It´s often never too terribly difficult to spot a Canuck while backpacking [ “Canuck” is a slang term for Canadian people. ]
The Canadian flag is – for better or worse – often plastered all over the backpacks, daypacks, and various other attire of a large percentage of Canadian backpackers/travellers. In fact, I´ve met a few individuals who have so many Maple Leafs on their personal effects that it might inspire one to conclude they´re a Canadian ambassador impostor gone haywire. It´s quite a bewildering phenomenon in the sense that no other nation is so well represented visually in such a distinct manner. Are Canadians a nation full of overzealous nationalistic maniacs hyper-actively flaunting their ´symbolic pride´ overseas or is there another underlying reason behind this trend?
On my first trip overseas to Asia – way back in 2004 – I was told by many fine folks back home to make sure I had the Canadian flag on my suitcase and day-pack at all times. The advice of these individuals, in a collective nutshell, was very succinct and blunt: “If you don´t wear it people will think you are American.” One person even candidly suggested other American travellers do the same thing: “I met a guy from New York who was wearing a Canadian flag the last time I went to Thailand.”
The apparent discernment was quite clear, in the sense, that a large percentage of Canadians believe they enjoy a far better reputation abroad than our neighbours down south; however, I´m particularly not in favour of this ´vogue´ and will suggest a number of reasons why I think it is in certain cases vexatious.
As a Canadian who has spent more years as a mature adult abroad, I feel I have a bit more of an objective stance when it comes to Canadian-American relations from a somewhat removed and detached point of view. Firstly, what I find particularly disturbing is that such a large part of the Canadian identity is based upon the notion of NOT wanting to be American. It´s the kind of inferiority complex that is not ´uncommon´ for a peripheral nation sharing a border with a much larger and significant power. Instead of having uniquely Canadian values that are clearly identifiable at home and abroad, a large part of ´being´ Canadian is simply ´not´ being American. We´re not ´like´ this or we´re not ´like´ that.
Personally, I´ve found that travelers/backpackers (in general) share characteristics that transcend nationality, political affiliation and geographical location. Most adventurers and backpackers are outgoing, curious, open minded, and generally are ´in awe´ of the unique experiences they are having abroad in a foreign country. It takes a certain personality to be able to successfully travel abroad on an extended journey. If one does not have many of the select traits I´ve listed above, it becomes a rather daunting scenario to imagine how one would ´get by´ on a day to day extended basis with all of the significant cultural differences, diversity and completely different way of life from back home.
Most of the American friends I have made while overseas have been some of the most open-minded types of travellers I have ever encountered. Thus, it really comes across as being ´elitist´ when Canadian travellers openly admit they are adorning the Maple Leaf for no other reason than to show/prove they are not American. This is uniquely Canadian. Korean trailblazers are not wearing the Korean flag to distinguish themselves as ´not being from Japan´ and Austrian vagabonds are not proudly displaying their national crest to boldly demonstrate they are not from Germany. When I´ve explained my stance to other backpacking acquaintances they´ve often told me in confidence they found it ´odd´ to see so many Canadian flags all the time as well.
In order to understand fully the complete folly of the Canadian flag being a significant ´positive symbol´ in some far off corner of the world it becomes necessary to imagine an inverse scenario back home. At a local Tim Horton´s (an inordinately popular Canadian doughnut chain) imagine a Khmer individual (Cambodian) walking into the store and placing an order for a medium sized coffee and a maple dip donut. The local Canadian teenage employee, who has never been abroad, notices the Temple of Angkor flag proudly displayed on the Khmer´s backpack and gleefully demonstrates exuberance over the fact this person is in fact ´Cambodian´ and NOT ´Thai. If the scenario seems a little bit far fetched what on earth is one thinking the exact same scenario abroad – in a far off corner of the world – `plays itself out any differently?
The fact remains that most individuals in local cultures simply do not care where you are from or are able to distinguish the cultural differences between a Canadian or American any differently than a typical Canadian is able to tell the same differences between two neighbouring countries in South East Asia. In my humble opinion, it´s absolutely an absurd notion to think any differently if looked upon both critically and objectively.
Although I´m certainly not ashamed to be Canadian – and I´m in fact proud to be where I come from – I will not be amongst those who wear the Canadian flag on their backpack. In my opinion, it´s simply a ´false´ attempt and a gross miscalculation to believe that it is going to allow myself to experience better service and a more friendly welcome from locals because I have it on my backpack.
However, when in doubt, I will ´wear a smile´ and try
to fumble a few sentences in the native language
of my host country as a way of making a ´real´ ´positive
´ first impression.