In the US, American patriotism is on very prominent display everywhere. The American flag flies in every public area, and state flags are rarely seen. The red, white, and blue is so deeply ingrained into American society that we hardly notice it anymore. From schools to government offices, the American flag is a symbol of many individual states united into one nation, under God.
When I first stepped out of the train station and into Tours, the thing that struck me most was the presence of EU flags flying next to French flags. The ubiquitous twelve golden stars set in front of a deep blue background accompanied me from the train station to the city hall and even the side alleys. Of course, they were always accompanied by the tricolor French flag, but it was so different from how US flags are displayed that I was taken aback. Whereas the US flag symbolized one nation with one government, the EU flag was one European nation of many states. Seeing EU flags everywhere gave a new meaning to the United States of Europe that I had studied in Comparative Political science. They symbolized a part in a greater whole, a feeling that there was more to Europe than just individual countries together. It gave flesh to the idea of a Europe unified as a nation of people.
The same was true throughout everyday life. At a boulangerie, I bought a French sandwich using Euros that displayed prominent European landmarks. Everyday, we spoke French, a language as much European as French alone. In class, we learned about French political parties and their European counterparts. Everywhere, I saw evidence of something larger than the nation-state. And yet, there was no sense that being European took away from being French. Both identities were equally celebrated, and the EU and French flag hung side-by-side, equal in every way. It was something that could never be replicated in the US, where the federal government holds increasingly greater sway in society, despite the continued importance of state governments. In Europe, however, despite its centuries of fierce national independence, signs of a European identity, and not just a national one, is starting to appear.