For the Love of God, Don’t Sew a Canadian Flag on Your Backpack

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There are so many travel urban legends out there. The belief that dressing up and being polite at check-in will get you a free upgrade to business class. The Paris restaurant where the food is so good, you’ll cry, and prices haven’t changed since the 1980s. The mysterious Thai island that no “tourists” know about.

But the biggest myth of all? The crowds of American travelers with Canadian flag patches sewn to their backpacks.

Image: Venture Vancouver

Do these travelers actually exist?

When I brought up the subject of traveling as an American during a Trump presidency, I was shocked at how many of my readers talked about Americans masquerading as Canadians with a Canadian flag patch sewn on their backpacks.

“I’m doing that before I travel next!” several of them claimed.

I have never seen an American with a Canadian flag patch. Ever.

Hell, it’s rare to see any kind of patch sewn on a backpack nowadays.

That said, I’ve heard story after story of these travelers existing. You’ve probably heard them, too. But here’s the thing — these stories almost always seem to be secondhand. A few of them have actually seen them, sure, but most people have only heard of Americans doing this and can’t recall a specific point when they saw it with their own eyes.

Because of this, I seriously doubt that most of these people who claim to have seen Americans pretending to be Canadian have actually seen them.

It’s like saying, “Oh yeah, I heard tons of people saw Mike Pence on Grindr the night of the inauguration.” If you hear it often enough, you start to believe you saw it with your own eyes.

But what hurt me was hearing how many of my American readers were eager to start pretending to be Canadian on the road. I don’t want anyone to do that, and I don’t think it does us any favors.

Traveling Under Obama vs. Traveling Under Bush

Now, granted, most of my long-term international travels have been during the Obama Administration, and generally speaking, President Obama is highly respected around the world.

But I’ve also traveled extensively during the Bush Administration, albeit mostly in Europe. I was in Italy during his reelection in 2004. And he was far less respected around the world.

(Even when I arrived in France in 2001, pre-9/11, as soon as I met my host family, they immediately wanted to talk about Bush. One of the first things the father said to me was “Il est cowboy!“)

When Bush was president, I would constantly field questions about his policies, especially around the war in Iraq.

By contrast, during the Obama years, criticism of America was far rarer. Most of it tended to focus on healthcare and gun violence. Obama was rarely criticized, and if he was, it was usually about drone strikes.

With a new era under Donald Trump, it’s going to be similar to the Bush years.

That’s the reason that lots of Americans want to be undercover Canadians. They want to escape the constant questions. They don’t want to be shamed. I get it, but that’s not the right course of action.

Why Pretending to be a Canadian a Bad Idea

Canada is a fantastic country. Gorgeous landscapes, very friendly people, delicious food, astonishing diversity. Plus, the Canadian dollar is weak and it’s a bargain to visit right now. I haven’t visited Canada in a long time, but I hope to visit at least two different regions this year. In short, if you’re Canadian, you’re very lucky.

That said, as lovely as it is, you shouldn’t lie and say you’re Canadian. Why?

Most people are happy to meet Americans. Because most people are nice, period. If you treat people with kindness, they will very likely treat you with kindness in return. And some countries, like Kosovo, welcome Americans with joyful enthusiasm!

Most people understand that governments do not always represent people. If people were judged based on the worst decisions of their governments, everybody would hate everyone.

Most people understand that Trump is deeply unpopular in America. He entered the presidency with the lowest ratings in 40 years; national and international news coverage has reflected this unpopularity. The 2016 election was a major international story. People understand that it was a contentious and close election, and that many people are not happy with Trump being president.

Canadians are everywhere. Any actual Canadian will see through your act the moment they ask, “Where are you from?” and realize you have no knowledge of Canadian geography or expressions.

Canada is also more prominent on the international stage today. Canadian politics used to rarely make international headlines, but that all changed with the election of Justin Trudeau. Suddenly Canadian political news started going viral, like the reveal of Trudeau’s remarkably diverse Cabinet. Non-Canadians may want to talk about Trudeau and if you don’t even know what party he’s from, you’re not going to look good.

If you lie to people initially, then tell the truth once you trust them, you are going to look like an idiot. They may be hurt; they may roll their eyes. They may say, “What’s the big deal?” Save yourself the grief.

Use This As an Opportunity

But most importantly, owning your Americanness is vital to creating understanding around the world. If you’re against Donald Trump, let people know why. Show people that not everyone in America thinks that Trump is good for America. (And hell, if you’re a Trump fan, do the same thing! Share your point of view.)

It’s good to plan out what you want to say ahead of time. Here’s what I plan to say:

“I didn’t vote for Trump. I campaigned and volunteered for Hillary, for Obama before her, and I’ve been a liberal my whole life. I think Trump’s policies are bad for the country and his election is an embarrassment.

“I run my own business and was only able to do so because of Obamacare. Some of my biggest worries are that Obamacare will be repealed without a replacement, leaving me and 20 million Americans without healthcare; that new Supreme Court justices will overturn Roe v. Wade and women won’t have access to safe and legal abortions; that more black Americans will be murdered by the police; that my friends’ children with autism will lose the right to be educated in public schools; that the threat of climate change will worsen and be ignored; and that Trump’s pettiness and fixation on revenge will anger the wrong leader and get us into another war.

“But my biggest worry is how often Trump and his team lie, even about things that can be disproved instantly, and how his supporters will believe the lies because everything they disagree with is ‘fake news.’ I don’t know how to fight this.

“I’m not the only person who feels this way — 3.7 million people marched against Trump in the US alone. 1 out of every 100 Americans protested — that is insane. There were protests on seven continents. Yes, including Antarctica!

“Personally, I don’t think Trump will make it through four years. I think he going to get overwhelmed and go back to New York, letting Pence do all the work while he retains the title of President. And nobody in Congress will do a thing about it.”

That’s my story. Feel free to use any part of it you’d like — but put your own spin on it.

How to Talk to People

When Bush was president, the question I would get the most while traveling was, “Why? Why would anyone vote for him in the first place? Why would anyone reelect him?!”

Expect to get similar questions with Trump. Here are some talking points if you need them:

Why did Trump win?

Lots of Americans felt like they weren’t being heard in Washington and that their lives weren’t getting better, and the best way to enact change was to elect an outsider. Many of these people were white working class voters in regions like the Rust Belt (Wisconsin-Michigan-Ohio-Pennsylvania) where automation has killed the manufacturing industry and lots of people are unemployed or underemployed. Trump spoke directly to these voters throughout his campaign.

Trump also ran a campaign with racially charged rhetoric. Many people found it refreshing that a candidate made it okay to be “not politically correct” anymore. The KKK endorsed him and celebrated his election.

There are other reasons. Some Republicans will vote for any Republican, no matter how vile. Republicans also tend to have more single-issue voters than Democrats. These voters will always support the anti-choice or pro-gun candidate, both of which Trump was.

Then there were many people who didn’t like Hillary. Many people painted her and Trump as equally bad options. Many supporters of Bernie Sanders thought that he should have been the Democratic candidate and they chose to vote third party or not at all.

And then there was the murkiness of the election — Russia’s interference, as well as FBI Director James Comey releasing damaging but ultimately meaningless information about Clinton shortly before the election.

Believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as to why Trump won. Political scientists will be engrossed in the 2016 election for generations.

But why didn’t people like Obama?

Lots of people are racist. Far more than would admit to it. This is why Obama had to be the perfect candidate with a perfect family. Ta-Nehisi Coates said it best: “To be president, [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of our greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds…Donald Trump had to be rich and white.”

Racist people want to destroy every one of Obama’s accomplishments. They even love aspects of Obamacare, like allowing people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance; they just don’t like that Obama created it. As Van Jones said on election night, “This was a whitelash.”

Some people’s health insurance became more expensive when Obamacare went into effect. Obamacare gave 20 million people health insurance and reduced costs for most people, but it wasn’t perfect for everyone, and people whose costs went up were angry.

While much of the country recovered significantly from the 2008 recession when Obama took office, urban areas tended to bounce back more strongly than rural areas and many people in rural areas thought their lives were the same or worse since 2008.

But why didn’t Hillary win if she got nearly 3 million more votes?

The Electoral College awards votes per state based on population, and rural states get slightly more votes. It was originally created to give slave states more votes without letting the slaves vote themselves; it was also created to prevent a demagogue from taking office just in case the people elected a madman (that worked out terrifically). The Electoral College usually lines up with the popular vote, but sometimes it doesn’t. Bush lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College in 2000.

Hillary won by a huge margin in solidly blue states like California, where a win was predetermined; Trump won by a very slim margin in swing states like Michigan, where a win was vital.

The Electoral College is outdated and needs to go. But with a Republican-controlled government, the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim.

The One Exception

The only time that I would recommend lying about being American is if doing so would keep you safe in an otherwise dangerous situation. There may be a time when it’s best to lie low and hide your nationality until you’re in a safer position.

Just remember:

Not wanting to talk about Donald Trump again is not a dangerous situation.

Thinking that someone might make fun of you is not a dangerous situation.

But if you somehow get swept into an anti-American demonstration on the street, yes, that’s when it’s time to lie and say you’re Canadian. But you’re unlikely to fall into a situation like that unless you go looking for it. And it’s best to get yourself the fuck away rather than spend time chatting.

And One Last Caveat…

If anything, Trump has shown us that he will act recklessly at best, vindictively at worst. He’s repeatedly shown a disdain for facts, an obsession with those who have wronged him, and that he cares more about Putin than the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

So it’s very likely that something bad could happen under a president like this. War. And worse. Things so bad I don’t even want to type them.

If that happens, all bets are off. Save yourselves.

The photos in this post were taken during the Women’s March in New York City, where I was among 400,000 women and allies warning the new administration not to cut off our rights. Thank you to everyone who marched. Remember to be politically active, hold your representatives accountable, and take concentrated actions every week — we’re going to need all the momentum we can get.

Americans, would you ever pretend to be Canadian? Or do you think it’s a bad idea? What’s going to happen over the next four years? Share away!

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69 thoughts on “For the Love of God, Don’t Sew a Canadian Flag on Your Backpack”

  1. I’m British, so have obviously never pretended to be Canadian (my attempt at the accent would just embarrass us all) nor have I met anyone pretending to be Canadian, as far as I’m aware. However, since June, I have met many, many Americans on my travels and have never once judged them for the political situation in America. Why would I? I know that over half of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump and I honestly believe that most people who travel would be open-minded enough to vote for such a bigoted man.

    It makes me sad that some people feel the need to lie about their nationality, but I understand it. I was living in Brussels, right next to the EU headquarters, when the Brexit vote was passed and I received so many hurtful comments about how racist my country was, how stupid we were, etc, etc. It would have been easier to lie, but it would also have not helped anything.

    Hopefully your post will help people see why they shouldn’t lie!!

  2. As a Canadian I think this is great advice. I’ve been to the US many times and the Americans I’ve met abroad have been wonderful. Honestly I haven’t even met many Canadians who have a Canada flag on their backpack. People should know that one individual doesn’t represent their whole country or county’s political ideology. Travel and being honest about where you’re from (except in dangerous situations as you pointed out) is the best thing anyone can do.

  3. I enjoyed this! After 30 some odd years of travel, l’ve only once met an American masqurading as a Canadian, and your right, they felt silly when I called them out. (Was a hockey question lol) But concider this, have you wver wonderd how many Canadians maqurade as American?

  4. I really appreciate this post and your approach to responding Trump questions – something I’ve had to face more times than I can count as an American abroad. I will definitely incorporate some of your narrative into my future answers/discussions.

  5. I have not found out any Americans masquerading as Canadians (I’m Canadian) regardless of where I have travelled. I have found myself in an interesting position a couple of times when I’ve defended my American neighbours. Both times it was within a group of Europeans who indulged in some American-bashing. I made the same argument you make above, Kate. You can’t judge a people by the government running their country. I think it’s more important than ever that American travellers step up and demonstrate that rather than try to hide their nationality.

  6. I think the point about governments not always representing the people is spot on. I was in Montenegro this summer (based on your recommendation, thanks!) talking to a Serbian about how people in his country aren’t the biggest fans of America. And then he said “but that’s your government, not the people”, which really struck me.

    Also remember that Trump is part of a broader political movement that is impacting Europe as well. I’ve found that generally the type of people who travel abroad are not the type to buy into nativism, xenophobia, etc, so it’s likely that they have a lot of the same concerns about their countries as we do about ours. This was just my experience, but I never felt like I had to defend myself as an American when talking politics with people from other countries. But do know that at this moment in time people will want to talk politics, so the suggestions in this article are really helpful to help people engage in those conversations without getting defensive.

  7. I’m not sure you meant this, but race isn’t the primary reason Obama was disliked. Personally, I disliked his agenda. Would I have a beer with the guy? Of course!

    It’s tricky these days. I feel reverse elitism played a large role in getting Trump elected (which is ironic, as he’s the ultimate elitist.) I know I’m tired of being talked down to–with the implication I’m uneducated and heartless–simply because I disagree politically. I’ve found my opinion is more likely to be respected abroad, but not here.

    Anyways, just a different perspective…as a non-liberal that isn’t a bigot, loves travel and learning about other cultures, it sometimes feels like being an endangered species. 😉

    1. I’m also a non-liberal that isn’t a bigot, loves travel and learning about other cultures. I love and respect the Obama’s while disagreeing with many of President Obama’s policies.
      I do understand that when we travel around the world, we are representing America to many and posts like this one are valid and vital, but maybe age has tempered me a bit. When traveling under the Clinton administration in the 90s I’d have just as many awkward questions.
      As far as pretending to be another nationality? Pretending and falsehoods are a waste of time and energy.
      Things will never change and people will never grow until we learn that we are more than labels. We each have layers and that is what we travel for… to meet others and discover the diversity around the world. We have to be honest with who we are at our core to be able to share that with others.

    2. If it feels like being an endangered species, it definitely seems like it. My sense is that conservatives put high value on kinship and tradition and sometimes it deters them from venturing outside of the circle. Nationalistic pride can also be misplaced sometimes. I know this because I am a non-liberal non-American, from a country that thrives under an unchallenged center-right government for the past 60 years.

      Our world is upside down where it’s fiscally conservative but religiously moderate. The opposition wants western liberalism, social justice, and more conservative religious laws (religious laws include broadening welfare and free education). The death penalty is unilaterally popular, for illegal discharge of firearms and/or drug trafficking. Protesting is illegal, freedom of speech is limited, and there is a government registry for all citizens, expats and immigrants. We deport illegal immigrants all the time. While the majority of people are happy with this setup, it’s not all that great and there are dark sides to this governance. I’m afraid that the policies that Trump is advocating for are emulating the dark sides of a government I recognize very well… And the citizens are really nice people, but most are bigoted and racist to the core, but suuuper nice and friendly! so I get it… I’m the one who escaped because of my love for traveling and other cultures, my American friends assume I’m liberal, but I’m not.

  8. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this post, but I’ll never be able to say them as articulately as you did, so I will leave you with one word: ditto. Thank you for reading my mind.

  9. Agree with everything you said!

    I’m British, so have a similar thing with being asked about Brexit. If I I avoided the subject or pretended to be from somewhere else to get away from it, it would be a missed opportunity to show others that not everyone in Britain voted for Brexit and most of us don’t hold the views associated with it.

    As for Trump, I’d probably assume that any Americans travelling abroad and seeing the world (and thus have a passport!) wouldn’t be Trump voters anyway 🙂

    1. Well then like most assumptions you would be wrong. No surprise. Including your ignorant shot at Americans not having passports. Like I haven’t heard that BS a million times.

      I have been to 40 countries across every continent except Antarctica, and have been an expat living in the Middle East for the past 6 years.

      And LOL at all the “most Americans are unhappy with Trump… etc. etc” An equal number of Americans are just fine with him. He has over 51% approval as I write this. America is divided. So stands to reason the approval numbers will remain in this range. And that is fine with this guy. Anyone that stands with the Democrats is welcomed by me to put whatever patch they want on their backpack so long as it isn’t American. And please just don’t put a meaningless patch on your luggage, by all means hit the road. Permanently. America doesn’t need you.

      The MORE I travel and interact with other cultures the more I become entrenched in my political ideology. Nothing to do with racism, or whatever made up phobia the Left promotes and lies about.

      As much BS as I hear about Americans being ignorant of international politics, I see much worse coming from those that think they know anything about American domestic politics. It is a FACT that the Democrats divided America. It is also a FACT that the Democratic Party is the party of racism and authoritarianism in America. It is historically irrefutable. Statist swine through and through they are.

      Get educated and lose the ignorance, and your elitist snobbery, while you’re at it. Although to be expected given your place of birth. Cheers!

        1. Nate Silver. Right. They guy who blew the pre election forecast just like all the rest of the Leftist liars. I guess you missed the part where I said he will hover around 50% all the time. Since 62 million people put him in office. This is a given, in spite of our traitorous despicable media and the Democratic Party. One and the same they are.

          Please by all means continue to scream “racism” and “sexism” every 6 seconds. Please continue to scream about his tax returns at the top of your lungs, especially the 38 million he paid in taxes (thanks to his biggest fan apparently, Rachel Maddow) in 2005. Please continue to blather on and on relentlessly about Russia. All your lying does is ensure that the Democratic Party relegates itself into the dustbin of history. The amount of State and Federal congressional losses in the voting booth by the DemocRats over the past 8 years is fantastic for America. The amount of governorships lost by the DemocRats is fabulous for America. Please keep up the good work!

  10. For all the Americans thinking it’s “bad” to be an American while traveling abroad – just imagine being a Russian traveling abroad right now 😉 Especially in the US or Europe. The options are: disavow your country/government OR be prepared to be asked to answer for/defend all of Russia’s transgressions of past and present, real or perceived.
    As a Russian who’s spent half of her life in the States, and identifies just as much as an American, I’ve faced about the same number of situations when it was difficult to be one or the other, over the last decade+ of travel. Ironically, I doubt that there’s another country whose citizens abroad are scrutinized as much as those of the US and Russia based on policy and politics.

  11. Unlike you, Kate, I’m a bit older (37) and did ALL of my long-term traveling (on 4 continents) while George Dubya was POTUS. I never pretended to be Canadian and got into some very interesting conversations as a result. My favorite was with a group of Europeans on a boat in the Galapagos. I traveled there shortly after working full-time on the 2004 presidential campaign so I had a lot to say! They went from “wtf is wrong with Americans to re-elect someone so awful?” to understanding that most Americans simply didn’t vote for Dubya (which is actually always true because our voter turnout is crap) and the reasons they did (the biggie was fear of terrorism–9/11) weren’t as awful as they’d imagined. It was the one time I felt like I actually changed some hearts and minds and I really felt like an ambassador for the US.

  12. I’m currently studying in Canada and as an English Kiwi with a not quite English not quite NZ accent it is a godsend to be not obviously be from somewhere in particular. My English friends are constantly fielding questions about Brexit, and my American boyfriend is constantly fielding questions about Trump! I love being able to fall under the radar and not engage in political discussion unless I want to, simply because my accent confuses people! It’s brilliant 😉

  13. So I am Canadian…And I have met Americans masquerading as Canadians…it is always very awkward having that conversation. And yes, some of them have patches sewn onto their bags, others have passport protectors so you can’t see that it is an American passport and usually, the people who are pretending to be Canadian are the ones who should be representing American travelers because they are much more friendly and open and interested in learning about other people. I think your post makes a lot of sense though and hopefully, it has an impact!

  14. I was traveling around Southeast Asia during election season and got a TON of questions. When people genuinely wanted to talk about what was going on, I was happy to engage in that conversation and used a lot of the same points as you made here.

    I also made a point to tell people about how we’re a two-party dominated system, which can leave a lot of people feeling like their viewpoints aren’t represented by either major candidate, and thus they vote for a third party, even though they know that third party won’t win. That always got a lot of follow up questions, especially “If people don’t like Trump, why not vote Hillary and make sure she wins, rather than throwing away their vote?” That’s a fair question, but the fact that someone doesn’t like Trump doesn’t automatically mean they like Hillary, and I can’t blame people for sticking to their personal beliefs in their voting choices.

    A few people made some frustrating assumptions, including a few from the UK who all Americans are to blame for electing Trump, even if we didn’t vote for him. Ha. I just turned that back around on them and said “Did you vote for Brexit? No? Well, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t vote for it, you’re still to blame for it, according to your logic.”

    Most of the time, people are truly interested, and I completely agree that we should take the opportunity to explain and educate, rather than hide!

  15. One night at a bar while I was studying in Paris during the W Bush years I said I was Canadian but I refuse to do that anymore. I think it’s really important to show people around the world that curious, rational, interesting, travel-loving Americans exist. In Malaysia, I met a woman who insisted I must be Canadian and refused to believe I was American because I wasn’t obese. Then we talked about farming and access to fresh produce in the states. I met an Aussie who asked if I carried around a pink Beretta in my purse. I explained I have never touched a gun in my life. Granted, most people understand we are a diverse country, however I think a lot of people have certain stereotypical views of the US based off of movies and such and it’s good to dispell those by owning up to your American-ness. Thanks for addressing this topic!

  16. Yes, yes, yes to all of this.

    I spent the bulk of Trump’s time as president-elect in Mexico. Far from wanting to hide out as a Canadian, I relished the opportunity to provide my perspective on the many, many, MANY Trump-related questions that the Mexicans we met had.

    On another note, I’m from the deeply red state of Oklahoma. It has actually been cathartic to speak to other Americans on the road, who are far more likely to share my political views than my neighbors at home.

  17. “Canadians are everywhere. Any actual Canadian will see through your act the moment they ask, “Where are you from?” and realize you have no knowledge of Canadian geography or expressions.”

    As a Canadian I actually laughed out loud at this one 🙂

  18. Not one to pretend who I’m not, but I do carry an American flag as well as a Canadian flag on my backpack. Actually, I sew a flag for every country I travel to on my backpack as I’d like to consider myself a citizen of the world. That aside, I’m truly upset at how Trump became president and how corrupt our system is. I would like to think that our government’s actions do not represent the people of this country as there are many, many amazing people who call this great land home.

    There’s no telling what the next 4 years could hope, all we can do is hope for the best and clear political corruption out of our system. Now if only we can get everyone to agree and actually take action on this, that’s the real challenge.

  19. I would like to hope that most travellers are open minded enough not to judge an individual on where they’re from, but I certainly think that pretending to be from somewhere else is only going to make matters worse. I disagreed with Brexit and while travelling I have been on the receiving end of a couple of lectures on why it was a bad choice. It was frustrating to feel slightly victimised for a decision I wasn’t happy with, but I’m glad that I made those people see that a democratic result doesn’t reflect the views of every citizen. Stay proud! 🙂

  20. Ditto to all here, Kate. I’ve never met a fake Canadian–that would be awkward as I would definitely ask where they’re from, as my dad’s side of the family is originally from Quebec and I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the eastern part of Canada quite a bit! I also feel that pretending to be Canadian plays into the stereotype of Americans being ignorant about other countries and cultures–borrowing a Canadian flag to ease acceptance shows a simplistic attitude toward our northern neighbors, in my opinion.

    My own experience in hostels and with friends’ families in Europe has been wholly without aggression toward *me* as a person. I’ve definitely been challenged to “defend America” or the butt of a joke/awkward comment occassionaly, but I’ve never felt threatened. Overwhelmingly, it’s “What do you think about that?” After the results of the election, I received the kindest messages of love and solidarity from people I’ve met abroad–many of whom are also terrified by the far right movements in their own countries. Travel has always renewed and refreshed my love for places and people, so I’m going to look to it now more than ever.

  21. ‘Love the post Kate!

    Sadly, I have met a few Americans who were carrying a Canadian flag, but that was during the Bush era and I don’t blame them for it as it was during the Saddam Hussein conflict – Tony Blair /George Bush war after-math, and most Europeans were very upset.

    Funnily enough, even though I’m British, as a person of colour abroad, people assume that I’m American until I talk!

    I once went to a political anti-Bush rally in Rome, and most people shouted “Americano” at me. I was right in the middle of a mass of angry, flag toting people. There was no point in explaining that I was actually British, so I smiled. Waved. And let them think it! And they were great and just wanted to talk about stuff!

    To be honest, most local people in rural areas don’t know the diference. In their minds we’re all “Americano!” And certainly, during the Obama administration, I was called “Michelle” loads of times. Again, I didn’t burst their bubble. Why should I? We took photographs. They told me that they loved America, shook my hand, and then I moved on.

    In Germany where I live, I’m definitely British, with or without Brexit…!

  22. We had a similar instance (on a smaller scale) in Australia when Tony Abbott was elected PM. People have trouble placing my accent overseas and often asked if I was a Kiwi (tempted to say yes at times!), but you’re right – it’s not fair to anyone to claim anything otherwise. I’d just mechanically repeat “I didn’t vote for him” over and over again.
    If it’s any consolation, he was booted out after two years… although I’m sad to say his legacy lives on.

  23. I live in the rural South. I grew up in the Midwest. Most people that I know voted for Trump. The ones from the South have been taught to be prejudiced – handed down just like heirlooms. But most have admitted they are for him for one simple reason – economics. As you stated, most are struggling still in the rural areas and not seeing prosperity like those in the more urban areas. The next 4 years terrify me – and I believe that we will be in war before we can even turn around. But I hope and pray that I’m wrong!

  24. Very interesting read. I’ve never thought about this before, but it’s true that our country’s politics play a big part in our lives, even when we travel.

  25. I feel like people aren’t really worried about the reaction they may face after Trump’s election, rather it’s just another way of protesting. Liberals are having an ongoing meltdown and this just makes them feel like they are protesting. It’s a shame you feel the need to travel abroad and tell people you think our new president is an embarrassment. I would hope we could all stand together for once rather than continue to show decisive polarization.

    1. With all due respect, do you really want to talk about Liberals having meltdowns, when the POTUS hasn’t stopped talking about the popular vote and insisting fraud for 2.5 months now? Additionally, the whole idea that we should all stand together went out the window when our current elected president ran a campaign designed around the exact opposite sentiment. I will never stand together with people who want to take away rights from myself and my neighbors.

  26. I think it’s fair to say that most travelers would not have voted for Trump. Hopefully the majority of Americans being questioned in the world will be okay with the discussion and be able to stand up and say “I didn’t support that. I don’t represent what happened or the person now in power. I have personally been the butt of a joke while IN Canada when Trump was still campaigning early last year. All I could do was laugh and agree with the sentiment, and explain that I certainly was not a supporter. I represent the portion of Americans who had better judgement.

  27. Thank you very much for laying out your thoughts and beliefs about Bush, Obama, Trump, Obamacare and many other aspects of American life. I was born in Almaty Kazakhstan (at that time it was Soviet Union), lived there for 15 years and immigrated to Seattle with all my family and now live here for already 22 years.
    I love to travel so much and so far I have visited all 50 states and traveled to 48 countries (about 45 as US citizen). Since I live in Seattle and absolutely love Vancouver BC (much more than Seattle), I have visited Canada literally more than 100 times. Never during my worldwide travels, I thought to pretend to be Canadian and I am absolutely proud to be a US citizen (One time I pretended that I was Russian when I took a tour to Bethlehem in Palestine territory).
    I have my opinion about Obamacare, Obama and Trump (it is opposite of yours, especially about Obamacare) but that is for another day.
    The only situation where I think I would pretend to be Canadian: I WOULD LOVE to visit CUBA (Legally, on my own terms).
    Again thank you for your wonderful post.

  28. What a great post!
    This has been on my mind a lot lately since I am an expat living in Mexico. As soon as people find out I am American the first thing they ask me is “So who did you vote for?”. People usually are just curious and want to understand how we could elect such a president. It creates an opportunity to be real and show people that a single president often doesn’t represent the entire population. The same is true here in Mexico.

  29. Before going on my trip to Egypt I was warned not to tell anyone I was American. Not for security issues, but because they viewed Americans as a “Walking Wallet” and will either charge your more or try harder to sell to you. I tried twice with saying I was from Canada, but it just felt stupid. In fact when I told the sellers I was American, they’d often say “Oh sorry! American’s don’t like hassle. Feel free to browse and let me know if you have any questions.” Now whether or not they actually didn’t hassle you after that is a different story, but the lack of tourists there mean people pretty much treat all tourists the same now.

  30. Great post with good advice and insight. I moved overseas, to the Middle East, 11 years ago. I have been in Kuwait for 8 of those 11 years and have traveled to several countries in the Middle East. I have, on occasion, felt the need to say I was from another country while alone in a taxi, even in Kuwait. Not because I felt threatened, but because I didn’t want the hassle of a man proclaiming his love within 30 seconds of meeting me and asking to marry me. I reached a point where I started saying I was from some obscure African country just to see the look on their face. Only two times did I feel unsafe and feel that I shouldn’t admit to being an American – once in Jordan and once in Kuwait. Both times under the Bush administration. Now? I don’t know about other Middle Eastern countries, but Kuwait is laughing at us for electing this man and my students even feel sorry for us. They are even asking questions about our electoral process. I think your insights here are spot on and I really enjoyed reading your post.

  31. I had the opportunity to say that I was Canadian before, but I didn’t. I lived in London in 2004 when Bush was reelected and the world didn’t like Americans much. I was on a bus by myself one night and I don’t remember why I said anything at all, I think I was asked a question, but I did. There was a weird guy who heard me and went “ARE YOU CANADIAN?!” for a split second I thought it’d be safer if I lied. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to have to back it up just in case. I think he got the point when I said very quietly “no, American.” and he left me alone. But it was a nerve wracking moment.
    I usually just blow peoples questions off by saying “I don’t know…I hate it” or “ugh. don’t even get me started.” people usually realize what side you’re on. Sometimes with people I know well, I’ll get into a conversation about it, but not random people on the street. That’s just me.

  32. Thanks for writing this Kate!

    I’m Canadian and spent most of last summer in Europe. What I found was that people not only wanted to talk about Trudeau (he seems to be universally loved!), but they also wanted my perspective on Trump as a Canadian. So, if my experience is anything to go by, even pretending to be Canadian won’t save you from talking about Trump.

  33. Well guys, now you FINALLY know how us Malaysians have been through for years! Just because Najib Razak is our Prime Minister doesn’t mean that all Malaysians are proud of nor support him. I know well enough that a president/PM of a country doesn’t represent the whole nation. I’ve been fascinated with the U.S for so long, in fact I’m friends with a couple of Americans so I understand that just because it’s Trump time for the next four years, doesn’t mean that everything about America will change.

    I may be selfish for saying this, but I like it that how President Trump resulted to Americans now being humble by this major….embarrassment.

  34. Hey Kate,

    I once met a couple on a tour I did in Vietnam who said they were Canadian. As a Canadian, I excitedly asked where they were from (I know the country is big but they were my people!) They then sheepishly admitted they were from the states, but didn’t want to be perceived negatively in Vietnam even though it was 2013. They received no harshness from any one, but I guess they used it as a precaution in case there was still animosity from the war 38 years later.

    They didn’t have Canadian flags sown anywhere though, and were sad when I didn’t say “eh” more often.

  35. I’m a New Zealander who started travelling in the 80s. The Americans travelling with Canadian patches wasn’t a myth then. It may have fallen out of favour – but it was more common than not in India, Nepal and SEA at the time. Particularly in Vietnam. These were the Regan years from memory – and it was the Cold War. Mostly the locals were sad if someone wasn’t American – they always wanted to talk to Americans rather than Canadians – I saw this s a lot travelling with Canadians (real one)

  36. Great post. I’ve lived in Iceland on and off-they had strong opinions on Bush and even stronger ones on Trump-and when traveling, people are often surprised to know I am originally from the US. You are so right when you say that a country’s government doesn’t represent all of its people! I hold views that are quite..opposite from Trump so it is always a bit intimidating to reveal I am from the US.

  37. Amy-Anne Williams

    I agree with everything. Especially that bit about the govenment and country don’t represent everyone. I think it seems like a good idea to do this, but in the long-run is just kind of a bit pointless.


  38. Personally I could care less, I just enjoy meeting people and not really fussed about where they are from. Never wore a flag, never will.

  39. I have never seen an American pretend to be Canadian either, although, I have met many Canadians on the road who take pride on their flag that they have on their backpack. They certainly like to distinguish themselves and that’s cool, it’s nice that they’re proud of their roots! I am from the UK so I can’t speak for Americans here but one of the biggest things that stood out to me was the whole getting rid of Obamacare thing. It’s just awful that he wants to do that and deny the right of health care to some people. Healthcare should be a right, not just a privilege. I am lucky enough to be from the UK where we have an NHS (well for now anyway) and though we complain about it at times, it is an amazing service; anyone can get treated in hospital for free, prescriptions are cheap and we have some incredibly talented medical professionals. I wish every country in the world had access to this.

    1. A lot of Americans claim that Brits hate the NHS, Sally. Of course there are some people who don’t like it, but having spent a LOT of time among Brits and living in Britain, I’ve found that most Brits are deeply grateful for the NHS.

  40. I agree — Americans masquerading as Canadians is right up there with cow tipping. I’ve met many people to claim that it exists, but never anyone who’s actually done it.

    I traveled a lot during the Bush years and never had anyone bash me because of where I was born. Bush was deeply unpopular in Latin America, though.

    Contrary to popular Republican opinion, Obama is actually quite popular and well-respected around the world. Now we’re entering the Dark Ages and Trump is obviously going to be very unpopular. But if anyone wants to rip me for where I was born, then they’re not worth talking to.

  41. Great post. As a Canadian living in Australian, I often get mistaken as being American. I think this is a great time for travelling Americans to be proud to be Americans and show the world that not every one is the US supports Trump’s ideas. Seeing regular Americans overseas humanizes what people see and hear in the media.

  42. This article caught my eye. I’ve worked abroad since 1997, sometimes in very dicey areas. I have on more than one occasion told an unknown person I was Canadian (I’m American). It depends on the circumstances. Unless you are going to an Olympic event, being proud of where you are from makes you easy pickings for hostage takers, pick pockets, etc. Sadly, the current climate doesn’t allow national pride displays. The universal advice is be low key unless you are in a known situation.

    I was in a foreign country as a tourist (Easter Europe) on one occasion when a couple asked me a seemingly innocent question, it was daytime as well: “Have you got the time”. When I answered immediately in English, they (as it turned out) signaled their crew and their plan swung into action. Lucky for me I read the travel warnings for that country at As soon as I gave them the time, I almost did a face palm, even though I have tons of security and personal protection experience, I knew what I just did. I was shadowed by their associates and they tried to con me into a financial scam precisely of the type warned about at
    If you want to display your flag or display boisterous behavior, you become the “low hanging fruit”…easy target. Nobody thinks they will be a victim until they’re a victim. Always check if you are traveling to a new place. It could save your life, your iPhone, your bag, your entire trip.

    1. Well, in most cases, David, people will know you’re not a local on sight alone. I wouldn’t tell people to ignore everyone who speaks to them in English; 99% of the time you can answer a question in English without negative repercussions.

  43. Great post on an interesting topic. I’m sure this topic will be covered a lot more as the months move on! I like how you pointed out what constitutes a dangerous situation…not just being made fun of!! 🙂 Also encouraging us Americans to not have to hide from being American is great. What do we have to be embarrassed for? Most of us love to travel, meet new people, try new food and learn about new cultures. I just got back from 2 weeks in Spain and Ireland. There were some mild concerns I had traveling just a few weeks after Trump took office and right after his travel ban but I encountered no problems. People were inquisitive and supportive, not angry or judgmental. I could, however, tell how disliked he is. I laughed at some of the comedic portrayals of him in the news and in advertising in the 2 countries I was traveling in. One billboard in Spain was advertising getting in shape at a gym so you can run from Trump when he comes to visit. That was funny! 🙂

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