Most travellers have a certain degree of patriotism for their home country. For some, it’s a subtle pin of their country’s flag, or a hat from their favourite sports team. Others might have a sticker on their luggage or some sporting equipment.
But there is one traveller which you will always know where they come from: the Canadian.
We are easy to spot. Even without hearing us speak, you can tell which country we hail from. We are the ones with our flag sewn on the back of our bags, the red and white stickers on our water bottle or sports equipment.
Some travellers proudly sew patches on their bags of flags of countries they’ve visited. But Canadians, we take patriotism to the next level – we only have the red and white flag.
As a Canadian traveller who once had the maple leaf proudly on my bag for the whole world to see, I’ve taken notice of how almost every Canadian I’ve met sports one flag at minimum. I have also noticed how it’s received by others around the world, which got me thinking of the reasoning behind the fad which has been going on for some years.
As a Canadian, there is always the chance of being mistaken for an American. It happens, and I don’t blame people for making the mistake – sometimes our accents are so similar, I wouldn’t be able to tell myself. So stamping your gear with the red and white is one way of telling everyone at the airport you are from the Great White North and not a Yankee.
But if you’ve ever been to the USA, no matter how big or small the town, or even seen a movie filmed there, you will notice one thing: there are American flags everywhere.
After being back on home soil myself after two and a half years of travelling, my first thought while driving past the massive Canadian flag seen from the 401 while leaving Pearson Airport was that our flag-bearing tendencies are as American as Springsteen’s Born in the USA.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am as proud to be Canadian as the next Canuck, I stayed up all hours of the night watching the last Olympic hockey games, I get excited when I meet someone from my homeland and every time I heard a Canadian song on a foreign radio station a sense of pride would come over me.
There was a time when I thought putting a our flag on my belongings was ‘the Canadian thing to do’. It still is, unfortunately, but it’s not on my bags anymore.
Few people will argue that Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live in – our standard of living, health care, relatively fair political system and clean water are things many people don’t have the luxury of. Not to mention the stunning beauty of our landscape. But you know what? Many other countries that have those things too.
When I see three guys pull into a parking lot in an old Holden station-wagon with a giant Canadian flag painted on the hood of their car (as I did on the East Coast of Australia), I don’t think ‘awesome, some more Canadians!’ as much as I think that they come across as super patriot chauvinists. Rather than travelling for the sake of meeting new people and learning about new cultures and customs, they bring this pride which overshadows their current surroundings and subjects interactions with people they meet to be about them and less about where they are.
Isn’t the point of travelling to embrace new people, places and customs? Unless you are travelling as a national sports team, putting the flag on your bag is becoming more of a ‘we-are-better-than-you’ symbol than anything else.
Many countries have similar standards of living and all the great things that Canada has, but you don’t see their people travelling around boasting flags on their luggage for the world to see, yet I’m sure they are just as proud of their origin as we are.
I’m not suggesting to not be patriotic, but rather than telling everyone before you meet them where you come from, have a conversation with them (hint, unless you’re an asshole, everyone loves Canadians anyways). Find out where they are from. I’m sure they will still want to hear about where you are from, but at least the ‘we are the best country in the world’ stigma isn’t forced upon them.
Sure, sing O Canada with the Canadians you’ve just met at the bar at 11am to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs (because that’s what time the game is on where you are), wear a Blue Jays hat or a Canadiens jersey, talk about how much snow they are getting back home or complain about why you can’t get a ceasar anywhere. But stop parading around other countries with our flag in your car window or that patch on your backpack – something that seems more likely our neighbours to the south would do, although surprisingly they don’t – they, arguably the most patriotic country in the world, don’t even wear their flag on their backpacks.
So next time I hit the road, you might see a Canadian flag on my bag, but it won’t be alone, but rather mixed in with flags of the places I’ve been. I might wear a hockey jersey to a sports game, but the only way a stranger is going to know where I’m from while I’m sitting on the plane will be if we have a conversation, and it will be about where I’m going, not where I’m from.