Of Americans, Canadians, and Flags

canadian backpackersLast week, I had to (unfortunately) wake up early to reserve my bed for the night at the Flying Pig in Amsterdam. While there, I saw a Canadian girl checking out of the hostel. The girl had not one, but TWO Canadian flags on her backpack. As the summer backpacking season begins in Europe, I’m seeing a lot more Canadians and Americans traveling… and thus, Canadians wearing their flag. And also Americans pretending to be Canadian.

Now, I don’t begrudge Canadians for putting their flag everywhere. If Canadians want to show their patriotism, let them. Everyone should be proud of where they are from — good or bad, your home is your home. Except, I don’t think it’s patriotism that prompts Canadians to put the flag everywhere. They say it’s patriotism but I don’t fully buy that argument. Everyone is proud of where they are from but have you ever seen another nationality wear their flag in such great numbers as Canadians? No, you don’t. I really think it’s a secret desire to say loudly to the world, “I AM NOT AMERICAN.”

I’ve been in hostels long enough to know that anyone with a North American accent is assumed to be American. And thus, Canadians over the decades must have gotten a little annoyed by this and decided that if they have their flag everywhere, no one will make that assumption. I think it’s a bit silly (New Zealanders are always mistaken for Australians, but they don’t wear the flag everywhere!), but to each his own. It’s now a tradition. It’s just what Canadians like to do.

While I may find it amusing that Canadians love to wear their flag, what I take issue with is Americans… specifically, Americans who say they are Canadians. While playing poker at the casino later that same night in Amsterdam, I was surrounded by two Americans, some Dutch, and some Iranians. The New Yorker to my left and I struck up a conversation, and he mentioned that he never tells people he’s American. He always says he’s Canadian. The world apparently hates Americans, and he’s always been afraid he would be on the wrong end of some American bashing or kidnapping. Or maybe a beheading. He wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen, but he was adamant that “the world hates America.”

This is one of the most vicious misconceptions in America, and it really grinds my gears. As a world traveler for the last 4 years, I can tell you that the world does not hate Americans. It’s not anti-Americanism, but anti-American governmentism (read: Anti-George Bushism) that exists in the world. And now that we have Obama, most of that has disappeared. Sure, some people might hate Americans and America, but 99.99999% of the people I’ve met and discussed this issue with don’t. Even if they start off saying they do, when pressed, they usually admit it’s the government they don’t like — not the people.

the american flagTurning to the Iranians, I asked them where they were from. Without hesitation, they said Iran. With Iran in the news lately for its nuclear program and the memory of the election crackdown last year, Iran doesn’t have a very popular image in the world. I asked the Iranians if, even though most of the world has bad things to say about Iran, they ever would say they were from somewhere else. Again, without hesitation, they said no. And why should they? Their government may not be great, but that doesn’t mean the country and the people aren’t. The Iranians love their culture and their history and would never hide from their identity, no matter how bad their present situation may be.

The American travelers I meet might be ashamed of our government, but many also seem to be ashamed of just “being American.” On the road, you face a barrage of questions about government policy and are expected to repent for all its sins. It gets annoying. I’ve answered the “Why did you elect Bush?” question more times than I can count. But I’ve never told someone I was Canadian. I never would. Imperfect as America is, it is still a great place to be, and it is still my home. I am an American. Even if I spend my life in France, I will always have my American roots with me.

When I meet American travelers who say they tell people they are Canadian, it boils my blood like no tomorrow. I usually end up saying something to them. If you are so ashamed to be American and would rather claim to be Canadian, move to Canada. By lying, you are perpetuating the myth that the world hates America and that we should all be afraid.

More importantly, as an American traveler, you have a chance to dispel the myths about America. I don’t like the Iranian government. I think they do awful things. But I’ve met a lot of Iranians over the years, and I think they are great. And every travel report I’ve heard from Iran always speaks about the immense hospitality of the people there. The Iranian people dispel the myth that “Iran is bad.” Your interactions overseas can help dispel the myths about America. It’s your chance to show people we aren’t the loud, obnoxious, crazy, gun-wielding, obese idiots the world thinks we are.

Telling people you’re Canadian destroys that chance. But more importantly, it creates the image that America is a place to be ashamed of and that we would rather pretend to be Canadian than be proud of our home. It’s a cop out, plain and simple. If you are too embarrassed to say where you are from, then maybe you shouldn’t live there.

One of the ways travel changes the world is by breaking down barriers. But telling someone you’re a Canadian when you aren’t just reinforces negative stereotypes and myths. If you want to avoid politics, avoid it. Change the subject. But don’t lie about who you are. This is your chance to educate and connect. Don’t ruin it because of the American media’s myth of a hateful world.

  1. Nice article. From my experience, its not a hatred of Americans, just a minority of obnoxious American backpackers that develop a pack mentality when they assemble into a group of more than 4 or 5 fellow Americans. When this happens they feel the need to make little America out of whatever their current location may be. Its mainly confined to young Americans in larger groups with a Jock or Frat girl mentality.

    On the flipside, the vast majority of Americans I have met have been great, and have the same distane for this so-called pack mentality.

    • Good observation, but it is my impression that all nationalities when traveling in groups tend to act like this. Have you ever observed a pack of Israelis together? Or the Irish or English out for a night of drinking abroad for that matter?

      I think it is a normal tendency to act like a loud goof when you are in the middle of your tribe in a place where cultural, racial, group lines are so obvious.


      • NomadicMatt

        I agree with Wade. Ever see 5 english guys together? They get that way too. All nationalities have this pack mentality.

  2. It’s funny because every American I’ve met on the road was amazing and extremely friendly. The only person I’ve ever felt outright insulted by was a Canadian who had some less than flattering things to say about my province. It just doesn’t make sense to judge someone on their nationality, it’s not like we all automatically have the same personality because we were born in a particular place.

  3. I think that Canadians put the flag on their packs more out of patriotism than I am not americanism. We’re a nation that takes pride in our world-wide reputation, our national sports teams, and our gigantic back yards. Sure, we don’t like getting mistaken as Americans, but I don’t think that its the leading reason why we don the flag.

    As for the Anti George Bushism – do you think there will be Anti Obamaism before the end of his term?

    • in my very humble i have to agree with what matt said in his article. ganted this is simply based on my own personal experiences with meeting candians, but the vast majority of them were very clear about why they wear the flag, so that they’re not mistaken for an american. of course not ALL feel this way, but at least the majority of the ones that i’ve met acknowledge that they do.

  4. Totally agree with what Gareth said above, the problem does manifest itself with Americans (or Canadians, or Brits, or whoever) getting a Frat mentality in small groups. That’s not because they are American, it’s because they’re idiots.

    One of the things that annoys me is people telling me something that I’m not. I’m very proudly Welsh, yet not many people know about Wales though, so I say I’m British. To which I get called “English”. They’re not the same!

    Ironically, outside of Europe (where sporting events often mean that Wales & England compete as different teams), the Americans seem to understand this better than a nations who are pereceived to be more culturally aware!

  5. We’ve traveled to so many countries that are supposedly “anti-American” and have never had any problems telling people our nationality and people are usually very curious about the “real America” because they’ve never met any Americans. Most people we meet abroad are able to differentiate between the actions of a government and that country’s people (I actually wonder whether most Americans at home would be able to do this with foreigners they meet).

    Traveling is one of the best ways to start an open conversation and share information about your own country, thereby allowing travelers to act as citizen diplomats or traveler ambassadors. I recently met a French traveler while crossing the border from Ecuador to Peru. Without any reservations, she explained to me that she was brought up to be Anti-American and to dislike Americans. But, then she met Americans studying and traveling through France and her perception changed, she realized we weren’t all McDonald’s and George Bush clones as her parents had taught her. Now she actually wants to live in the United States for a bit. Talk about the power of meeting regular Americans on the road.

    • NomadicMatt

      I once met a British girl who would never go to America because she thought we “were imperialist dogs.” Yet she had never been there before, never met any Americans, and didn’t know anything about our government or country.

      Sometimes I’m astonished by things like this (in and out of America).

  6. I definitely think that in a typical backpacking situation, where your safety is not at stake by saying you’re American, then ‘hiding’ behind a Canadian flag or pin is ridiculous. On the other hand, there are certain places in the world where you may experience violence simply because you are an American. Wearing anything with any American flag on it or holding our your American passport for all to see can invite unwanted attention and possibly threats.

    I’ve never used a Canadian flag, but there have been times when I’ve been hesitant to say I’m American or have said I’m French,Canadian or Portuguese (my husband is Portuguese). Sometimes I’m just testing the waters, seeing if I get a different reaction than if I say I’m American. I lived in Morocco for a year when Bush was president, and I was just sick of having the same conversation with every taxi driver about how ‘evil’ he is and how America does bad things in the Muslim world. It can be trying to have those same conversations (when the other person is mostly just venting their frustrations) day in and day out.

    One of my husband’s college professors lived in Pakistan, where we also lived for three years. During a riot, the professor was in the center of the city. A man came at his car to start beating him because he was American, and another random man on the street said something like “He’s not American! He’s French!” This ended up saving him from a beating, and possibly saving his life.

    Now in Pakistan most people we interacted with were very welcoming of us when we told them we were Americans. The majority told us that they love the American people but don’t like the American government. But we also had rocks thrown at our car in North West Frontier Province by locals who aren’t so fond of foreigners, particularly Americans.

    Yes I want to be an ‘ambassador’ for my country and help people see that Americans aren’t necessarily what they think, but at the same time, my personal safety is more important than ‘sticking up’ for my nationality. I’m saying this as someone who is not paranoid about safety, but someone who has lived through several seasons of anti-western/American rioting in Pakistan.

    Unfortunately, many (if not most) of the people who get riled up in these things are uneducated and have a lot of anger towards ‘America’ – whatever that may be to them. Think of the Rushdie riots. Most people rioting had not read Satanic Verses or were illiterate. The same thing happened during the Danish cartoonist riots (I was there). Businesses and people who were known to be ‘American’ were targeted.

    I am not the type of person who travels with armed guards and AK-47s, but someone who travels by public transport and interacts with locals ten times more than with other foreigners. If I feel that my safety depends on it, I wouldn’t say I was American and I’d gladly say I was another nationality.

    • NomadicMatt

      Well, I wouldn’t walk around Pakistan or middle eastern countries waving an American flag. But the backpacking/travel trail doesn’t go there and I’m not referring to that but you make excellent points.

      • I wanted to say the same thing as Heather basically. I can totally understand where it might be valid to say you are something other than American.

    • Josh

      Excellent point, Heather. Proclaiming your American nationality in some areas carries considerably more risk than in most popular backpacking destinations. I’d have no problem becoming “Canadian” if my safety were in jeopardy.

      @Audrey: One of my favorite travel memories is sharing a beer in a London pub with half a dozen backpackers from around the world. We shared our perception of each other’s countries and asked a ton of questions. I was more than happy to shatter a few misconceptions about Americans and I certainly had a few of my own disproved. We ultimately decided that we all had many more similarities than differences, which I suppose is the nature of travel in the first place.

  7. Ross

    Hey Matt, good article. I’m born and raised in Canada and was recently in Australia and New Zealand. You totally hit this one, I agree that most Canadian’s put their flag on their bags to show they’re not American.

    I have to admit I did have Canadian flags on my bags. Though not as big as flags featured in your photo above, they were fairly prominent. The biggest reason for my adding Canadian flags to my bags were my friends and family at home. The conversations I had before I went travelling were mostly “Congratulations, that will be fun. Are you going to put a flag on your bag?” It sounded like a lot of people that hadn’t travelled assumed if I went and didn’t put flags on my bags that I’d be thought American, then my bags stolen, then me killed and then the world would explode.

    I was assumed to be American a fair amount but I’d politely correct the assumer and we’d instantly have something to talk about. I did also find that the flags were an easy way to find my bag in the baggage carousel or in a pile on the bus. They were also conversation starters with other people, especially other Canadians. People instantly know something about you after seeing the flag and will be much more likely to converse.

    In the end though, hiding your nationality is not the way to go. It gives a bad name to all involved and is generally not required. A lot of travellers have more open minds than most and will judge you as a person not as an “American”.

    • I recently returned home, to Canada, after backpacking through Sweden, The Netherlands, France, Australia and New Zealand and I will admit that I too have a nice sizable flag sewn onto my backpack. This is partially to state that I am Canadian and not American (yes, this is a fact I am proud of — it’s not anything to do with Anti-Americanism or Anti-George Bushism although my thoughts on that man are… colorful), but it’s also almost like a right of passage for Canadian backpackers. Once we make the big decision to go off and travel the world, it’s one of those things that we all just do — whether there is a real reason behind it or not, it’s kind of a national tradition for Canadian backpackers traveling overseas to sew the flag on our bags. That’s moreso the reason I have it on my bag. All my friends have Canadian flags on their backpacks, I figured I’d follow suit and proudly show off to the world where I come from.

  8. All I can say, as a Canadian, is that I have met a few American’s that profess to be Canadians while traveling yet in the same breathe say they hate us all with a smile on their faces. Now, that combination makes me furious! When I was told this I was seething on the inside. The persons clearly told me they lie as they feel they get better treatment when they say they are from Canada as opposed to the U.S..
    I heard people in Europe say that Americans are loud and obnoxious, that is why they are not liked. I thought that was weird as there are clowns in all cultures. I have to admit though, that once I told people I am Canadian, they change their attitude almost immediately (usually start smiling right away) and want to get to know all about Canada and the people. At this point, I think the stereotype of Canadians and Americans is what keeps the rumors alive. I don’t know if they are valid but I have never had a problem traveling and am proud of my Canadian heritage.
    I wore my Canadian flag while away because I was proud to be who I am! Why do Canadians get knocked for anything we do? Whoever wants to wear their flag is their business. However, lying about where you come from is stupid, imo.

  9. Hannah

    Thanks Matt!

    I refuse to travel with any Americans who are not proud to be American. I’m a daughter, grand-daughter, great-grand daughter (the list goes on) of American servicemen and I’m proud of who I am and our country. The freedoms that my family fought for are the exact reasons I am able to travel as much as I do. Although I don’t carry a huge flag and run around telling everyone I’m American, I look and talk the part and I’m always excited to tell someone where I’m from and share some of my culture. I agree that the Americans who pretend not to be American do a huge dis-favor for most of us good-hearted American travelers.

    I’ve traveled extensively throughout Europe and Africa and I’ve never experienced violence or hatred for being proud of who I am. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t heard a few “opinions” on our government or lifestyle (traveling in Muslim areas, you’ll get some opinions on American women) – but overall I’ve had wonderful experiences.

    I would like to point out, however, that being from Florida has its perks. I’ll usually say “Florida in the United States” and people get excited about Mickey Mouse and Miami!

    Thanks for this post, I’m glad to see another American standing up for our reputation!

  10. This is such a great post. I’m English. I travel a lot. I meet many Americans along the way, 90% of which are really nice. Its answers to questions like ‘whats the greatest American band of all time? ‘ and hearing ‘the Beatles’ that gives Americans this branded image of being ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’. For the record, Americans are awesome! you just need to be more worldly in your educational context, including your media’s choice of topics. The world does not revolve around America, nor England, i think its Ecuador?

    gd post! x

  11. As a Canadian traveling right now with a flag on their backpack and an Olympic shirt that says Canada I’ll be honest and say I do it for two reasons:

    1) I am really proud to be Canadian. Putting a flag on our backpack is just something we do. I don’t know why other countries don’t do it.

    2) I have run into situations where people were so much nicer to me once they found out I was Canadian and not American. In the 5 weeks of traveling in Mexico I’ve had two incidences where people wanted to lecture me on American politics until I corrected them that I was Canadian. It is definitely not always the case but it happens.

    Most Americans who travel are really great people – just like any other country. I think the obnoxious ones usually stay home. Just like the obnoxious Canadians usually stay home.

    • NomadicMatt

      Mexico and America have a much closer political situation than Mexico and Canada. That could be a reason?

  12. Gina

    I would think that any interaction with a local or other travelers that would precipitate enough conversation to either dispel or reaffirm any myths, stereotypes, or prejudices would include the facts coming out pretty quickly and easily, even if for whatever reason someone initially claimed a different nationality.

    And Matt ya kinda reminded me of those folks that are like “Well if you don’t like America, then LEAVE” when someone says something they don’t like about it, or comments on how another country *gasp * does something a better way. You said if people are so ashamed to be American and would rather claim to be Canadian than proudly proclaim American citizenship to move to Canada. I AM ashamed of America for its behaviors, policies, actions and “leadership” the past several years – sorry Matt but I think Americans DID have plenty to be exceptionally embarrassed about the last 8 years; but just like that’s not the reason – nor would it ever be – that I go travel (then LEAVE), I wouldn’t renounce or rescind my citizenship either. Sure, I’ll stick with her as she gets her act together and gets her bumps and bruises along the way (even if some people think I should just leave if I don’t condone a number of them). Disapproving along the way doesn’t mean forsaking forever, and shouldn’t in any aspect of life. But I’m not going to shout LOUD AND PROUD that I AM PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!! unless it’s pertinent, at least not yet.

    Fortunately, as a traveler I think things are getting better/easier to deal with for us Yanks (I much prefer the enthusiastic “Obama! Good man!” conversation to the “Ohh. Bush.” one), and hopefully this will be a moot discussion sooner than later. And anyway I do agree with your primary point of the importance and necessity of conscientious Americans being good and conscientious ambassadors for our country. And proud – but never arrogant. I think in all honesty, for a lot of Americans, the difference between a number of concepts are just now getting ironed out: ashamed vs. humble vs. proud vs. arrogant vs. confident vs. ignorant. Similar feelings at the gut-level; easily and well-to-be tweaked at the cerebral and behavioral levels. We’ll get there.

    I dated a Dutch exchange student for 4 years and even though I kinda got the memo already for the first time when I went abroad in 02 that not everyone thinks America’s the perfect, awesome country that we happily thought/taught ourselves we were, he was the one who pointed out how odd it was, the “We’re #1! We’re #1!”-type patriotic chants (and belief) that went on in political events. We’re great? Ok sure. But we’re #1? Maybe that’s a rhetoric we should get in perspective and start phasing out. Immediately. I’ve noticed a much different approach emerging though, thankfully. One that is more humble, down-to-earth, open-minded and progressive. There are still plenty of backwards and problematic issues in the USA, sure – all countries will have those always, and the best we can do is chip away at them and do as well as we can. But at least I feel like we’re a little less blind and clueless than we have been in the past, or at least there’s a shift to take us in that direction moreso than the other.

    Btw, in our 9 mos traveling through the Indian Subcontinent and Asia I’ve noticed two things:

    1) People ask, seemingly out of politeness (they are clearly pretty sure I’m American but don’t want to “offend” me in case I’m not), if I am Canadian, much more than they have in my previous 8 years of travel.

    – but –

    2) When people, locals especially, find out that I’m American they are suddenly even more warm and much more jovial about it than they were during the Bush regime.

    I hope Obama does us well; but for sure – his election won us a lot more international (and in my case, national) regard than Bushy. At least it feels like we get to start moving upwards again, even if it’s out of a nearly unprecedented hole.

    • NomadicMatt

      I think it’s one thing to say “America isn’t perfect, I don’t agree with Bush or what Obama does, and I am ashamed of it.” and quiet the other to say “Oh me? No, I’m not American!”

      I never agreed with those people who said “if you don’t like America than get out” fully b/c they implied that if you were critical of the country then you should leave. In a way, they took a logical thing to an extreme. If you are really that ashamed to say you are American, then maybe you should think of going somewhere else because I think there is a clear difference between being ashamed of policies and being ashamed of being from a place. Even during Bush years, I never hid my identity. i always said I was american. If you are so ashamed you hide a part of yourself than that is something much different than saying “yes, i am ashamed to call bush/obama/clinton/etc my president.” It’s something that ruins much deeper. You can’t try to have your cake and eat it too.

      I think you can disapprove but when you try to hide, then there is something more than. The two are different.

      • Gen

        Hey Matt thanks for the reply. Good to see the interesting conversation your post generated!

        I agree with you that it’s definitely a differentiation between being ashamed of the country (the people) and of the government/policies. Then again, it is the people who vote in that government and those policies. I dunno; in 2004 I went from being ashamed of our country’s President to being disappointed in our people when they actually LEGITIMATELY elected him.

        Anyway don’t get me wrong, I’m not a USA-hater. It’s got issues and some pretty ridiculous stuff that goes on in it, but I like the US a lot and to the point of your post, no I wouldn’t lie about being from there.

        I’m curious though, the Americans that you’re referring to that do lie about it, is it in passing or is like a long-term front they put up even when the conversation goes beyond 20 seconds?

  13. Couldn’t agree more! It seems as if the “good” Americans–the ones who don’t want to ruin our reputation, who are kind and polite and overall good representations of our country–are the ones who won’t own up to it. While I sometimes say I’m Californian before saying I’m American–I do think it evokes a different connotation–I would never deny being American. Yes, we have our problems like every country does, but I’m proud of where I come from. Even if someone has a problem with America, I seriously doubt that they have a problem with me–so why be ashamed?

  14. When an American puts a Canadian flag on his backpack, he’s letting fear rule him. Fear of what? Exactly the type of things you mention: kidnapping, bashing, etc. In other words, the boogeymen of the mind.

    What’s particularly appalling is that the US media perpetrates this “woe is me, nobody likes America” attitude, and it only serves to increase American isolationism.

  15. I saw your tweet about this the other day, which inspired my to write a post about this issue. Funny, coming across this today how we touch on the same thoughts.
    I agree that Americans should be proud of who they are and show the world that they are not their government. I’m so happy for America that Obama is changing other’s countries perceptions of America now, and it is up to travelers to continue to stand up for the true American ideals.
    My government has made some bad mistakes in the past, especially with their treatment of the Aboriginal people, but I would never in a million years pretend I was not Australian. There is so many other great things to be proud of about my country and culture.
    Expat Heather, however, brought it to my attention that safety sometimes could be a reason why Americans pretend they are from another nationality and this I can understand. Safety always should come first.

  16. Great post, Matt. :-) You crack me up! :-) I am Canadian to the core but have happily lived in the States for the last 18 years and love my adopted country. I have traveled a lot and get mistaken for being an American regularly, and I agree with you completely that it is our government (past and increasingly, present) that causes a ruckus, not us. So many times I’ve heard the phrase, “We don’t like your government but we love Americans!” The best experience I had as a Canadian was in in Albania. :-) They were THRILLED to meet Canadians! My Yankee friends put my brother and I on display like we were a museum exhibit. :-) Twas grand fun. :-)

  17. I have never lied about being American during all my travels. Even though I majored in Politics in college, I still avoid some discussions. I usually can tell when the conversations will not be productive. When people just want to fight.
    When I’ll be sitting at a bar with friends and a guy will tap me on the shoulder and without so much as a “hello” launch into a tirade of why America is like Hitler… Of course, the entire bar sort of stopped to listen. I told him politely that I didn’t want to engage in his talk, turned around, and went back to my friends. I didn’t need to fight, or get upset.
    In a lot of ways, I enjoy beating the stereotypes that people have of Americans. That we are not all loud or uninformed.
    Actually one man I met vehemently denied that I was American. I looked at him oddly and asked if he wanted to see my passport? He was adamant about the belief that since I am thin, that I cannot be American. He has never been to America. He’s met only a few, if that Americans. Yet he so firmly believed that we are all obese. (Also he asked me about my gun since I come from Brooklyn, NY, and I had to explain that I have never owned one).
    I was taking a certification course to become an English teacher in Thailand, and in one of my classes I befriended some religious women from Iran and Sudan. They were happy that I knew some words, greetings, and that I brought candy for Eid. The women were pleased that not all Americans hate Muslims, but some Thai students who watched this friendship later on admitted to me that they didn’t think Americans were like that.
    Sure, some folks have rudely turned away or insulted me upon hearing where I’m from (despite having already been in a conversation with me). That’s fine. That is their business. I have never felt in danger though. Most people dislike the American government and their policies (that’s fine, many Americans do as well)…but as for Americans, we’re okay.
    Little changes matter. Even one mind, matters.

    • NomadicMatt

      If people go on a tirade, I usually turn it on them asking if their country has problems and if they would appreciate someone bashing their country? Usually, people say no and I finish the conversation by saying that no country is perfect, we all have our ups and downs but that doesn’t make me or another American “evil.”

  18. Hello Matt,

    Good entry. It is an extremely perverse matter of American socialization to think that the entire world does not like us or we are the somehow their enemy. When walking down the streets of Syria and Iraq I was often asked where I was from. When I said that I was from the USA, the people tended to smile really big, take me under their wing, give me food, and ask me about my country.

    It is my experience that, generally, people in so called hostile “anti-American” countries are far more curious about the United States than overtly hateful.



  19. Hello fellow travellers,

    I’m a Colombian born, US educated artist living in Canada. What I have learnt during 10 years of travel is the following:

    • We all just want to be loved.

    • We are all incredibly vulnerable to the media we choose to watch.

    • We can escape prejudice by being nice, first: A big smile and eye contact is by far the strongest antidote I know of against premature judgement.

    • Wearing the flags where we’ve been is much cooler than wearing the flag where we’re from.


  20. Rebecca

    As this article was written from an American perspective, I’d just like to add my two cents – from a Canadian perspective. While I don’t believe that the only motivation for Canadians putting their flag on their bag is to “announce” that they “aren’t American”, I can totally understand if or when Canadians feel this way. You can’t simply ignore or dismiss how dominating, and at times utterly overwhelming, the American influence (socially, culturally, politically, economically) is on Canada – not to mention the rest of the world. And if you grow up in the States, it’s difficult to have the same perspective on this.

    I’ll always remember one of my first experiences traveling abroad (to Hawaii) on a family vacation. The customs officer saw my Dad’s birth certificate (he was born in Boston, during a year my grandfather worked abroad) and asked him “how long have you been an American citizen?” My Dad, who had never applied for American citizenship, nor considered himself to be anything but 100% Canadian, replied “I’m not American”. The officer, “Oh YES you are!” He simply wouldn’t accept that he was speaking with a Canadian, who was simply born abroad (yes, it happens!). With a massive twinkle in his eye, and a huge booming voice, he then went on to tell my father that he could turn ALL FOUR of his kids, into American citizens!!! Suffice it say, it was a tad overwhelming and at the same time irritating. As if we, once delivered this glorious information, would spontaneously burst into a hallelujah chorus!

    Please note this is not an anti-American rant, nor am I anti-American. I just don’t think that this article addressed nor acknowledged how the big American “machine” can at times be seen as swallowing up their northern neighbours, in more ways than one, and that this may in part account for Canadians wanting to differentiate themselves on the road. So what??? I say!

    Thing are slowly changing, but I think 9 times out of 10, an “unmarked” Canadian will be assumed to be American by a foreigner. Personally, I’ve traveled as a musician with and without a Canadian flag on my saxophone case…and I can honestly say I appreciated when I had the flag, and was not automatically assumed to be an American. When I hit the road as a backpacker in a few months, I’m going to sew my Canadian flag on with pride. And yes, maybe a little part of that is also to let people know what I’m not…

    • Alouise

      There was a Canadian Prime Minister (Lester B Pearson, maybe?) who said that for Canada being next to America is like living next to an elephant. Basically no matter what as a Canadian we always know America’s there, so I can agree with Rebecca’s comments. Both America & Canada are diverse countries and have their good and bad points. To lie and say you’re from another country gives the impression that you’re ashamed of who you are. And for Americans to pretend to be Canadian it continues the stereotype that Americans are arrogant but fearful that they’ll be percieved badly, which I don’t think is true. You should be proud (not arrogant mind you) of where you’re from.

      Regarding Canadian sewing flags on their backpacks, personally I’ve never done it. I think part of it is patriotism and definitely not wanting to be seen as an American (or to paraphrase Seinfeld ‘not that there’s anything wrong with that’). Anyways there’s a really funny book called How To Be Canadian by Will & Ian Ferguson. The authors go through some different quirks about Canada, and one of the funniest sections (aside from the write your own Canadian novel) is the section on Canadian identity. Basically they say Canadians identify themselves through negation… as in I’m not American. You can take it to an even deeper level, for example being from Edmonton I’d say I’m not from Calgary. Even the infamous Molson Candian beer ad from a few years back had Joe Canadian saying “I am not a lumberjack, I don’t live in an igloo, etc.”

      • Rebecca

        I agree the question of Canadian identity is extremely complex – and this is all without taking into account how the province of Quebec fits into everything. I took a political science elective in university years ago which tried to address this, but it isn’t easy. As a prairie-born, BC-raised, former Montréaler… I can’t really say what I “am” or “am not”.

        You know, I have to say that I had NO IDEA that Canadians were the only ones who sewed their flag on their backpack (honestly!). Furthermore, I had no idea that so many other travelers think we look “ridiculous” in doing so. What gives? For the life of me, I can’t understand why showing a little patriotism is such a crime. It may not be the American way, but you know what… that’s okay :)

        For a supposedly worldly and open-minded bunch, there sure seems to be a lot of judging and intolerance going on.

        • It’s an interesting question as to why Canadians tend to do this. I certainly wouldn’t say that they are the only ones – I’ve seen plenty of other flags or national symbols stuck on backpacks over the years – but it’s far from uncommon.

          As a Kiwi, I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the above-mentioned Big Brother syndrome myself. When I first started travelling, I was one of the ones wearing an All Blacks shirt. My then girlfriend had a NZ flag sewn on her pack. Christ, I even took half a dozen of my favourite local beer with me to help spread the good word.

          These days, I don’t do any of that. I’m just me. Where I grew up or have subsequently lived is not something I feel the need to shout from the rooftops. Am I proud of my country? Absolutely. Am I patriotic? For sure, maybe even more so now that I don’t live there any longer. Is it relevant when I walk into a hostel? In my opinion, no. Judge me for who I am. If you like me, awesome, let’s grab a beer. If you don’t, then both of our lives will go on regardless.

          • Alex

            Totally agree with you Dave. Sure being Canadian, American, Australian, or anything other nationality is a PART of who you are, but it’s not the whole part… I wouldn’t even say a major part! I was born in the States but have spent most of my life in Canada, and I don’t necessarily feel a stronger attachment to one more than the other. Yes, I’m a dual citizen to two really great countries, but first and foremost I’m just Alex. Who cares what country we’re all from anyway?!

  21. I agree. I also feel that as (presumably good, kind, responsible) American travelers we have a duty to be ambassadors to our country. While I may not agree with a lot of things that America does, I’m proud to be an American and I won’t hesitate to let people know. Attitudes about Americans are not going to change unless we display our non-asshole ways to the world. Hiding behind another countries flag isn’t only cowardly, it does all Americans a disservice.

  22. Great post Matt! I wrote about this a few years back here and also got plenty of fired-up comments.

    But as you say, at least Bush was in office then. Now there’s REALLY no excuse for an idiot not from Canada to act like they’re Canadian. They should be force-fed Canadian bacon and maple syrup until they puke every day they have that patch on their pack. (I feel anyone with a home country patch on their backpack looks ridiculous, especially since only one country’s citizens seem to feel the need for it, but that’s another story.)

    Be proud of your homeland, whether it’s the U.S., Iran, Syria, or Israel. We only have one vote each, if that. We can’t answer for the actions of our governments.

  23. Jessica

    My first trip abroad was to NZ a few months ago, and I had fun playing the, “Guess where I’m from?” game, mainly because I’m fascinated by accents and dialects. Most would guess Canada, and then I’d tell them that not only was I from America, I was Texan! I feel like whatever the stereotype is for Americans, it’s even more exaggerated for Texans, yet here I’m this super quiet, skinny girl who definitely doesn’t sound Texan. There weren’t very many Americans traveling while I was there, so I was happy to represent. :)

    Something I found out with my experiment is that a lot of people tend to ask those with non-regional North American accents if they’re Canadian or North American, but not American since that might offend potential Canadians.

    Also, I definitely noticed the Canada flag patches everywhere and asked one of my Canadian friends about it. She said that Canadians are told to put them all over their luggage mainly because the world loves them. Besides being patriotic, I do think part of it is to let people know that they’re not American. That said, none of the Canadians I know or met are anti-American.

    • NomadicMatt

      As much as Americans and Canadians rip on each other, overall, we love each other. I love Canada and Canadians.

      I find it funny Canadians are “told” to put them on their backpack! lol

  24. Thank you for this post! Americans denying they’re American drives me nuts as well. I mean, it’s ridiculous.

  25. Edgepath

    “I think it’s a bit silly (Kiwis are always mistaken for Australians but they don’t wear the flag everywhere!)”
    ….the flags of Australia and New Zealand are so similar that wearing one on a backpack wouldn’t help many people identify your nationality! Unlike the Maple Leaf!

  26. I’ll fess up. Many years back when I started backpacking, it was impressed upon me to sew a Canadian flag on my pack to ensure I wouldn’t be mistaken for an American. This was early in the millennium, and there was a stronger air of Anti-Americanism. The fact is, some Canadians love to loathe Americans. Thus being mistaken for one is downright insulting. I’ll admit that I do get different responses once someone knows I’m not from the US. Why that is? I would agree with some of the above comments, the stereotype of Americans is not positive – I say *stereotype*, not what anyone would meet in reality. The Canadian rep is that we’re nice, agreeable, always say sorry. I base judgments on realities. I’ve met some super nice, open minded Americans and some downright asinine Canadians. This time around I lack time to sew a flag on, nor don’t feel the need to. I kinda listen to my own voice these days. What response will I get? It will be an experiment for sure. Frankly, my ethnic background already messes with people, this will just add to the mystery. :) The gist of your post is to emphasize that pretending to be what you are not is negative for all travelers, and I completely agree. Aren’t we here to share with other cultures? Not hide? Silly fakers, really.

  27. Alisha

    Great post Matt! There is nothing worse than an American not taking the opportunity to alleviate some of the misconceptions of what “all” Americans are like through education!

  28. Great post! Once in a hostel in Brussels I made friends with a Canadian. After a few beers she told me that she tells people that she’s American when she does something stupid. The last time I was in Europe Bush was President and I really did get a lot of crap for it and had a lot of arguments about Government and everything. I can’t wait to go back now that Obama is President to see the difference.

  29. I’m a Canadian and when I travel I tell people I’m American because it illicit a discussion. Canada is such a boring country that the biggest reaction I get when telling people I’m from Canada is a head nod. “Ah, Canada. I have an uncle in Toronto.”

  30. Brian

    I can’t say that I blame Canadians. I figure that Canadians don’t like the constant assumption that they are American, and would like just once for someone to not ask the America question when first meeting them.

    I do kinda take exception to Americans lying about who they are. I know in certain countries that we have been told to not “act like Americans”, but to start off a new relationship with someone with a lie about who you are just seems wrong.

  31. I don’t wear any flags, someone offered me one once and I declined.

    People I’ve met don’t wear it to say “I’m not American”. They say it to say “I”M CANADIAN”. People love us because as a whole, we’re good people and they are proud of coming from arguably one of the top countries in the world with a well known reputation as being friendly.

    People have assumed I’m from at least 15 different countries.

    That said, I think flags are lame. We are all just people. Every country has cool people and douchebags. I like to think more globally and that everyone is either cool or not, leave it at that.

    Finally, I met a lot of people in Vietnam who openly said they hated Americans but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. 😉

  32. Jamie

    Im from Canada (Vancouver) and I totally agree that Canadian’s love to flaunt the flag. In a way its pathetic. Don’t get pissy (Canadians) you know you love to brag and show the world your from Canada.

    Canadian’s are traveling Nascar’s with the flag. They just gotta advertise it.

    When i see it, I avoid them at all costs.

  33. Interesting post Matt. I see your point, but can I pose a few thoughts and questions?

    Is calling yourself Canadian better or worse than assuming most Canadians put flags on their bags to show they’re not American? And does making this assumption about Canadians similarly perpetuate the “America is bad” stereotype?

    Let me also ask this, if someone said they’d murder you (for whatever reason) if you were American, would you say you were from a different country? Or would you sacrifice your life to maintain your American integrity? I’m not suggesting this is likely, but does it really matter if people want to stay safe (even if only in their own minds) or have people be nicer to them (again, even if only in their own minds)?

    I think it can be really difficult (at times) to travel to challenging places. Sometimes you just don’t feel like arguing your government’s policies with complete strangers. And sometimes you actually fear for your life. Is it sooooooooo wrong to want time out from that? Or is it so wrong to be embarrassed about something (whether founded or not)? And if the you say your government isn’t representative of its people, then are you really from a democratic nation?

    Just my uncensored thoughts; apologies if they offend.

    • NomadicMatt

      You aren’t fearing for your life on the travel trail. I wouldn’t advertise I’m an American in Pakistan and if it was a live or die situation, I’d say Canada. But so would anyone else! A bet a Canadian would say they were an American, a Brit say he’s irish, etc etc.

      I think your point goes to an extreme that isn’t that realistic.

      and i’m not offended!

      • Alex

        Matt – sure dangerous situations don’t occur EVERY day when traveling, but I think you underestimate how dangerous travel can sometimes be. Having been robbed in Central America (with guns, machetes, the whole 9 yards) I don’t think it’s fair to say the previous comment isn’t “realistic.” As I said, I’m sure it’s rare, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s unrealistic.

        Anyway my comment is a bit off topic I just wanted to throw that in!

  34. As an American who spent the first 28 years of his life there and only recently began a nomadic lifestyle to travel the world, I often wondered whether I should use those “I’m Canadian” or “I’m from New Zealand” tactics — purely as a safety precaution.

    However, I’ve been traveling in India for two months and I’ve had countless people ask me where I was from. Every single time, I instinctively responded by saying “America” and every single time I got big smiles and sometimes even, “America, great country!” as a response.

    I think there are definitely occasions when saying you’re not from America makes sense, simply for your safety. I haven’t been in any such situations yet, but as other commenters have shown with their stories, it could be a matter of life and death.

    The majority of the time, however, I think we all need to represent our home country, be proud of the “people” who live there, and be respectful of the country we’re visiting (and remembering that we are just visitors!).

    We’re all living on this planet together. Feeding stereotypes and building walls is not going to improve the world as a whole. We need to recognize, and help others recognize, that even though we come from different places, we’re all humans living together. We all share the same resources, breathe the same air, and drink the same water.

  35. Everyone always asks me, an American, about this, but I have never met an American who has ever done it. But that may be the reason meet so many Canadians, yet no Americans abroad…all my fellow citizens are in disguise. I’ve never been mistreated as an American traveling abroad, but I have heard from a lot of foreign people what they think America has to do. It’s not a bad conversation, just one that’s become as common as, where have you been on your trip and where are you going, so I usually try to change the subject, but would never sport another country’s flag to avoid. Even though Canadians are just lovely.

  36. Great article Matt. When I started reading it I was going to respond with roughly how you ended it. Dispelling the myth is the most important thing and I think Obama has changed things.

    I’ve never had problems with Canadians/Americans, although I struggle to tell them apart if they aren’t together from the accent. I always ask before assuming nationality though, Canadians seem to backpack more than Americans considering the difference between each countries population.

    However I think all nationalities have their own issues, I have some as a Brit although it’s my fellow men causing the problems (usually fuelled by alcohol) rather than the government.

    2 examples spring to mind. I was driving across Oz with my travel mate and we came across some Dutch girls in their own campervan, upon telling them our nationalities they said ‘ah, we’ve been told to avoid you lot!’ and didn’t really give us much opportunity to give a good impression.

    In Thailand chatting up a local girl (as you do) she wouldn’t believe I was English and kept saying I was Australian, because I was being nice to her! Which I thought was a shame.

  37. Eli

    Interesting discussion.

    I was born in Ukraine, but am an American citizen, originally from New York. I consider myself a New Yorker, but don’t really identify with the American image of fat people and Walmart. But, I do say that I’m an American.

  38. NomadicMatt

    There is some anti-americanism out there and I wouldn’t walk around Saudi Arabia waving an American flag but in a hostel or cafe or something? Why hide?

  39. Jen

    What an interesting article and so true! I’m Canadian and have been living in the US for 10 years now. When I first moved to the US, I was all about displaying the fact I was Canadian, maybe it was patriotism or need to set myself apart from Americans. I hate to say this, but Canada has a slight identity crisis, in that the only way Canadians can differentiate themselves from the rest of the world is by saying they’re not American. Oh well. Personally, I couldn’t care less if people thought I was American or Canadian and being a minority, most of the times people are more interested in my ethnicity not where I was born. People will judge and already form their impressions of you before you even talk. Perhaps wearing the Canadian flag is sort of one way of telling people from the get-go that I’m not American to get that conversation out of the way. Anyway, it is sad when Americans have to go so far as to lie where they’re from. You’re lying to yourself, your country and insulting Canada all at once.

    • Bernard

      “The only way Canadians can differentiate themselves from the rest of the world is by saying they’re not American.”

      I’m surprised more of the comments didn’t touch on this. I’ve asked countless Canadians with a flag on what it is that defines them and makes them unique and they really struggle to answer. Half the time they will say something like, “We’re more progressive than the Americans” or “We’re more polite/nice/considerate than the Americans.” If that’s all you’ve got to go on and nobody outside your country can name your president (or is it the prime minister?), I guess you do need a big maple leaf to provide some identity. Must be a bummer.

      • Brian

        Maybe some people struggle with what it means to be Canadian, but to me it means that I have a country which grants me many freedoms and ensures the protection of all of my basic human rights. It is a country full of many people with many different origins, the people are generally as friendly as you can hope for, and yes, the majority of us DO apologize far too much. It is a country full of wide open spaces to explore, rich celebrations of different cultural backgrounds, our own set of sports to be fanatical about (curling, hockey, a growing interest in lacrosse), and we DO have a prime minister as is indicated by the British origins of our parliament. I could go on and on about what makes me Canadian, and I would be happy to tell you any number of these things on the road were I to run into you. However the ignorance that pervades your (Bernard’s) post leads me to think that perhaps I wouldn’t want to meet you on the trail!
        And for that, I will not apologize.

      • Rebecca


        I’m sorry, but this is exactly the type of attitude that alienates Americans to the rest of the world. This USA-centric view of the world, is so old and tired. It reeks of arrogance, bigotry, and complete insensitivity…perhaps insecurity?

        The question of what defines us, as citizens of our respective countries – as citizens of the world quite frankly – takes most of us a lifetime to comes to terms with, if we’re lucky. Going around drilling fellow travelers, trying to prove some dubious “point” (what, I don’t know) is really immature.

        Canada (or any other country for that matter) is not “more this or that” than the USA. It’s not a pissing contest. No, we are not “USA-lite”. We do not go around thinking about how we do, or do not, compare to the USA. Historically, we have enjoyed a pretty good universal reputation as peace-keepers (unfortunately our current government is putting a serious dent in this reputation), which is just a very small part of what ultimately defines our national “identity”. Are you just trying to be obnoxious by making comments like this??

        Mission accomplished.

        p.s. being ignorant of other countries is not something to brag about. If I didn’t know the name of the American president, I wouldn’t brag about it, especially in front of other Americans. The irony is that you are on a travel website, which promotes the exploration of different cultures and celebrates the diversity of our world; values which it’s evident you do not share.

  40. Anthony

    Hey Matt, I’m not as travelled as you- but I am British and my best friend increasingly tests me when he says he f****ng hates the French- even though he’s never encountered any! He hates a whole nation, for no apparent reason. I know how you feel and at the end of the day just be thankful you aren’t as pig headed as them!
    p.s. aweeeeeeeesome site…you terrorist (just kidding)

  41. Just as much as it annoys you (being an American) to see your fellowmen lie about their nationality or get Anit-American hatred from other travelers…I get annoyed by how I HAVE to prove that I am Canadian.

    I had a girl quiz me Canadiana when I was visiting England. Her question was ‘What’s Canada’s Capitol?’ and I said ‘Ottawa. I bet you didn’t know that either’ HAHA

    I wear my Canadian flag not because I want to say to the world ‘I AM CANADIAN LOOK AT ME’. Travelers are ambassadors to their countries, we wear our flags so that when we meet other travelers they know where we come from. Airplanes wear our flags on their wings, why can’t we?

  42. Tina

    Having travelled around the world, and living in different parts of the world, Canadians are definitely looked upon differently than Americans. It has nothing to do with Bush, though he hasn’t helped. It’s the attitude that comes with travelling from any group of people. Right or wrong, it’s perception, and this goes back to the 70’s and 80’s.

    I was in Kenya back in the 80’s when I met a couple from California, who not only had Canadian flags, but had Canadian passport holders. This is only one case, have seen this quite often in my travels. Having friends and family from different countries and they will tell you the same thing. They may not say it to your face, but they do say it behind your back. Individually Americans are great, as a group, another story, and I will say that’s for any nationality including Canadians.

  43. Well done, Matt!
    I am of the same opinion…it gets right under my skin when people claim to be Canadian, when, in fact, they’re from the USA.

    Seriously, people I’ve met are all intelligent enough to understand that a person from the USA is NOT the government of the USA.

  44. Great post Matt!

    My boyfriend James and I go over the top to confirm that we are Americans when asked if we are Canadians. We even pretend to be shocked that people always assume Canadian vs American. I think it’s ignorant to assume that all Americans want to be disassociated with America. During our 9 months of travel, we have found the opposite.

    You said it best that it was an anti-Bush sentiment vs anti-American feelings. We are back on track to doing well around the world, thank you President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In fact, traveling around the world has made even more proud to be American than I was before we left.

  45. Canadians don the flag for three reasons 1- we’re the second largest country in the world and we have the same population as CA. Its a good way to pick each other out, there’s so few of us. 2- intense national pride. We live in the greatest country in the world, why shouldn’t we? 3- we bought our packs when Bush was in leadership and if we take the flag off now, we will have a clean spot on the pack.
    Also, there are many people ignorant of geography. They tell me “whatever, same country” until I point out we have our own currency, stock exchange, social healthcare (yay!), borders, leaders. It takes some education to spread the word about this tiny population!
    I defend my brothers to the south. I dont go as far as calling us “Americas Top Hat” (ala SouthPark) , but I will correct their geography error when they say “whatever…same same”

  46. It’s funny, I have been reflecting on a similar topic for a few days now. I just returned from an overland trip from Amman to Cairo. I spent ten days with a group of 13 other people, only one of which was American (besides myself). Being the only Americans on our tour, we were both very open about the fact that we were from the States. That said, we had also prepared alternate nationalities in case things were to go badly at some juncture (neither of us had chosen Canadian – I was to be Swedish and he Irish). It was never necessary to bring our alternate nationality plans into play – everyone we met throughout Jordan and Egypt was fantastic! The local people (in general) love Americans! Factions hate Americans and so it only becomes dangerous to be from the US when faced with situations like riding on a bus for eight hours with an armed escort (because there are Americans onboard). The escort becomes little more than a target for the bus, pointing out that there are, in fact, Americans for radical factions to target on said bus.

    Besides the “danger” factor, it does nearly always seem to be a bit uncouth to be American while traveling. And it’s more than Bush politics that influences the nationality shame. I was asked on this trip if I was German, Irish, Dutch, British, and yes, Canadian. Never once was I taken to be from the states, which I found very interesting. My group talked a while about this topic and the general consensus was that Americans are taken as a whole to be loud, fat, obnoxious, terrible travelers who tend to expect life to be exactly the same (living condition-wise) no matter where they are, and neglect to understand that the percentage of people in the world with comparable living conditions is very, very low. There are many reasons for this – the easiest explanation is that most US citizens never leave the States where indoor plumbing, government assistance and abundant food is the norm…

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I like the way I travel, it works well for me to be openly American with a backup plan for extreme situations. I think the only way to kill the stigma of being “An American! (shock! horror!)” is for US Citizens to get out there and spread a great image of a people who travel responsibly and share their great sense of curiosity and enthusiasm with those they meet.

  47. Doug

    Just for a slightly different perspective. I’m an American who spends half the year (winter months) in Mexico. In the town I live in, most of the expats are Canadian. I get mistaken for Canadian almost everyday, I could care less. Most Mexicans I meet don’t see any difference between Americans and Canadians; they don’t see Canadians as Americans – we are all just gringos to them.
    The real rivalry is the French and English speaking Canadians. I’ve actually seen a man from Quebec throw a tantrum when a restaurant put a Canadian flag on his table. It’s funny because the way the english speaking Canadians talk of their relationship to the US is almost identical to the way the Quebecois talk about the english speaking Canadians.
    BTW almost every Iranian I’ve met in the US, when asked where they are from, says they are Persian.

    • Rebecca

      Just so you don’t give other readers the wrong impression…that angry-with-the-world francophone you describe here, is in no way representative of the majority of Quebecers :) I’ve never even *heard* of that kind of thing happening, and I lived in Quebec for 10 years.
      Sounds like a bitter old dude, who doesn’t want to admit that the sovereignty issue is dead – and has been for years. The new generation of Quebecers are much more concerned about about day-to-day life; health care, education, the environment, etc.

      Undoubtedly the task of trying to preserve the French-Canadian culture in North America, in a massive sea of english… is an immense challenge (but I think they are doing a pretty good job overall). But the same is true of many minorities, cultures and languages around the world, where the influence of “the west” is growing larger and stronger every day. Globalization… it’s a real challenge!

    • Mahdi

      I’m Iranian and I’m telling you there is no difference between Iranian and Persian !! They are both the same !
      The only reason of using Persian instead of Iranian could be that most of people in the world are more familiar with the word “Persian” other than Iranian.

  48. Katey

    It is certainly a downside to having a big, powerful and all-consuming neighbour (especially if you are not so fond of them) – being presumed one of them. I have bonded with a number of Canadians over this. I am Scottish and no that isn’t a part of England. It does get a bit annoying so I can see why the flag patch is done. Perhaps Canadians enthusiasm for their own country is a bit over done at times though. It is nice to like where you come from but do you know it really is the best place in the world?? But then again, I am a self-depricating Scot so could never have that much enthusiasm about my homeland. I haven’t been to Canada yet so will have to wait and find out how amazing it is, it does sound pretty awesome though.

  49. First of all, I’m Canadian and interested in politics. While I don’t put a Canada flag on my pack (it’s kind of cheesy) I understand why.

    #1) Everyone in the world assumes we’re Americans. While I can pick out a Texan, Californian, New York, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver accents easily, other people can’t. It gets kind of annoying “American?”

    #2) We’re proud to be Canadian. Simple as that.

    #3) Why wouldn’t we want to be associated with Americans? Simple. Politics. Let’s face it, you are who you elect. It’s called Democracy. It’s what we believe in, we’re not ran by Kings or tyrants. So while you personally may not agree with Bush’s politics, guess what, the mass majority of your population elected him into power TWICE. A lot of the current worlds ills are due to American foreign policy (Think Iran in the 70’s, Supporting Saddam in the 80’s.. Training Bin-Laden to fight Russia in Afghanistan… Or what happened in Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam in the 60’s and 70’s…. ) There’s a lot of people who have been effected for good and bad, and may never get a chance to talk one on one. Or simply may be angry. And if your traveling in those areas (most of the world) people want to talk to you. I felt it lots of times the tone changed when I told people I was from Canada instead of US.

    Does #3 mean you shouldn’t say your from US? Hell no. Be proud of your country, but be ready to deal with the good and the bad. I was shocked that FOXNews was broadcast all over SE Asia. Guess what, people may think this is typical of what the States are. And if you listen to Glenn Beck, well heck, your the third coming of the New World Socialist Order. So interact with people, let them know your not a raving lunatic like ol Beck and everyone on Foxnews. Open some eyes. Change the perspective the world has for you. As everyone in Vietnam kept saying “We don’t hold grudges about the past, we’re looking into the future” People are hungry to meet Americans.

  50. Dani

    I really like that this article is touching a nerve for so many people – its bringing up some very interesting issues.

    I absolutely agree people should be proud of where they come from. I know I am.

    As a travel enthusiast and a Californian/Oregonian living in London (have also lived in Costa Rica & OZ) I have found people of all nationalities to be both good and bad and I don’t let one negative interaction make or break my experience in a country. Including peoples attitudes (whether negative or positive) of where I am from in the world.

    Sounds simple, but you really can’t put people in a box just because you may have some preconceived notion about their nationality – yet so many of us do it all the time and that’s just sad.

    We’re all just people at the end of the day.

  51. Dani

    I’d like to see the research you have collected suggesting ‘Americans are the only ones who do this sort of thing’

    talk about a blanket statement.

  52. I had the experience of living in Rio de Janeiro during the Obama election, wow what an experience that was. Once someone realized you were American you would get the thumbs up (that cariocas love to do) and they would just say Obama.

  53. Aye


    A great post. I have traveled all over world – some in the Muslim parts. I have never hesitated to say I am from the U.S. Sometimes I say I am Burmese but live in NY (I tend to identify myself as a New Yorker) and have always received warm responses from people. I think most of all people are always amazed to see a non-white person claiming to be American and that reconfirms the notion of America as the land of immigrants. That said, if I ever come across an American claiming to be some other nationality (assuming it’s a non life threatening situation) it would bug the sh*t out of me. As a seasoned traveler, I have never found a need to pretend to be someone I am not or be insecure about the passport I hold. There is so much misconception about America in the world (let’s face it, even some seasoned world travelers make assumptions about the US that are not true) I feel that it is my duty as a traveler to show other people that the U.S is much more than MacDo and George Bush.

  54. Amen, Amen, and Amen! Well said, Matt. I have been saying for years that people around the world make an easy distinction between the American government and Americans. And more than any other country, Americans are a fearful lot – especially of travel – although II have no idea why or how that came about. I make it my mission to dispel that fear with everything I write and in every conversation I have about travel.

  55. Excellent and well-written article. I have met quite a few Americans who claim to be Canadians firstly (and then come clean after chatting for a while) and seen many Canadian flags on backpacks. On a smaller scale, I have seen a number of various Scandinavian flags on backpacks (maybe Norway/Sweden/Denmark/… seek their own identities too) and also other nationalities too. And I think you hit on the main reasons for it too. With most people having some exposure to American culture by their scale in world affairs, TV, music or whatever, it is natural that people will have more preconceptions about America than many other countries. And during Bush times, I guess many travellers (especially backpackers often as first time travellers) didn’t want to confront all that. I suspect this will reduce now with Obama in power. All nations through their history have things to be proud of and things to be uncomfortable about, but most people I have met take people as individuals and judge them and their qualities and don’t make them accountable for their countries policies. As an Australian, I have had numerous generalisations about my country thrown at me, both good and bad. I correct what I don’t agree with and almost note with interest Australia’s image in the world – and YES, it varies a fair bit from what the media would have you believe it is internal to the country. Thought-provoking article.

  56. If Kiwis put their flag on their backpack, it would only make people even more convinced they are Australian. The differences between the two flags are only obvious once you know. The Kiwi flag has red outlining around the Southern Cross and it doesn’t have the federation star with the points for the states and territories.

  57. People are people. I’m Canadian. I think the closest I’ve come to wearing a Canadian flag is a luggage tag. When I travel I don’t really care what nationality you are. I’ll talk to anyone who is friendly and has something to say.

    I do think that Americans should get over themselves and be proud of they country they call home.

  58. There is an actual historical reason why the Canadian flag is so popular among travelers. I remember reading about it once. I just tried to Google it and couldn’t find anything but I know there is a reason for it. That reason is not to simply state they are anti American – although in the past few years I think it comes across as that.

    It’s true a lot of people you meet traveling hold a grudge against Americans and it’s ridiculous because most Americans are really awesome people and would give you the shirt off their back. But it the same thing as your example of Iran. People hated Bush and why shouldn’t they? Most people in America hated him too after they woke up and realized what a freakin’ fool the man was.

    I never say I am Canadian because I am an American and I’m not ashamed of it. I didn’t vote for Bush either time. However once in a Dublin Hostel a girl (I think she was British) came up to me to strike up a conversation. I think she was lonely and trying to make friends which was cool except she had really bad opening lines. “So are you Canadian or American?”. I said I was American and then she said “I just have to ask because all the Canadians get insulted if I think they are American so now I ask everyone.” I was kind of insulted myself at that but I think her words just came out wrong so I didn’t hold it against her. This was also during the Bush administration.

  59. I rarely waste a comment saying something lame like “WHAT YOU SAID!” but in this case, I will. Right on, Matt. What you said.

  60. Great post Matt. This has been going on a long time. I took my first trip to Europe in 1988 and remember seeing Canadian flags on backpacks. Even then, it irratated me just as it irritates you (and me still) today.
    The only time I have pretended to be other than American was when I didn’t want some stereotypic “loud, ugly Americans” to know we were from the US. At that time, my husband and I spoke Spanish to each other to avoid the conversation.

  61. As a Canadian, who recently traveled with no visible flag, I would have to say one of my favourite things became spotting a maple leaf flag or MEC backpack. Just seeing it made me feel a kinship with a complete stranger and I would often tap them on the shoulder and say “Hi, I’m Canadian too”. I think more countries should adopt the practice.

  62. Agreed. I’ve often been tempted to throw an American flag on my bag, just out of sheer annoyance over all the Canadian ones floating around. I make no secret of the fact I’m American while traveling and have almost never had any trouble. In fact, when traveling in 04/06/07 in Europe the question of Politics would come up fairly regularly. Being fairly liberal and politically minded, I’d share a few things that pissed me off about the Bush Gov’t and before long the whole bar would be buying me drinks.

    The part that’s never talked about, however, is when Canadians pretend they’re American – and believe me they do. For being all Gung-ho about not being American most of the time, as soon as they’re in any sort of trouble or being called out for being drunk and Obnoxious, they’re more than happy to pretend they’re American. Time and time again i’ve watched them do it – to the point where it seems like a large portion of the misbehavior attributed to young American backpackers, is more likely Canadians hell-raising.

  63. Nothing like a political post to fire everyone up!

    As a Canadian, I’ll throw my two cents into the arguement.
    Typically Canadians are not outwardly patriotic. We are primarily a humble people that doesn’t like to rock the boat. But, we’ve seen a big shift in patriotism over the past few years, amplified by the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
    In my experiences, when traveling overseas, Canadians slap on the flag to let all people know that they are Canadian, and not American. But it’s not so much because we don’t want to be American, its because we want the world to know that Canada is its own proud nation – we don’t want to be classified as just another American state to the north. We’re like New Zealand to Auz, Scotland to England. In my opinion, its simply because we want to be recognized as independant.
    Also – Americans that pretend to be Canadians, that’s just terrible! But unfortunately it happens far too often.

  64. Lock

    I’m a 55 yrs old Dutchman, married with an american wife. Her 4 sisters and 1 brother and their families still live there and at least once a year we visit one or more of them. They live in CA, AZ, ID, WA and NE.

    I like them a lot just as I like many other individual US-people. But as soon as US-people gather with -let’s say- more than five they become annoying.

  65. Richard

    This is absurd. I am happy to be a Canadian and it has nothing to do with not being American!
    Americans and Canadians have always gotten along well, why is it so that so many people want to be divisive. If it makes you feel good to demean, put down or diminish one country or culture so be it but it does make you seem puny, small and lacking any real intellectual integrity!

  66. Lock


  67. StevieBee

    I’ve traveled a lot. I speak 3 languages fluently (English, French and Spanish). I didn’t need to learn any other foreign language; I’m a native English speaker. I live in Canada.
    From my experience I believe that, IN GENERAL, Americans of a certain age (let’s say over 35), who travel, don’t give a s**t about other cultures; they expect inhabitants of other countries to bow down to them, serve them in English and serve them ‘American’ food.
    Recently, while in Costa Rica, I ran into an American ‘know-it-all’ who had been living in Costa Rica for 5 years. Could he speak Spanish? No way! “They should speak American” said he. That’s just one example of that mentality.
    Every year, we go to Mexico for a week to get away from the cold. From what I’ve seen, Americans consider the hotel staff as sub-humans, only fit to serve them. Whereas, we go there; we chat to them in English and in Spanish. They love us; we’re Canadian. They put up with the Americans for their $$$.
    I’ve been to Cuba a couple of times; I probably won’t go back because of the continuing oppressive regime. However, the great thing about going to Cuba – NO LOUD AMERICANS.
    There are many interesting, fun, tolerant, open-minded Americans; however, the majority of them don’t travel :(
    And that’s why, I believe, younger American back-packers feel obliged to fly the maple leaf. They have to live with the legacy left to them by their older fellow Americans.
    It is to be hoped that this reputation will fade away as younger enlightened Americans age and travel, respecting and enjoying different cultures as they visit the world, able to show proudly their real colors.

      • Matt, you’re living in denial. You seem to think it’s some kind of coincidence that Americans have been labeled loud and obnoxious. Generalizations are largely based in truth, so obviously people of other countries have encountered more than their fair share of loser american travelers or they wouldn’t have those preconceived ideas about them. By defending these people, you just end up looking like one of them. Until America experiences a little humility (yeah, like that’s going to happen) and starts trying to learn from others instead of dictating to them, it will always be seen as the arrogant culture destroyer that, in essence it really is.

  68. Carol

    Canadians displaying their flags has nothing to do with George Bush (a president who was elected by his countrymen)! As students in the 70s we sewed flags on our packs to show we weren’t Americans. Canada has a great heritage from both World Wars and as such, we do get treated differently. In 1985 I was asked by a London cabbie what part of America I was from and when I retorted I was Canadian he said “well, it’s all the same, isn’t it?”. He didn’t get it until I asked him where in Scotland he came from as there wasn’t any obvious difference between there and England. We are all proud of our distinct histories and like to be recognized for who we are, especially when our forefathers played a significant role in the shaping of a continent.

  69. Tom Jones

    To b honest i find the whole carrying a flag on your backpack just a bit silly. I mean the whole idea of travelling is to b open minded then you carry a symbol of nationalism around as a badge of honor. If you are so jingoistic why leave home at all? From travelling for 15 years now i have met my fair share of Canadians who have strayed away from the idea of being mistaken for citizens of the USA and now just want to tell everybody they are Canadians. Does the world owe these Canadians something? I honestly beleive that for some Canadians this not about being mistaken for somebody else its just an over elaborate way to show who they are. Wow! A Canadian! How special! [This isnt a criticism of Canada, just some silly Canadians i meet in hostels telling everybody how great Canada is and carrying flags around!]

  70. Jeremy

    Man, this blog/website generates a lot of good discussion. I just spent more time reading the comments than the actual post and didn’t even get through them all. I think travel websites, backpacking/vagabonding ones especially, are some of the only places on the Internet where it’s actually worthwhile to read the comments.

    Anyway, I don’t want to rehash all the above comments (I seem to agree with the general consensus that I read), but I did want to share a bit of my experiences. I’ve never been a “patriotic” American: I love America, sure, but I don’t even vote and I don’t get a tear in the eye when I hear the national anthem. However, I found myself feeling more fondly toward America, even a bit patriotic, as I traveled and experienced other countries. I think experiencing the way things are done in other places gives you a new perspective on how things are done back home, and it gave me more of a sense of a national identity. Not that America does everything or most things better that whatever other country, but that seeing the differences, or in some ways even more so the similarities set within other differences, makes you realize that for good or bad, everything from the traditions to the little day to day activities in your own country are YOUR traditions and activities. That’s one thing I’ve always liked about travel, the fresh perspective on home.

    And more to the point of the post, I’ve never lied about being American and I’ve never had any negative reactions to my being American. In fact, the one time I’ve ever experienced anything negative from saying I was American was in a hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. I had just gotten back from a Grand Canyon trip the hostel arranged, and they had made a big spaghetti meal for everyone. I was having a great time talking to everyone who had been on the trip about what we had seen and describing it to people who hadn’t gone, and up until then I had been the only American I had seen in the hostel. An American woman came in and sat next to me and we had the typical conversation, “Hey, my name’s whatever, I’m from here, blah blah blah”, and as soon as she heard I was American too she immediately started talking politics with me. I told her repeatedly that I wasn’t interested in politics, didn’t vote, etc., but she kept talking (complaining, actually) and deprived me of some wonderful conversation with some new friends. So now I tell other Americans I’m Canadian. 😉 J/k.

  71. Love it Matt! Very funny, but more importantly, so true! While traveling down under, I got asked if I was Canadian just as often if not more than American due to the fact that more Canadians travel to/around Aus/NZ. When I said I was American, they would apologize profusely for getting it wrong- a reaction that seemed to stem from upsetting Canadians who were assumed to be American. I found this amusing. I had no qualms about the mistake (perfectly understandable, I can barely tell the difference).
    What I liked most about your post and what really drives the point home is that if you pretend you’re someone else, people won’t change their negative misconceptions about Americans (I mean, unless you’re a horrible person or something, but world travelers usually aren’t). I would actually feel proud to be an American because people would often tell me how the more Americans they meet, the more pleasantly surprised they were about how open-minded and lovely they are to be around. What it comes down to is that world travel makes better people, no matter what country they’re from.

  72. Ashlea

    America can sometimes be like the sibling that gets all the attention. We Canadians don’t tend to rock the boat too much. Flag wearing is a sort of quiet patriotism that shouldn’t really offend anybody.

  73. I’ve lived abroad for the last 7 years and the first thing that comes to mind when I see a Canadian or American flag on a backpack is ‘idiot’.

    It’s like wearing a huge dollar sign shaped bullseye. Obviously none of you have done anything but backpack to different resorts and ‘foreigner friendly’ places. There are certain places in most cities that you do not even SPEAK English if you know what’s good for you.

    Are you so ignorant as to not realize why people hate Canadians and Americans? Yes people HATE North Americans… It’s fairly simple, our society’s message is: “wrong is right”, “money is your god”, “men are evil” . People who treat North Americans well are people who generally abide by those rules.

    Observe that most people who LOVE North American culture are either from the upper class or over-privileged university students.

    I’m from Canada and you’ll never see anything on my clothing that identifies me from the local population.


  74. Roland

    Recently I bought a new backpack. This, because it is important to me to be in a position to scorn all the Americans abroad that would opt to display the flag of another Country on their own backpacks. Either out of embarrassment or in hopes of avoiding having to represent or defend.
    That they would go to such measures, is in some way, a declaration of responsibility on their part for that which they would avoid having to explain.
    That, or they are just fucking pussies.
    I am in no way a supporter of the current policies or paths my Country now embarks. Domestically or abroad.
    What I am though, is responsible for them.
    I am an American. I am wholly responsible for for it’s actions. The system in place allows for dissent and redress. If so offended, I might, by the rights allowed me, take steps to institute change. If, by doing nothing, the offenses or offenders remain, I am as responsible as if I’d authored them myself.
    This nationalist streak in me is, at times, confounding. In the end, I chalk it up to nature. As a social animal (with latent island tendencies) I am part of a pack. Alpha or Omega, I am a participant.
    What I am not…is sorry.

  75. WELL PUT!
    I am Canadian, and I am proud. But I am really don’t care if people mistake me for American. Whenever someone says, “Oh you’re from America” I just say “No, I’m from Canada”. The replies that follow this are often “OH OH I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you”. Why to people assume I am going to get mad if they think I am American? I don’t really care to be honest. I am proud of my country but I like my American neighbors as well. I have never come across another Canadian travelling that has been offended by this either and it angers me to think that there are Canadians that would make some sort of a scene about this. What’s the big dilly?

    Exactly as you said, people are anti-American government, not anti-American people. I’d hope most of the world wouldn’t be as naive to say they hate Americans because of George Bush.

    Lastly, you are right on key saying it can help change myths about Americans if they could not lie about being Canadian. I met SO many amazing Americans through my travels and travellers who I’ve had conversations with about nationalities claimed the same.

  76. Jason

    You cannot compare the Iranians, Aussies and Kiwis to Americans…

    America has decided to basically contol the world and go stick their nose in everybody else’s business… most often they either destroy large parts of a defenseless country, kill many people, rob a nation of it’s natural resources, or take down a country’s historical, political or cultural systems in the name of ‘democracy’. How would American’s feel if Iran started dropping bombs on New York in the name of Islam? Why do Americans assume that ‘democracy’ is the good path and anything other than democracy is the bad path? Because they are even *more* brainwashed than the people of germany in wwii. Propaganda still exists and is very effective. Same old techniques as always… get your kids to state their loyalty to the country from an early age, daily, in the schools… bombard all citizens daily through tv and radio with re-inforcing messages about the greatness, freedom, progress, etc, of the country… find and identify people of another colour or appearance so you can call them a common enemy… etc. bla bla. it’s textbook propaganda / brainwashing lessons 101.

    You can blame the political system if you want. You can squeeze people into saying ‘ya it’s not american’s i don’t like, it’s the political system’. But American’s, more than anyone I ever met, are so proud and loud about their freedom to vote and their freedom of electing their leaders, and how great it all is… so i say if they are going to personally take credit for how awesome their political and economic system is, then they cannot point the finger at the leader and say ‘ya he did it, i don’t have anything to do with this’. You’re either in or your out.

    That’s my toonie’s worth.

  77. Mike

    I’m a proud Canadian who wears U.S. flags on his bags and backpacks. When asked, Are you an American? I answer no, I’m from Tampa. They usually reply… Oh Disney World right? There you go, instant icebreaker. I lived in Tampa for 5 years and that little city had more guts, brains, hope, heart and dreams than any place I’ve ever lived, which I am always glad to share. If the rest of the world only knew what a Canadian is, they wouldn’t be too impressed, here’s a fun fact “The average Canadian spends 90% of his/her life indoors!” You couldn’t find a more boring person on the planet than a Canadian…For crying out loud! we live underground in our basements most of our lives…That’s why we’re so funny! There’s nothing else to do but watch hockey games, drink beer and make up funny lines! It’s Wayne’s World all year round!

  78. Kevin

    Q.How many Canadians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    A. two: one to screw in the lightbulb, one to sew Canadian flags onto everything they own.

    Yes, we all have flags on our bags. But I am intrigued by the position taken here. I am glad Matt seems to think Canadians are pure and unexposed to hatred from other countries, but that is simply not the case (seal hunt anyone?). Every country has their stigma.

    I’d like to pose an open question: Why is it such a hot topic that Canadians wear flags on their backpacks? I have read more than a few articles about it and I want to know why.

  79. I met an American once who said I spoke very good English…for a Canadian.
    I met an Australian once who liked to use the hostel sheets as a towel…so she didn’t get hers wet.
    I met a South African once who asked what part of “Canadia” I was from.
    I met an Austrian guy once who was overly proud that Hitler was Austrian.

    Every country has its share of idiots. Just remember to have some common sense (and courtesy), and we’ll all get along just fine…

  80. Christine

    You could have made your point without making snide generalizations about Canadian patriotism.

  81. Carolyn

    Yes please, all Americans stop telling people you are Canadians. Us Canadian’s are known for being some of the kindest people in the world, not to mention the most polite. We Canadian’s do not need you Americans to tarnish our good reputation.

  82. Kate

    I agree. When I was in Europe, I put up with similar stereotypes I even met this completely rude bakery owner in France who hated my American-self and my inability to pronounce French correctly, but after talking with him for a moment, he seemed to change his mind, about America, not my French. He even gave me a free pastry as an apology. America has it’s problems yes, but I’d never say I was from a different country. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. And by ‘living’ I mean having an American passport. I kind of plan on living out of a backpack.

  83. Erin

    What??? The girl didn’t use her Timmy’s mug instead of flag patches?

    All the Canadians will know what I mean hahaha…

    • This is from an article I read in an anthropology course last year:

      “Another ad features a young Canadian travelling through Europe, whose anxious par-
      ents are reassured by his postcards home that he has met many new trustwor-
      thy friends (i.e. Canadians) thanks to his plastic Tim Hortons mug attached to
      the outside of his backpack. This ad also plays on the long-standing Canadian
      practice of travelling with the talisman of the Canadian flag prominently dis-
      played on clothing and backpacks, so as not to be mistaken for an American,
      and presumably, treated roughly by locals. Clearly this young man has not gone
      to Europe to discover Europeans, but Canadians” (377).
      Patricia Cormack, “`True Stories’ of Canada: Tim Hortons and the Branding of National Identity,” Cultural Sociology (November 2008), 2 (3), 369-384

      I’m leaving for an RTW in July and I will be flagless.

        • I’m not sure! I do not have any flights booked yet. I need to be in Vancouver for a week in July and then New Zealand on September 14th to watch Canada vs. Tonga at the Rugby World Cup. Clearly I do not have my shit together and will end up as a traveling hot mess.

  84. Matt, I´ve read quite a few of your articles and this is one of my personal favorites. As a Canadian, I find it annoying to see the Canadian flag plastered all over backpacks, jackets, hats, etc. As you´ve mentioned, the greatest contributing factor is to make a statement of NOT being American. As a peripheral country, Canada (Canadians) suffer form somewhat of an inferiority complex not much unlike Korea does in relation to Japan and New Zealand compared to Australia. Unfortunately, a large part of the Canadian identity is formed out of a sense of NOT being American, as opposed to having unique characteristics that are independent of other countries. Moreover, as far as flags are concerned, I seldom see them from other countries!

    Another point to consider is just how foolish the notion of how this will alter the perception of others. As an example, imagine a Khmer (Cambodian) at a Krispy Kreme somewhere in North America wearing proudly the national flag on his/her backpack. Is it likely, an employee from the store is going to be ecstatic that the individual is Khmer as opposed to Thai. Not likely! In fact, it is more likely that the employee may not even know where Cambodia is on a map or have even heard of destinations such as Angkor Wat or Phnom Penh. It´s not different for Canadians or Americans traveling abroad with the Canadian flag. If you are half way around the world and you encounter a local who can identify where Canada is on a map or name a few cities it is quite impressive. The truth is that the identities some hold so dearly are often simply moot or not even applicable when abroad. I find most individuals treat others with a blank slate anyhow. It´s your personality and level of social skills that will be far more important than where you are from. If I did encounter someone with such prejudices, they likely would not be someone I´d want to further engage with in discussion. Anyhow, a very thought provoking post Matt!

  85. You could not have said it any better! I was told in New Zealand that I should put a Canadian flag on my bag before going to Australia. I have also met Americans pretending to be Canadians, and it boils my blood too! I may not be the proudest American but believe me when I leave my country, I stand up for it and represent it! People are happy to meet a fun American! Its like with a sibling, let me talk shit about them and fight with them, but no one else aught to!

      • Sorry, but why should you be proud of anything if there are reasons not to be proud? It’s this blind pride that causes people to gang up together and do stupid things rather than think about what’s right and wrong.

  86. Ian

    She has two candian flags on her pack because part of it divides into a smaller day bag (which is where the smaller flag is).

  87. David Webb

    If it’s any consolation, many Canadians (ahem!) cringe when they see their countrymen abroad, plastered with flags, too. It’s kind of embarrassing to us – and for pretty much the same reason as it bugs you, too.

    • Agreed! I’m a Canadian who has never sported the flag while traveling & know plenty of others who don’t either. We don’t all do it, I swear!

  88. Mike

    I was just trying to explain this flag thing to my girlfriend the other day (shes English). How about when Americans are so scared / embarrassed that they put a Canadian flag on their bag! I would never lie about my nationality either, I traveled up through the middle east by myself, being an American is not an issue unless you’re doing something else wrong. Because of our reputation I always feel its my responsibility to make a positive impression when I meet people. The more you travel, the more you realize some of the negative things about our country, but the grass is always greener. I know plenty of people who would love to be able to move to the US, they don’t seem to mind that its full of Americans.

  89. This has always driven me crazy! I was in Paris and I saw this dude with a friggin Canadian pin on his backback. Then I learned something. There some Canadians who speak English with a very strong southern drawl. What a pussy! This guy was from the south and was too much of a wimp to tell people who is really was. I speak French fluently and nobody has ever guessed I was American by my accent. Not once. However, I always say I am American. 99% people are cool with it and I get no hostility. One time I did and I got blamed for every tort of our government. I sat down with this person and discussed political issues honestly for an hour in his language. At the end he said “I guess there are some good Americans….” Ironically when I am in Quebec everyone does think I am French. When I tell them I am actually American many of their attitudes cool instantly. The most anti Americanism I have ever found was right in Canada! Vive Le Quebec Libre! (They hate when I say that)

  90. I did a year of backpacking back in 1990/91 and I too wore my Canuck flag, and I can promise you that the reason I did it was definitely not to be confused with Americans. Let’s see…back then you were invading Quwait and after that it was the Balkans…

    Back then at least, americans were known as stereotypically loud, obnoxious and wanting a ‘you’re welcome’ for inventing french fries and saving the world from Nazi-ism. I don’t really know if the stereotype was true then and I don’t know if it’s true now, but now I would have more security rather than reputation related concerns traveling as an american, again false or not. The impression is that people now don’t just find american’s obnoxious but might want to do them harm. Now I am an american citizen and frankly I have no interest in wearing anyone’s flag as now I find the whole practice is obnoxious. I travel to blend in and experience culture, not export my own and when you wear a flag you tend to get other people with your flag feeling compelled to talk to you, when I would rather meet the locals.

    Back in 1990, americans were pretty ignorant about the world and I suspect to a large extent they still are, but probably less so with the advent of the internet, but many of the same things are true about america…it sees itself as the center of the world, feels it must extend it’s cultural (or lack thereof) reach and install democracies or at least friendly dictators and that everyone loves capitalism and that the main goal in life is to consume as much shit as possible in the form of flat screens, cars, clothing and food. There is no way you are going to tell me that America doesn’t stand for that and for that I would be embarrassed to discuss my americanism because frankly I disagree with a lot of what it means to be american and stop telling people where to live because they are embarrassed about their country. That’s such a condescending attitude. One part of being free means you can dislike your country and don’t have to apologize for it. You attitude is more of a nazi-skinhead approach, where if you’re not like us, get out…and yet ironically you freely discuss that if you lived in France for the rest of your life, you would still be ‘american’. That’s exactly the problem. If you live/travel somewhere else, leave your old shit behind and respect your new home, otherwise don’t move there. Sorry but for a traveler, you sound like a whiny dick.

    • Todd Dano

      Hey Patrick,
      Just want to help you out with your history. Canada was one of the first to join the US in invading Kuwait and I’m sorry that the US has to be the world’s police, I wish it didn’t have to be but we do mean well.

  91. Great article. I wear my Canadian colours with pride. I am a proud Canadian. It’s my home, she’s treated me well over the years and really what’s not to love, eh? I have the Canadian flag on my backpack, but I also have every other country I have ever set foot on sewn in as well. I am Canadian, therefore I travel.

  92. Todd Dano

    Haha the only time I said I was from Canada was in the fake markets in China in order to get a better deal! Haha other than that, the Chinese generally loved Americans (for helping kick the Japs out of their country in WWII and our recent economic ties). I even talked to a shoe vendor in Shanghai who after about 30 minutes of my broken chinese and his pictures on a pad, we were able to communicate that he loved America and even loved Bush for various reasons! And I know he was honest because I kept telling him I wasn’t going to buy anything either way!

  93. Laura

    I wonder how many of the flag-wearers are first-time backpackers? I can tell you leaving from home (Canada) for the first time as a small town student I was pretty nervous about traveling, and receptive to any tips people gave me about how to increase my chances of people being nice to me on the road. And you know, people were nice to us when they found out we were Canadians– though they might have been just as nice if we were from anywhere else! Whatever the origin of the flag-on-backpack tradition is, people do it for various reasons now (including just plain old tradition).

  94. Cheryl

    Nothing makes my blood boil more than Americans pretending to be Canadians either. I’m Canadian and to have Americans pretending to be Canadian solely for safety purposes, it’s more than offensive. As a Canadian residing in the US, many Americans treat me like some kind of second class citizen. But they’re proud Canadian flag bearers in foreign countries where they know they will be more accepted as Canadians than Americans. The hypocrisy is absurd. Perhaps if Americans behaved better out in the world, they’d feel comfortable sewing their own flag on their back packs. At least if Americans are going to pretend to be one of their friendly neighbours to the north, I wish they would learn something about Canada so they can be good ambassadors for us. I guarantee you that the vast majority of the Americans who are waving the Canadian flag all over the globe know next to nothing about Canada.

  95. Dan

    One of the most infuriating conversations I had as a backpacker was when an American girl who asked me why Canadians wore the leaf on their bags. The only reason she could think of was that Canadians hated America because it was ‘a big fish vs. little fish thing.’ As a seasoned backpacker I have to say the number one reason i wear my canadian flag is definately to say that I’m not American. I’ve lived in Oz and London and travelled the world and know lots of great Americans but its mainly the ignorant ones who are travelling for the first time or who rarely travel and are so rude to locals and cannot handle that they can’t get the same things in europe and Asia as they can back home. The American uni student is the worst.

    My secondary reason is that it acts as a friendly alert especially of you’re a woman travelling alone, that there’s another one just like you to bond with!

  96. notes from a Canadian currently traveling the South Pacific.

    flags are about division…mine versus yours. too much blood, too many tears already.

    i’m not a flag-waving Canadian though wherever i’ve travel i wear a small maple leaf on my back-pack; yes, to avoid being mistaken as an American.

    the two dimensions of Americanism i wish to disassociate from are the apparent inward-viewing, short-sighted, exclusionary general perspective that is based upon ignorance and, the tendency of every apex-country in history towards colonialism. sure, oil is important, security too, blah, blah…

    i count many people of American citizenship as dear friends. relatives even. i recently met a fellow diver here in Vanuatu who is from Mobile Alabama. he shares this view of American short-sightedness. he also travels outside of North America.

    several years ago i had cause to meet a State Trooper in upstate New York and then an opportunity for an extended conversation with the man. a former marine with two volunteer tours of duty in combat under his belt, he is weary of seeing American casualties of war(s) returning home broken or in bags. he notes that nearly everyone he meets has been affected…family member, friend, neighbor.

    fear and greed are the enemy. Americans are just another carrier.

  97. Ok first of all. Self-righteous Canadians get over yourself. You would be part of the United States if the U.S. ever decided they wanted Canada. Period. Ask Mexico and the Native Americans the U.S. will take what it wants. Not saying I agree, but that is the reality. One reason the U.S. doesn’t is because Canadians are nice and fall in line quite easily, so there is no need to. The U.S. government appreciates your governments cooperation. The American people appreciate your kindness, but just like the fact your military stands no chance against the U.S. doesn’t make Americans better people(just geopolitcally a more important country) your culture in no way makes you superior to Americans.

    Yes some…many Americans are ignorant of the world, loud, obnoxious, etc. However, being self-righteous and egotistical because you’re not is just as bad. Have pride just don’t showboat it obnoxiously. Americans would do well to do this as well.

    Second of all, just because you are born somewhere doesn’t mean pride in that place is guaranteed nor should it be. Patriotism is a great friend to the government because they can make the puppets dance when they say, “You must do this for the country” & “If you are against us your unpatriotic”. Now this not saying social responsibility should be shunned and everyone should become selfish. However, a give and take relationship is key. If your government gives you little and expects a lot it isn’t wrong to not be prideful. Being taking advantage of and liking it is just stupid. However, if your government is giving you it’s best yea take pride and contribute to society. It’s called a societal contract and somewhere along the line many governments forgot it goes both ways.

    Wherever, you are from you will always have part of that culture in you, but it doesn’t have to define you if you don’t want it to. Be prideful because you actually are not cause your told to. In fact the nation-state system is well over 300 years old. Kind of an old system that is supposed to define the world don’t you think? In the end it is up to you just be prideful not egotistical and you can make the world more enjoyable for everyone.

    And yes Canada we hear your government cries to not be ignored, but someone has to be the little brother that’s just reality. France empathizes with you greatly you two must be great friends.

  98. john void

    i am european living in canada. i have to say, it is quite easy to confuse canadians with americans, as canadians are many times over-confident, loud and too patriotic, all the things that are linked to americans (not always rightfully). i find it ridiculous that canadians themselves do not realize that they behave that way. it is strange because here in canada people are a lot like little kids. when you criticize rightfuly something about canada, people get very upset. They are very narcisistic, unfortunately, so for europeans they would remind fo americans, not because of the accent, BUT because how they think and behave!!!!!

  99. Sam

    First off I’d like to say you have a great site that I frequent regularly.
    But Matt, I’m a little surprised that you are not aware that in general, Canadians are treated better than Americans abroad. This has been evident for decades…I remember being a young teen visiting Europe and realizing the difference in the way I was treated once people knew I was Canadian, and also seeing how the Americans were acting, and treated (even family types with kids, etc). That was decades ago. And long before Bush came along. My son recently went to Mexico, and on the flight a Mexican woman struck up a conversation with him after she heard he was Canadian. She apologized for ignoring him previously, for she had thought he was from the US.
    My husband and I have been in contact with ‘average’ American tourists on and off over the last 30 years, here in Canada, and I have to say that the majority of them are just like the stereotypes you hear about…loud, obnoxious, arrogant, want everything just like at home, compare everything to what they have at home (to which we mutter under our breath: well, just go back home then!), and if you are working for them, as in the hospitality industry, you aren’t much more than slaves. Recently I was on a plane out of Vancouver and spoke with a guy from the US…he asked me if I knew that the American Rockies were higher than the Canadian Rockies. What gives with that? I wouldn’t go to another country and say things like that! Who cares, anyway?
    Canadians have always been a little annoyed with Americans for various reasons: this one-upmanship that I was talking about; they seem to only care about their own interests (think about where your water comes from, or even some of your electricity, oil and wood, at very low cost), the very expensive “North American Free Trade Agreement”, which only seems to work out free for the US, wanting to take everything for itself (now they claim that the Arctic belongs to the US!! How preposterous!), and they don’t seem to know anything about cultures and countries other than their own (we use to get some of our laughs from a ‘short’ on TV, in the early 80’s, where someone would interview Americans on the streets and ask them questions about Canada…did you know that Wayne Gretzky was our “President” and mukluks were our national animal?!! And what about the Americans who think we all live in igloos? We worked for a houseboat company in the Shuswap, BC (near the Okanagan lake)…one family from the US brought their parkas and mittens, thinking that the lake froze over every night. This is in July when no one wears anything more than tanktops and shorts 24/7 and it’s too hot to sleep.
    I understand a little better now from reading the posts here:kids are brought up that way, the constant patriotism almost like brainwashing, but even the comments from some of the Americans here are clearly showing those same attitudes!
    I do agree upon reflection that most ‘problem’ Americans seem to be of the older group, and that the younger ones are probably more ‘global’ minded…good for you younger people. And I do believe that backpackers in general tend to have more of an open mind too, and are out there more for the experiences than for the ‘dominance’ dance. Unfortunately you younger ones have a lot of work to do to re-educate the world about the ‘new Americans’, but also to guard yourselves against becoming like your predecessors.
    I don’t mean this to come across as “American bashing”, but I wanted to show you what the average Canadian sees, how it really does look to someone else. And of course I know there are some unruly Canadians out there…like many said, the ‘pack mentality’ is definitely something to guard against.
    I wouldn’t wear a flag on my pack. I like to blend in where ever I go. I think you have a better experience that way. But I understand why others do; and of course it’s terrible that some Americans have to pass themselves off as Canadians (and possibly vice versa also). You just need to be your kind, open-minded selves and show the world that they can love you too, no matter where you’re from. If you can’t do that then stay home, eh?

  100. Evelyn

    As a Canadian, it both flatters and offends me that non-Canadians pretend to be one of us. It’s nice to know that people think we have a better reputation on the world stage, but if that someone pretending to be Canadian happens to be rude, offensive, or just plain dumb, it doesn’t reflect well on us at all.

    When I travel, I don’t usually wear a Canadian flag, but I do make it clear that I am Canadian in other ways. I speak to my friends in both French and English (and our particular accent when we speak French gives us away), and if someone asks, I always say I’m Canadian (why wouldn’t I?).

    As for those arguing that Canadians are just as bad as Americans, only we don’t showcase it as much… I cannot tell you how many Australians and New Zealanders I’ve encountered in Canada that act just like stereotypical Americans. No matter what your ethnicity, nationality, or religion is, there are people in every group that are just loud and obnoxious and fail to recognize that. It happens in every country. I definitely don’t assume someone is American based on the way they act. I just know they are annoying and rude based on the way they act.

    • Evelyn

      (On a side note, I was recently in Spain with my school. When in Barcelona, three of my friends and I tried to enter the Picasso Museum. The man at the door was giving us a hassle, saying we had to be in a group of three or seven to go in. After five minutes of me having to negotiate in the little Spanish that I knew, he asked where we were from. When we said Canada, he let us in right away. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.)