Skip to content

O Canada, Why Must You Wear That Flag?

2010 June 10

*If this is your first time here and you find this article useful, please subscribe to my RSS feedTwitter and check out the about page!*

I like Canada. It’s a beautiful country and they’ve always been our friendly neighbors. It’s got the best ski holidays in North America (Whistler), has the better side of Niagra Falls (Maid of the Mist anyone?) and has way cooler-sounding (*not* town as corrected by my readers) province names (Saskatchewan). Canadians people are also very nice and easy to get along with. Hell, I even work for a Canadian company.

But there’s one thing about Canadian backpackers that annoys the hell out of me. You might be thinking that it’s the infamous “eh” (not “ey” as corrected by my readers) but it’s not. It’s the Canadian backpackers who have that little Canadian flag stitched to their backpack. I just don’t get it. I swear, 90% of them must have that little flag. Sure it’s harmless and doesn’t really affect me directly, but it’s one of those little pet-peeves that just gnaws at you.

You know what EXACTLY I’m talking about. Courtesy of World Hum.

I’m all for national pride and it’s always a riot to get drunk and sing your national anthem louder than the group at the table next to you. But do you really need to wear that little flag around, all the time, for everyone to see? Granted it’s subtle, but still you’re announcing “I’m Canadian!” for the whole world to hear. You don’t see Americans, Brits, Aussies or Europeans waving their country flags and I’m certainly not going around telling strangers that I’m from California.

So what is the compelling reason for doing it? Is it the code to some secret bond amongst Canadian brethren that the rest of the world will never be able to experience? Could it be that Canadians have some kind of existentialist crisis that can only be solved by stitching the Maple Leaf to one’s bag? Or maybe it’s a retort to the over-the-top, nation-loving stereotype of Americans?

I could see it making some sense between 2000 and 2008. Bush was screwing up the world and everyone hated Americans. Even some Americans sewed on the Maple Leaf to deflect public animosity. But guess what, Obama is our president now and he’s a rockstar. If you only saw the faces of people when I told them I had voted for Obama. Everyone loves America now (well maybe that’s a bit too far but at least not everyone dislikes America) so that reason is pretty much null.

Putting that little flag there also kills one of the best aspects of traveling. When backpacking, you start with a clean slate. No one knows who you are, where you’re from or what you do. People are able to make an objective opinion of you without prior biases or influences and vice versa. Of course, there will always be stereotypes and you can’t change your skin color or what you look like. But why label yourself with a flag which instantly associates yourself with stereotypes of that country’s backpackers, even before a single word is spoken?

If that were the case, I’d assume every Australian was a party animal, every Irish a drunkard and every American loud, obnoxious and ignorant. While there is some truth to every stereotype, we’ve all met amazing people who don’t fit that mold.

The point is, by putting on that flag, you’ll bring on a lot of judgment and preconceptions that otherwise wouldn’t happen. If that’s your modus operandi, then so be it but I’m willing to bet that most people don’t like to be judged before someone gets to know them.

So Canadian backpackers, take off those flags. Join the rest of the world in no-flag patch fashion. After all, we’re all backpackers here; not Canadian backpackers, not American backpackers, not Australian backpackers or European backpackers. Just backpackers.

255 Responses leave one →
  1. June 10, 2010

    It’s so that when people from Canada travel, they don’t get mistake for Americans…I’m not saying I agree with it, but that’s why!

    • June 10, 2010

      It also avoids the embarrassing moment asking them if they’re from the states with such a similar accent.

    • June 10, 2010


      In Italy, our luggage was over the allotted weight and the clerk behind the desk let us go because she said: “voi siete canadese.” (you’re canadians).
      If you read between the lines, she was really saying “you’re not Americans” like 90% of the other travellers (we flew via Detroit).

    • June 10, 2010

      I’m American and I wouldn’t want to get mistaken as a Canadian – so I understand where they’re coming from 🙂

    • June 10, 2010

      Actually, its true. It’s not necessarily to be seen as anti-American (as my guide from France explained), but to be seen -as- Canadian. Apparently much of Europe has a high opinion of people hailing from Canada (not sure if their opinions on the Canadian gov’t, but I digress) because we’re generally polite and culture-conscious people. Thats not to say we don’t have our share of assholes (oh trust me, we do), but apparently as a whole we’re less likely to demean someone from another country, especially in their own fraking country, as well as respecting their culture, whether modern or ancient.

      Even if we’re not all polite all the time, Canadians ARE known for being overly polite. And I think thats why Canadians are encouraged to wear a Canadian flag on their backpack, because people from overseas cultures (Europe, Asia, etc) appreciate that kindness. I’m not saying Americans can’t be polite, but American culture isn’t KNOWN for being polite. i.e. American fought a bloody political war to gain its freedom from Britain; Canada asked nicely.

      • Lisa Hibbs-Wright permalink
        November 27, 2010

        So, my daughter who is American-Canadian should be embarrassed? She is 10 and I am her American parent. Shame on all of you who look down on my country, USA. My daughter say this and is disgusted with Canada and any other country who thinks like that. Oh, and I am from TEXAS. SO TAKE THAT!

        • Joel permalink
          February 25, 2011

          Canadian here.
          I love America. It’s bomb shit. You might have a Democrat president (I’ll forgive you), but you guys MADE THE WORLD! Imagine if you hadn’t been the awesome super-duper power that you’ve been for the lasting oh, seventy years. We probably wouldn’t have iPad’s or Tomahawk cruise missiles, that we wouldn’t. The Russians would be the ones with all the new toys.

          Like seriously guys, unadultered Capitalism made the world. That’s what I love about America. My country sucks because we’re a nanny state that believes ‘if you’re born, you have the right to be alive’, which is nonsense.
          I’m moving to your country soon and after I get my citizenship I’m going to go buy one of those shirts. Fuck Canada.

          Also I miss the founding fathers, don’t you guys? They understood government had to be small and self limiting in nature.

          Canada has one redeeming quality – good weed. And you can grow that in a basement anywhere.

          • ScumbagSteve permalink
            March 30, 2013

            BS!!! You were born and raised an American trying to act Canadian. No Canadian would think like you. Invented the Tomahawk cruise missle. No Canadian would brag about that.

  2. June 10, 2010

    badkidsgoodgrammar’s right. As a Canadian, the last thing I want is to be mistaken as an American. Speaking wise, we sound “like” Americans. Since so many out there like to make assumptions, we sew our flag on to our bags to avoid confusion. It’s got nothing to do with patriotism. When you’re Canadian, there’s a large chance that you’re loving more than just Canada.

  3. Peter permalink
    June 10, 2010

    There’s a true funny joke in Canada. How can you spot a US traveler from an Canadian one? US one has the bigger Canadian flag. You’d be surprised how much better customer service is when people know you’re not American. I haven’t done any major trips post Bush so you might be right, time to throw away the flag, but everyone generally loves Canada and it’s very easy to confuse a Canadian with an American.

  4. June 10, 2010

    Saskatchewan is a Province… NOT A TOWN!

    Obama is no different from Bush, and you guys are just as arrogant abroad as ever. Don’t think the “we elected a slave” is fooling people.. Have you been to Europe or Africa or South America recently? The attitudes are the same… I’ve traveled before, during and after Bush.. obviously a few people will say “we love obama” but they arent the ones that you had to worry about under Bush… I hate Nationalism, but I’m sure the Canadian Flag has saved my life a few times..


    Half of the “Canadians” you see with flags, are actually Americans, who agree with everything I just said.

    • June 10, 2010

      As a Canadian, I sort of take it to offence if I were to be mistaken as an American. I would never want to be associated with such a horrible and corrupt government. I don’t want to be labeled as supporting tyranny.

      And, as it’s been said multiple times in the comments now, Americans wear Canadian flags themselves because they know that the entire world thinks the same way as I do about the US. How can you tell between the two? The American’s flag is bigger. Us Canadians will probably sew a 1″ x 2″ patch on our chest or arm, while the American has the big flag like in the picture in this blog.

      • June 10, 2010

        Do you assume that every American supports tyranny? Do you think that every American voted for what you describe as “a horrible and corrupt government”?

        Perhaps you shouldn’t generalize so much.

        • Bro permalink
          January 2, 2014

          Well you’re not doing anything to prevent your government from ruining the world, now, are you? Because that’s what it’s doing. Long live Israel, amirite? No you’re not.

        • Jay permalink
          September 11, 2015

          No but the majority did!

      • June 10, 2010

        I have to agree with pduan. Actually there are millions of Americans who don’t like the govwernment. There’s really no difference in who ever we vote for. Either way we get the same old bull crap. I think we were better off hundreds of years ago before the government swept in and took over. You really shouldn’t generalize so much. The irony my country has is we accuse all other countries that “THE GOVERNMENT” not “MY COUNTRY” doesn’t like of not having a real choice. The truth is we don’t. Corporate America and their money has a hand in everything. You’d be surprised how many of us would love to see the government representatives jailed. Only problem is there would be no order.
        Too many fn greedy people in control only making it good for the people at the top who rarely work, while the little guy at the bottom gets f’d over working more than 40 hours a week. It’s funny how people accuse us of making assumptions without really knowing what the hell they’re talking about.

      • manhattan85 permalink
        June 10, 2010

        Love it when Canadians get high and mighty, spewing anti-American venom from their self-important pedestal that stands tall nowhere but in their own hypocritical minds. I’m saying that and I’m 100% Canadian. Corrupt governments? Have you paid any attention to what Stephen Harper’s been up to? Or are you busy watching Jersey Shore? Then there’s the Canucks who admonish Americans for “not knowing anything about us” when they themselves would have trouble naming the capital of said province of Saskatchewan.

      • June 10, 2010

        Oh! Oh! I know this one. It’s “Boston,” right? I’m right, aren’t I?

        That or Moose Jaw.

      • June 11, 2010

        Just as any government in the Western world (the Belgian included) they’re built on the backs of other nations and people, in general also the lower classes in the respective Western societies at some point in their histories. That said, perhaps the Maple Leaf might be better depicted with drips of blood trickling down from the sides. Take a good look at your own history, the indigenous peoples of both federations (US & Canada) have paid the price for the so-called great democracies of the modern world. A flag often ‘covers’ more than what is visibly detectable …
        As a Belgian I am however thankful for the sacrifices that young men and women from both Kanata and the US made to free Europe from the tyranny of Nazism. Doesn’t mean that pardons injustice or corruption in any of those states (nor my own country).

        Just my five cents!

    • June 10, 2010

      SASKATCHEWAN is a Province not a Town!!!!! Love it!!
      I am a proud Canadian and I have a flag on my backpack!! And whenever I travel I am usually with Americans and everyone is telling the locals where they are from…..America……America…..America………..then it gets to me and I say Canada and the locals go……..CANADA!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • June 10, 2010

      I just studied a semester in Europe. As an American, I wanted to break the stereotypes that people have of Americans because obviously not all fit the stereotype. Even though breaking a embedded stereotype in a persons thinking is tough. I went through seven different European countries while I was there and Ireland was the friendliest but like you said the views are still the same. I traveled with a study abroad friend from America too and had a bad time traveling with her. I wanted to remain under the radar and not be THAT American. My appearance did not scream American until someone heard my accent. However, my traveling buddy did not get the idea that I wanted to just be an anonymous traveler, when she talked she was loud and definitely set in American ignorant ways. When I wanted to break those stereotypes about us, she just reinforced them. I tried. I really did.

      Had a great time backpacking though.

      For wearing a flag though, we were in Berlin taking a walking tour through the city. And a newly wed Canadian couple actually mentioned saying they did not want to wear a Canadian flag because they do not want be like those Americans. They said that Americans are the ones who wear their American flags. So, there was a different perspective.

  5. June 10, 2010

    First off, good blog– I say this so You don’t think I’m squashing you. They are right, we travel with it so when we go to Europe (the biggest stereotypers of the US) or Cuba, we don’t get ‘mistaken.
    Take what I say with a grain of salt because I too live in California and am marrying an American next week.
    PS. It’s ‘Eh’, not ‘Ey’. 😉

  6. russellsfeet permalink
    June 10, 2010

    All those comments are true – it’s just one of those things we do. Oddly, within Canada, we are so indifferent to our status. Our government always trying to protect us from the Cultural Imperialism that surrounds us. To be Canadian is often defined at ‘different than American’. No Team America songs of pride for our country. As for the Americans walking around in USA flag shirts – I see PLENTY visiting Canada sporting them. It makes me laugh.

  7. June 10, 2010

    Unlike Americans, Canadians are quiet about their patriotism. Americans don’t need to wear a flag because as soon as they open their mouths everyone knows they’re American. Usually they will announce quite loudly where they’re from in the first ten minutes of meeting them. The flag on the Canadian backpack is a subtle but visible way to tell the world how proud we are to be Canadian. Also, as a seasoned traveller, Canadians are treated very well overseas and that little flag goes a long way when we’re mistaken for being American. It’s thought that Canadians are more tolerant of the culture change they experience while travelling and find it easier to try new things. For example, we don’t go to Japan and expect to eat a hamburger at a sushi restaurant and then get all uptight when we can’t get one. I’ve seen this happen.

    Sorry, but the flag on the backpack stays.

    Oh, and it’s “eh” not “ey.”

    • June 10, 2010

      I’ve seen Americans visiting Canada who get upset that our bank machines don’t dispense American money.

    • June 10, 2010

      @Franco. I think you’re taking a few bad examples and extrapolating it over the entire population.

      I’ve been through Europe, Southeast Asia and South America and to be honest, the only place where I felt I was treated differently was Vietnam (gee I wonder why…).

      All of the Americans I met were not ordering hamburgers or screaming “I’m American!!!” either.

  8. jm rode permalink
    June 10, 2010

    Canadians sew the little flag on because, to other ears and eyes, we are often mistaken for Americans and Canadians don’t like that. We look and sound too much like you and that translates into poor service and negative stereotyping. Sadly, the impression abroad is that Americans are buffoons and loudmouthed bullies. Now you and I know that’s not always true, but that’s the greater worldwide opinion and what innocent Canuck would want to to wear that label? We’re not advertising our nationality; we’re telling the world, “I’m not American, it’s ok to talk to me.”

    Also, George Bush or Barak Obama don’t come into it. The world has been afraid of Americans since Teddy Roosevelt started your country down the regrettable path of invading other nations for fun and profit. I daresay the little flags will stay.

  9. Raul permalink
    June 10, 2010

    It’s simply a pride thing I am sure. You said that you would not want people to judge you by seeing the flag of your country on your backpack. However, that’s the thing about pride…no matter what, you are happy to be from America and you want people to know. They are happy to be Canadian, no matter what that means to other people. I think that’s great and more Americans should be that way. It’s great to have pride in the country you come from and to want people to know about it. It doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s what you think. Great post!!

  10. matxil permalink
    June 10, 2010

    It´s probably for the same reason as that after the second world war, Dutch tourists travelling through Europe often wore a Dutch flag to avoid being taken for Germans.