Garden Gnomes and Pink Flamingos: The Ultimate in Taste

In the previous blog I wrote about how some people judge or pigeonhole others by the way they speak, which led me to wonder why people are also judgemental about other folks’ belongings, their choice of furniture, the way they decorate their homes.

Who it is that dictates what is acceptable or unacceptable when it comes to good taste?

I’m not thinking ‘art’ here, there’s no need to complicate things by bringing in the academics – I’m thinking everyday items adorning our homes and gardens which may be regarded by some as tacky or tasteless. Things we have around us we don’t even notice anymore, but which visitors see and immediately start computing where to slot us in their social rankings.

What makes people cringe at a garden full of plastic gnomes or coo with delight at a bronze sculpture set in a formal garden? On the gnome front is it the plastic that’s the problem or the actual gnome? With the sculpture is it an appreciation of beauty or are we being conned by the good taste police? And who are they anyway?

Of more concern, do the good police differ in their criteria from country to country? I rather think they do.

Such matters have given me a sleepless night, because nowhere has it crossed anyone’s mind that people have a sense of humour.

While I’m sure there are individuals who are passionate about garden gnomes, I’m equally convinced there are some with a wicked sense of humour who adorn their perfectly manicured plots with these Lilliputian statuettes with the sole purpose of annoying their neighbors.

This must apply in the same measure to crocheted toilet/ lavatory/ loo roll covers, trios of plaster ducks flying up a wall and plastic flowers. There must be homes all over the country prettified with such items just for fun.

We have good friends who once made a joke about flying plaster ducks à la Hilda Ogden, which resulted in us presenting them with three we managed to find in some obscure hardware store. Good sports that they are, those ducks have glided gracefully across the walls of their home ever since. Behind a cupboard in the utility room admittedly, but on the wall all the same.

Then you have items for the garden which start out as the garden ‘must haves’ in all the trendy magazines, judged a year or so later as ‘naff’. I do wonder in these situations if such dictates are driven by the marketing men rather than good taste pundits.

On moving to the southern US we discovered another slant to the garden embellishing syndrome – plaster saints. This blew our minds coming from the heathen UK and didn’t sit too well with our protestant upbringing, where any religious icons clearly came under the heading of idolatry. We underwent a crash course on Religion in the Southern States 101 to get us up to speed, but it did emphasise our preconceptions and snobbish attitude. Suddenly we realised we had no clue what was acceptable, taste wise, in this new country we’d moved to.

It was the same with pink plastic flamingos – they turned up everywhere. Surely they were naff? Weren’t they? Yet they were to be seen, poised elegantly amidst the groomed and polished lawns of up-market homes belonging to people with impeccable taste and enviable social standing. Was it the ‘fade’ factor that deemed one flamingo ‘tasteful’  while perched on a the lawn of a million dollar home while another was judged ‘cringeworthy’ when found outside a double-wide trailer being savaged by a Rottweiler?

We found the whole thing utterly absorbing and such matters were discussed endlessly and heatedly over margaritas and mint julips on sultry, steamy evenings serenaded by the chirping of cicadas. It seemed at every American holiday new wonders would appear to assault our visual senses and Christmas blew us away.

Where else in the world would you see an illuminated 20-foot long, 6-foot high Santa and sleigh drawn by ten alligators precariously balanced on the roof of a house?

We loved it. It was so over the top and camp you had to enter into the spirit of it all, although ‘camp’ and ‘southern states’ aren’t words you would put in the same sentence outside the French QuarterNew Orleans.

Would we have been so laid back in the UK? Absolutely not – we’d have been thrown on the social scrap-heap before a ray of sunshine had fallen on the iridescent Barbie pink of those flamingo feathers.

It was such fun being a foreigner and not having to worry what other people thought. No-one knew us, no-one cared, and if we crossed their minds at all our behaviour was dismissed as odd because we were foreign and didn’t know any better.

We found the ‘rock and roll’ gyrating Santas hilarious and still wish we’d bought a Billy bass . Wal-mart was always a treasure trove of weird, wonderful and totally tacky treasures.

Our pick-up truck (we had to have one) was decked out with Mardi Gras beads swinging from our rear view mirror, country music pumping out with the best of them, and we had a blast. Bumper stickers were de rigour – the fish symbol was on many a bumper as you’d expect in the south, but there were also fish with legs which made me howl – go Darwin!

Moving to The Netherlands was another world. Far more conservative than either the UK or the US, we were immediately aware of a distinct lack of gnomes, flamingos or similar. Even Christmas here is a bit subdued – the only decorations being clear twinkling lights in trees. In some areas (dubbed Little America by the locals) resident americans get wonderful, colorful over the top decorations shipped in by friends and relatives back home. So worth it for the synchronised resigned sighs, head shaking and eye-rolling of the Dutch.

Occasionally we see a miniature windmill  tastefully appointed beside a garden pond,  and it’s clear this is a serious well thought out embellishment, no humour or campness in sight. It would be nice to think the Dutch have a fun side. If they do, it’s not expressed in choice of garden ornaments or loo roll covers.

I draped red white and blue bunting outside for the Royal Wedding only daring to do so because it fell at the same time as a Dutch holiday. Our neighbors were quite touched we’d made an effort to liven things up on their behalf, bless ’em. I’m afraid I won’t be doing the same on the Fourth of July, I’m not that brave.

So good taste, or acceptable taste, is defined differently wherever you live. It seems the taste police, those gatekeepers of refinement will judge your gnomes a definite no-no in one place but not another.

All this thinking takes far too much energy – we should all go for the fun factor and not stress, life is way too short.

By the way, have I shown you our loo roll holder which plays the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ when  the bathroom tissue is yanked…



About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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6 Responses to Garden Gnomes and Pink Flamingos: The Ultimate in Taste

  1. Gloria says:

    I am one of those people who loves pink plastic Flamingo’s and yard Gnomes and proud owner of a few … But i have heard about a story long long ago that if you have Flamingo’s in your yard you have to have a Gnome or is it ,if you have a yard Gnome you have to have a Flamingo .. to keep the other in line or outta trouble, anyway .. i have been on a quest to find out the story of this and why it’s so. I am not the only one who has heard of this tale, but noone seems to remeber why , so if you or anyone you know knows this tale and why .. please inform me ..
    I have been all over the internet and can not find it. Ifound many many funny antics and stories of the two (Gnomes and Flamingo’s) . but not the tale i’m looking for .

  2. Jane says:

    And another example of the ultimate in taste… holiday sweaters (with matching earings)…

    • wordgeyser says:

      YES! I’d not thought about that but you’re so right. Where would we be without our santa, pumpkin, and national flag earings? And those reindeer sweaters.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. That many people really want to live their lives concerned whether others will view them as having good taste is amazing. A sense of humor is far more important than where a person rates on the ‘taste scale’. (And as you said, whose scale is it??)

    In my parents neighborhood in Florida, a flock of hot pink plastic flamingos turn up in the front lawn of anyone having a birthday. They are then responsible for placement for the next birthday guy/gal. Always good for a laugh, and you actually have to get to know your neighbors!

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