In the States it is common for grade-school kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, whether there is any feeling or substance attached to it or not. I remember there being very little. The practice is immediately abandoned during high school, along with it any semblance of enforced patriotism. However, outside of government institutions, the United States is known (or notorious) for its flag-waving patriotism: many Europeans, for example, have expressed to me their surprise in seeing so many American flags displayed in front of houses. This pattern only increased, ad nauseum, after September 11th, when everyone felt the need to flaunt his support of America.
I was quite surprised, however, to have attended a ceremony of Oath to the Flag this week in Quito. The day, the 27th of February, commemorates a famous battle won by the national hero Mariscal Sucre against a Peruvian army, as well as being Army Day. The most important aspect of this celebration is the ceremony that takes place in high schools across the country (although the day varies somewhat). I witnessed it at one of the larger schools in Quito, as evidenced by the attendance of the mayor and hundreds of family members.
It took place in a large school courtyard with viewing stands on one side. First to enter were 16 and 17 year olds, probably one hundred or more, all of them carrying Ecuadorian and Quitonian flags. They marched in and past the viewing stands to a band playing military themes. They were then followed by the 18 year olds, who marched in as well and arranged themselves in eight or so lines in front of larger Ecuadorian flags. Then there were a few rounds of patriotic speeches and awards for the students with the best grades. Finally, after almost 90 minutes, the main event began: the oath. The students stood in front of the flags, and on command stepped towards the flags, knelt, took the flags in their gloved hands, swore their loyalty, then kissed the flag—all of this before their families, friends, and civil leaders. It was far beyond anything I have experienced in the US, even beyond my swearing in as a soldier. But it is a tradition that Ecuadorians cherish and are quick to defend.