When travelling Europe, it’s impossible not to notice the whole Americans posing as Canadians trend. I don’t care what country you are in, you are undoubtedly within arm’s length of at least one backpacker with the red and white emblem sewn on the front. At first, I didn’t think much of it, and I actually thought it was a pretty cool idea. There comes a point, after being alone for awhile, when it becomes sort of exciting to meet someone from your corner of the woods. Having a can’t-miss marker as to who exactly is your partner in crime seemed, well, to make sense.
That was before I realized just how big of an issue this little backpacker’s practice has become.
First of all, as much as I try to steer clear of stereotypes, I definitely learned that I have stereotypes. And one of those just happens to be that all Canadians say aboot, dontcha know, eh?, that sort of thing, making the difference between an American and Canadian completely obvious. I was wrong.
Most Canadians sound just like us. I heard more “Canadian” talk in Fargo than I ever heard from a real Canadian. We look the same, we talk the same, we dress the same… who can really tell us apart? No one. And herein lies the problem. Know what the one major difference is between US and Canada? Europeans love the Canadians. They don’t love the Americans. In fact, some Europeans downright loathe us. Try Paris for size, if you don’t believe me.
During my travels, I met a bunch of really sweet Canadians. And I also met a bunch of really sweet Americans. Posing as Canadians. So this whole thing has become just a really weird backpacking sensation. Canadians are so worried about being mistaken for Americans that they are taking the time to sew in these flag patches (do you know how thick a good backpacker’s backpack is? those things must take forever!), and Americans are so worried about being recognized as Americans, that they sew on the good ol’ maple pride as well.
I may disagree once in awhile with my country. I’ll admit that. But I don’t ever confuse political issues with the land that is home. I still love hot dogs and apple pie and s’mores and trekking in the woods and all of the real stuff that makes America important to me. That also includes democratic ideals like liberty and freedom of speech and the ability to change. In other words, I can’t trade all that in just so someone will treat me a little better when I’m checking in that hostel for a whopping one or two nights.
On the other hand, it does get tough. There are a lot of silly Americans driving in the stereotypes that other countries hold about us. I know, because I met a lot of them. And sometimes I got yelled at for things only Georgie Bush can really be held responsible for. It’s hard to have to take the responsibility for those kinds of things when you didn’t even VOTE for them.
So let’s get down to it. What do I think about this whole Canadian flag thing? I think that when you’re backpacking, part of what makes it so great is that you get to have this experience of transcending all of those stereotypes you grew up with. You have to cross giant mental borders just as you cross physical ones. That being said, I know that it is my duty to represent my country for what someone else might not see, to share the voices of all the others that often get lost in the hullaballoo of politics and media. I can disagree with my country, and sometimes vehemently. But denying it only perpetuates the same stereotypes we want to avoid.
It really boils down to this: for all the flag-waving we do on our own soil, I didn’t see one backpacker with an American flag on his/her bag. Maybe we should learn from the fact that we have a hard time remaining so proud when we’re not just looking at ourselves. But instead of sticking our heads in the sand (ahem! yes, you, Americans posing as Canadians), let’s do something about it.