Canadian flags on backpacks

Aug 22nd, 2004 | By | Category: In Brief

The sure mark of the Canadian world traveller is the obligatory Canadian flag stamped intently on their back as they explore the backpacker circuit.  This modification to their bags has long been held as a wise step to take before leaving for overseas, but how useful is such a measure these days and what message is it really sending?

The most obvious answer is the one seen by our cousins south of the border.  The Canadian flag says to the world, “I’m not American, even though I look, dress and sound like one.”

The government encourages us to sew these flags on our backpacks – as a symbol of our national pride.  The exercise helps remind us of our national identity.  We are Canadian.  But what does that mean?  Our own definition often involves comparing Canada to the US, usually noting how we are better than Americans – friendlier and less violent.  Ironically, this type of arrogance is exactly what we dislike about the United States.

But regardless of the direction of the current US administration, many Americans are good people with similar viewpoints to most of us in Canada.  If we honestly believe our sense of cultural identity is based upon how we’re like Americans, but some how morally superior we need to start looking elsewhere for our sense of cultural identity. At least we can always fall back on Quebec.

Discussions on the web about differences between Canadians and Americans quickly break down into shouting matches between the two sides. The Americans often have the upper hand in this battle because, as we have already conceded they are meaner than we are.

It is also questionable whether a Canadian flag on your back actually gets you more respect. In many circumstances the flag can be very loud, whether it’s the British wearing England flag shirts, Italians with soccer jerseys or Canadians with flags on their backpacks.

The key to being respected as a traveller in a foreign country is to treat the people you meet with respect and make an attempt to learn their language and culture. Canadians, by their nature may have been doing this all along and mistaking the positive response for the flag on their back. I think it’s time we got over it.

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