I’m as mad as a polar bear reading about global warming. Everywhere I look I see Canadian flags on backpacks. A maple leaf seems to be as important an item of budget travel gear as daddy’s credit card, but there’s one problem–many of the people flashing the good old red, white, and red aren’t Canadian.
I’ve taken to asking people their nationality when I see them sporting a Canadian flag and only about half turn out to be Canadian. The other half are American. No Brits, no Aussies, no Latvians. It seems the fake Canadians all come from south of the border.
Are they illegal immigrants coming to steal our heath care and eat all our maple syrup? No, they’re pretending to be Canadians because their guidebooks have told them they’ll be safer in all those scary foreign countries. Americans are targets, the guidebooks warn, so it’s best to lay low. Lonely Planet started this ridiculous trend, but I’ve spotted the advice in other guidebooks too. It’s stupid, and here’s why.
First off, it’s hypocritical. I’ve seen these sunshine patriots screech with rage when anyone says anything the least bit negative about the U.S., but they’ll gladly give up their identity on the advice of some random guidebook writer. If you’re proud to be American, that’s great, the U.S. has a lot going for it, but then show you’re proud by wearing an AMERICAN flag.
Secondly, the idea that a Canadian flag will protect you overseas is simply untrue. Thieves see you as a rich Westerner, and don’t care whether you come from Manitoba or Montana. Terrorists see you as an evil Westerner, and don’t care either. Some of the biggest attacks against travelers have been against British and Germans, not Americans. Besides, while the Canadian flag is a glorious national emblem, sublime in its simplicity and beauty, it is not bomb proof. Suicide attacks don’t discriminate and usually take out more locals than foreigners.
Thirdly, Americans aren’t as hated as they think. Oh, there are the jokes about fat, ignorant Americans that unite the world from Egypt to Ecuador, but few people really mean Americans any harm. I know, because I am regularly mistaken for one. When I worked and traveled for a couple of years in the Middle East, nobody threatened me. I even witnessed the 14th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Isfahan, Iran, and didn’t have a problem. In fact, the entire month I was in Iran people constantly assumed I was American (or British, equally bad according to government propaganda) but I was never threatened. Instead I was treated to embarrassing levels of hospitality and the only danger was the very real possibility of being fed to death on massive dinners and cloyingly sweet desserts. The Iranians, it seems, can distinguish between people and governments. Oh, I occasionally had to endure odious lectures on the evils of Israel or how Zionists run Washington (snore) but I was never treated to even so much as a harsh word. It was the same in Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Turkey.
So Americans, please, show some love for your country and wear your own flag. The world doesn’t hate you as much as you think it does. But I wouldn’t suggest wearing a t-shirt saying “Employee of the U.S. Government”. That’s what most people are really ticked off about.
And if you are truly that embarrassed by your own country, I suggest one of two things–either stay home and work on fixing it, or move to Canada. We’re underpopulated, so there’s plenty of room.