:

Leaving aside your own country’s flag, what’s your favorite national flag, purely on vexillological grounds? Confine yourself to current flags of currently existing countries, please.

I’m partial to the Estonian flag, myself:

And, yes, it’s another busy writing day around here. How can you tell?

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

167 replies on “A Picture of an American Flag, Plus a Question”

There is a eagle killing a snake in the middle, so it both looks cool and tells a story about the founding of the capitol city. Plus living in California I see a lot of them compared to any other no US country.

About a dozen years ago, after my first divorce, I was deeply confused. I moved to a far-off place called Washington DC, where Real World logic does not apply. And around that time, a geek friend of mine had made up a little batch of those black-letters-on-white-oval country-code stickers for your car, with the letters ‘WTF’.

I was back visiting the Real World for a family reunion in Detroit when someone commented on the sticker on my truck. “Yeah, I live in Whatthefuckistan, ever since my divorce”.

This is my country, and here’s Daffy, flying our flag:

Brazil’s flag is surely my choice. The stars represent each state, the blue the sky, the green the forests and the yellow the gold. Only thing is the ribbon is going down while should be going up, from a designer point of view.

I admire the flag of Åland, which looks as though it comes from a country made entirely of Lego. If you further relax the ‘country’ requirement, then Maryland gets my vote.

Whatever our favorites, can we all agree that the design-by-committee of the post-apartheid South African flag is really unfortunate?

Living in Detroit, I have a soft spot for the flag of our neighbors to the south in Canada. It’s perfectly designed to subtly remind people around the world that the bearer is not, in fact, American and as such shouldn’t be blamed for whatever you were going to confront them about.

I happen to really like the Canadian flag. It’s simple enough to be easily distinguished from most other flags, but the maple leaf provides a bit of visual interest. The leaf also provides an element that can be easily used elsewhere in other forms, allowing the flag to be used (abused?) artistically in a number of ways without losing its recognisability.

I quite like the flag of Nepal for being non-rectangular, as others have said. I also like the flag of Qatar, because you don’t see a lot of purple on flags. I also like the flag of Seychelles, though it’s mad and probably difficult to blazon.

I’m fond of the Welsh red dragon and the Scots red lion, but while I love them both as symbols, I like my flags simpler.

I really have never thought about this before. Spent most of my life being against flags on principle, but I like them better since I learned a thing or two about heraldry.

I kinda like Canada’s flag, but maybe that’s because I secretly wanna be Canadian, rather than the simple appeal of the flag’s design.

I have to say that I love the flag of the Conch Republic, which is silly by design. Doesn’t actually qualify, since its nationhood is (and always has been) a joke, but it violates so many of Josh Parsons’ rules that it’s actually funny: graven images, writing on the flag (the name of the country AND the year it was founded AND a tacky pun), and Too Many Stars.

I’m a great fan of the South African flag, on its own merits. But considering how hard it is to come up with a good new flag in any event (look at any of dozens of awful US City flags, especially the newer ones), especially given how charged the history and politics of it all, the thing is a triumph.

Oh, Xopher, I didn’t realize we were talking real heraldry there. I’m well aware that Crimson is not, despite the best efforts of many SCAdians, a metal.

I’ve always liked South Africa’s flag. Colorful, yet not too garish. And Nepal is a favorite as well, for not being rectangular. Sadly, Libya changed theirs recently, so I can no longer favor that one.

Ken.C, I know! I was teasing.

But this reminds me of a hilarious piece of woo-woo scholarship. Someone gave Real. Concrete. Evidence. that blue and black were allowed to touch, showing heraldry from actual illuminated manuscripts. What they didn’t do is find the devices in fabric or paintings; the manuscripts in question had used silver leaf for white/silver/argent, and it had tarnished.

I’ve got a soft spot for the Netherlands with the orange drape over it, but if I had to pick ONE it would be the Union Jack of GB… I just love how you can see the elements from all the different countries represented

I’ve always thought the US flag was too “busy”. My faves? Scotland and England. Not the union jack, but the separate ones.

If we could include countries that don’t exist but I wish did, I’d add the Cascadia flag.

My vote is for the Norwegian flag. My mom’s mom’s side of the family came from Norway and was proud of it. We always had the Norwegian flag flying for syttende Mai (May 17th–Norwegian Independence Day).

I like the symbolism of the UK, three different national crosses combined into one. For simpliticy and nice design, it’s a tie between Greece, Isreal, and Canada.

For state flags, I have to agree with Maryland, although Colorado and Arizona are nice too. My own state of Utah has essentially the same flag as several others: An ugly blotch of dark blue with the state seal in the middle.

I’m partial to Mongolia, myself:
Colorwise, it’s okay, but that symbol… that Soyombo symbol is something else. It makes me want to create a Mongolian superhero just so he can have that symbol on his chest. “For honor! For freedom! FOR MONGOLIA!”

Their official emblem is pretty cool, too:

@JJS – I do like that about the UK flag, the combination of the national crosses, but I think it’s a pity Wales gets screwed by having been essentially absorbed into England so long before the union flag was thought up. (Of course, the St David’s Cross clashes horribly with the rest of them and adding it to the Union Jack would just make everyone dizzy …)

I’ll just add my voice the fans of the Welsh flag. Points to Nepal for the nonstandard shape, but it doesn’t quite work for me. OTOH, that Union Jack with the cross of St. David that Aunt Vixen @1:59 PM linked to is pretty cool.

Iceland, then Faroe Islands, part of the family of Norway, Sweden, Denmark design shapes. No more than three or four colors, please, recognizable as your country’s flag when staticly hung at 30º, 45º, 60º, and vertically and only stirred by the wind.

I always liked the old USSR flag with the sickle and hammer. For some reason I’ve always found it to be a simple and striking image, and the fact that I really do want one of those Red Army fur caps might have something to do with it.

For me it’s a toss up between Slovenia and the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia. I like the boldness of the Macedonia shape, but if I had to imagine myself living on some colony world, I’d be quite happy with Slovenia’s flag flying overhead.

Wow, that Macedonian flag reminds me of those WWII Japanese war flags…

Count me in as another fan of the Isle of Man flag. It’s a cool flag and a great place. They’ll put that three-legged figure on any surface. I never saw the three-legged man there though.

Nitpick: 17 May is Norwegian Constitution Day. The celebration predates actual independence.

to be somewhat pedantic, didn’t the question call for the flags of COUNTRIES? I know this argument pisses some people off, but when Scotland and Wales (and Northern Ireland) get independent seats at the U.N., THEN they’ll be countries; now, they’re more like U.S. states or Swiss cantons. (hey, I’ll even count them when the get their own entries at the Olympics, just to show how broad-minded I am). And, I have visited both places and enjoyed the places and people a lot.

Well Scotland and Wales have their own football teams and are part of the *united* kingdom which is a kingdom united out of four countries. I think it’s *states* that get a seat at the UN – national states not interna states like Missouri which would be weird to see at the UN

I like the flag of Lebanon – two red stripes top and bottom on a white field with a green Cedar of Lebanon tree in the middle reaching deep into history. I am kind of cheating; although I’m British I was born and lived ten years in Lebanon as an expat kid.

I’d say Japan’s flag is hard to beat – graphically very simple, elegant, and immediately recognisable in a way that many of those tricolours and fussy or stripy flags aren’t.

Given that fictional entities’ flags have already been broached as a subtopic, I just want to add that I like the Cascadia flag linked above – however, I’d never come across this use of Cascadia until now; I only know it as the fictional U.S. state where Bernard Malamud’s novel A New Life takes place (based on Malamud’s experiences on the English faculty at Oregon State University in the 1950s).

finnland or the faroese islands (which technically are only a “country within the danish realm” (which means that their government is equal to the central danish one), not an independent country)

Hmmm… some of my faves (Japan, Seychelles) have already been mentioned, so I’ll give a shout-out to the flag of Malawi. The “independence” flag, with the rising sun.

Brilliantly straddles the line between the purely abstract and the photographically representational (assuming that the sky in Malawi is black at sunrise).

My parents used to have a book with all the national flags of the world in it, and some non-national ones, like the UN and the red cross. It was so cool- flags were grouped by country location, and lots of countries in a given location would have similar colours or symbols on their flags- some of Africa has a lot of countries with red, yellow, green and black, northern Africa tends red, white and black, lots of Middle Eastern countries have the Islamic cresecent-and-stars, and/or green. (So over blue, white and red as a flag colour combination. It’s kind of boring (I am Australian, I can say that- I think. Can I say that?)

I love some of the flags mentioned already, Nepal and Bhutan and Qatar, and gosh, the Wiphala looks stunning! But to mention another flag I love, have a Nauru. It looks different to the flags of the other Pacific Island nations, as far as I remember, and it’s a map of where Nauru is in relation to the equator. And it’s got yellow and a star on it. What else could you ask for on a national flag? Apart from a velociraptor, that is :P

Union Jack, especially in all it’s derivitive forms for dominions, colonies, and former colonies who have a nod to their history.

Israel – the blue and white is striking and unique compared to most otehr flags, and I like the star of david in the center, in a similar vein of all the crosses on Christian nations and crescents of Islamic nations, but Israel is the only nation founded with a Jewish heritage.

Probably some personal bias here as I am both an Anglophile and also philosemetic.

I only recognize a few national flags, courtesy the Olympics (to my detriment, I’m sure), but it was interesting to see how similar the flags are for Cuba, Puerto Rico, and to a lesser extent, Chile. Likewise for northern Europe’s Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland (if technically still northern Europe). Still, browsing along I’d say Spain is an early favorite in the visually appealing department. Maybe because that yellow just smacks you hard in the eyes when it comes up.

Ideally, I’d like to see the Welsh flag dragon go up against the Bhutanese flag dragon. They’re even facing in the right directions for a match-up. Coincidence? I think not.

(The Isle of Man’s flag is pretty cool, too, though it hurts my brain.)

No love for the Croatian flag, with the checkerboard?
One of my favorite not-a-nation flags is Cornwall’s, with the white on black St. Piran’s Cross. It’s supposed to represent molten tin flowing over the dark earth.

Like M. Hutton, I always had a fondness for the Alaskan flag [resided there 1964-6] slightly more than that of Texas [resided there 1968-9]. But my #1 choice would be the Olympic Games flag.


I’m gonna cheat.

I like the Scandinavian national flags, as a set. Simple, good colors, similar enough that you can see that Scandinavia is a Thing, distinct enough that they can all shoot at each other when necessary. How could it get any better than this?

I’m fond of Botswana’s flag. I find the reds in most country’s flags jarring (though I understand that is somewhat intentional to help them have high distance visibility) and I just find the blue and black soothing and aesthetically appealing.

Canada’s flag is my favourite, however I can’t believe that nobody has mentioned Quebec’s flag– simple and beautiful (I’m from “Rocadia”– named after ‘the rest of Canada’, ie: Canada outside of Quebec).

Alan September 28, 2012 at 11:18 pm: John Wyndham wrote a story called “Chinese Puzzle” where a Chinese dragon meets a Welsh one in “modern” (1950s, when the story was written) Wales.

It seems that the dragons were more interested in making love, not war.

Very partial to the Canadian, Republic of Newfoundland, and Quebec flags, but I’m biased there!

For “places I am not and have not been a resident of”, I’m going with Hong Kong. I think it’s lovely.

For me, being of Mexican and Irish decent, I’m partial to both the Mexican and Irish flags. I like the mythological eagle-vs-snake battle emblazoned on the Mexican flag, and I like the simple symbolism of the Irish flag (Green Ireland on one side, Orange Ulster on the other, and White Peace in between them both).

I kind of like the Lebanon flag (because otherwise I would not have a clue what the cedar tree looks like) but on the whole I think flags are the hankies of the emotionally challenged (or the nappies of the home soiled incontinent)

During the 1980’s, it was illegal to display the Estonian flag, so Estonian protestors exercising their legal right of free speech would fly three flags at their demonstrations: one solid blue, one solid black, one solid white. (I have great admiration for protestors with the balls to exercise their legal rights in the USSR.)

I know it’s my country, but I do love the Australian Flag. It acknowledges where we came from as a nation with the union jack and the southern cross is something unique to us (because New Zealand doesn’t count, they’re really just another Australian state whatever they claim).

Another vote for the Canadian flag, here. Israel’s is great too.

It’s interesting that so many people mentioned Maryland’s flag, because lots of people seem to have an AAAAAA MY EYES reaction to it. Personally, I like it, but it’s pretty wild. It’s a heraldic design, from George Calvert’s coat of arms, and old heraldic designs were supposed to be bold. Far too many US state flags are basically a blue or white field with the state seal on it.

I find it remarkable how many flag designers seem to forget that flags have two sides, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Any flag design which looks stupid from the back is a bad design. (This generalizes Josh Parsons’s “no writing” and “no maps” rules, and also includes the various southern cross star maps.)

On the positive note, I like Canada’s flag.

Stupid from the back> sometimes flags are made double-layered to avoid this – the Saudi Arabian flag is always made this way.

I like the Central African Republic (do not attempt to disprove the four colour theorem on a flag).

Back in the mid-80s (this would be immediately after Webb), I burnt up a lot of time trying to get a band going, but as a militant twenty year old with ready access to The Clash, Throbbing Gristle, and everything on Factory Records I had the graphic identity of everything “my band” released completely planned out ahead of time. For the cover of album #4 I came up with a blue, black, & white three stripe flag (it was the during the “statement” era of cover design). On a full-bleed 12″ album cover, it looked fantastic.

Several years later, I was astounded to see my album cover suddenly appropriated as the Estonian flag. Of course I had no idea that those colors had already been taken by Estonia one hundred years earlier. The blue, black, & white were forbidden during the Soviet years and weren’t flown again until 1989 when the Iron Curtain just rusted out.

Anyway, kudos to the 1881 Estonian Students’ Society at the University of Tartu for coming up with a cool color scheme:

I’ve always liked Portugal’s flag a lot. Best mix of older coat-of-arms style with strong color elements.

I’m surprised to see so many liking the Australian flag, and had to laugh at the person who couldn’t decide between Aus & NZ, as they are practically identical, which is a large part of the reason I don’t like the Aus flag.
I do really like the other flags associated with Australia – the Eureka Flag and the other two official flags, the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Island flag. I find all three much more aesthetically pleasing that the national flag.

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