by Gloria Petersen
A flag is a symbol of people—whether a nation, a city, or a corporation. A national flag is often displayed along with other flags at meetings, banquets, and other corporate (or international) events. It sends a strong message that you value and respect your guests (or visitors). Consequently, it is important to learn how to display and handle flags correctly, and to respect the protocol. Displaying a flag inappropriately can send an insulting message. Furthermore, learning the history and the symbolism of your visitors’ native flag will make you more knowledgeable and your conversation more impressive.
Displaying the flag of a visitor’s country communicates respect and honor. Correct flag reproductions are critical when hosting visitors or foreign delegations.
A director of international relations for a Fortune 500 company shares an experience he had when preparing for a visit from the president of Malaysia. To receive and honor its client properly, his company had a Malaysian flag made and displayed.
Fortunately, the Malaysian press arrived before the president of Malaysia and noticed the flag was incorrect.
Although the Malaysian flag looks similar to the American flag, there are distinct differences.
Like the American flag, their country’s symbolic crest is bordered by red and white stripes. It might seem that the flag company simply replaced the United States crest with the Malaysian crest. Inside the Malaysian flag’s field is a crescent representing the Islamic religion and a star with fourteen points which signify the fourteen states. The American flag’s union (or crest) contains fifty stars representing each state.
Do not depend on the manufacturer to reproduce the flag accurately. Always research the protocol and double check the design and display for accuracy.
Flags are customarily displayed only in the meeting rooms of an event space (e.g., customer briefing center, corporate boardroom, or convention center conference room). They may also be displayed at the entrance of a building or in dining rooms where the visitors will gather—rarely or never in the hallways or entryways. Flag displays are handled by the facility’s staff. They will need sufficient lead time and will need to know who will be placing the flags on their poles and taking them down.
When displaying the United States flag from a staff projecting from a window, balcony, or other part of a building, the blue field with white stars (union) should be at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-mast. When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flagpoles that are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor. The other flags may be smaller, but none may be larger. No other flag should ever be placed above the U.S. flag. (Source: usflag.org. Also, visit the National Flag Foundation or read New Manners for New Times by Letitia Baldrige, pages 521 to 522)
When mounting the United States flag to a building, the union should be on the left. A corporate expert or adviser should always oversee the photographer’s staging.
The cover of a high-profile business magazine displayed the flag backward, with two men holding the flag with the blue field on the right instead of on the left. This was noticed, and it conveyed a message that the magazine was careless.
Show pride by taking special care of your flag. It should never look damaged or be handled or displayed in a careless fashion. A national flag is a symbol of a country’s identity and represents its people and public image.
Show respect at all times. When the national anthem is played or the pledge of allegiance is recited, the right hand goes over the heart and hats are removed—this includes baseball caps! Admittedly, there is confusion on this protocol. There have been so many mixed messages on this protocol that even presidents have made this misstep. While some people were taught to stand at attention with your hands down during the playing of the national anthem (or when the flag passes by as in a parade), others were taught to put their right hand over their heart as they stand at attention. However, when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the right hand goes over the heart, always!
Excerpt from The Art of Professional Connections: Event Strategies for Successful Business Entertaining (pages 46 to 48).