We’ve all seen them, the backpacks decked out with the red-and-white maple leaf patch—a proud proclamation of Canadian citizenship…or so the wearer wants us to think. Without any interaction with the owner of this maple-leaf bedecked backpack, it’s not always clear who’s sporting this piece of cloth. Is it, in fact, a Canadian, who would rather die than be thought an American? (Because, you know, we are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people.) Or is it an American who thinks that by sewing a maple leaf to his bag he can dupe everyone into liking him, because who, after all, dislikes the Canadians? (Or knows enough about them to have feelings one way or the other.) It’s one of life’s great mysteries. But let me clear one thing up for you: if you see a maple leaf on a backpack, you can be sure it doesn’t belong to me. Here are eight good reasons why I won’t be buying a patch and getting out the sewing kit.
8. I’ll be found out as soon as the weather turns cold. I’ve been to Niagara in January and Winnipeg in February, and the weather those Canadians put up with is brutal. It was -50 degrees Farenheit outside and the man I was working with in Winnipeg was training outdoors for a marathon. Crazy people, I tell you. I don’t do well when the temperature drops below +50 degrees Farenheit.
7. I firmly believe that the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced “zee,” not “zed.” One round through the alphabet, and I’m screwed.
6. I prefer Aunt Jemima to the real thing, which would probably be considered sacrilege by the folks dwelling north of our border. Also, I like to be able to tell my bacon apart from my ham.
5. My iPod contains zero songs by Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, Bryan Adams, or Celine Dion. And if requested, I wouldn’t be able to sing the Canadian national anthem beyond the second line (although I could sing that much with gusto). But, hey, wait, how many Americans can make it all the way through the Star Spangled Banner?
4. I don’t sprinkle my speech with nearly enough “ehs” and “you knows”, and when I’m tired a bit of a southern accent can come out. I’ve yet to meet a Canadian with one of those.
3. Hockey is maybe my least favorite sport. I couldn’t hold a coherent conversation on it to save my life.
2. I’ll go ahead and admit it, I have no idea who the prime minister of Canada is. Those real Canadians would smoke me out in a second.
1. And oh, yeah, here’s a good one. Because I’m an American, damn it, and I’m proud of it.
Let’s face it, at the current moment, America isn’t the most beloved country in the world, but if you take a moment to think back through history, you might remember that the U.S. has in its relatively short history done a lot of good for the world. Like most every other nation, we’ve had brilliant successes and startling failures; ours are just usually on a grand and very public scale. I do feel that we have done some shameful things; I also feel that we have done many noble things. As a person, I’m the same way, and I don’t disown myself, so why should I disown my country?
Additionally, in my previous travels, I’ve found that the majority of people distinguish between a people and its government. After all, not every Venezuelan agrees with Chavez, every Iranian with Ahmadinejad, every Zimbabwean with Mugabe. If we give them the benefit of the doubt, they will return the favor.
And finally, as a respectful and responsible traveler, I have the opportunity to have people associate good things with America. Why should I, with a maple leaf sewn on my backpack, give Canada undeserved credit for producing a traveler that respects cultural values, that strives to speak at least a bit of the local language, that cares about what local people want, need, believe, and care about, and that believes that every other life is just as valuable as my own? There’s no way I’ll do that. No, instead I’ll let it be known that I’m from the United States, and I’m not loud or obnoxious, don’t travel to get drunk for cheap, and I don’t so much as own cut-off jean shorts, a fanny pack, or a star-spangled bikini top.
So my fellow American travelers, I now challenge you to join me in putting on your big boy pants, just saying no to the maple leaf, and traveling as a proud representative of the United States. Let the world know that you, brave traveler, are from the good ol’ U.S.A.
(Unless of course you are a loud, obnxious, frequently drunk, navel showing, bikini-top-to-temples wearing, “do you speak English” yelling, ugly, ugly, ugly traveler. Then, by all means, please get yourself a maple leaf for your backpack, the bigger the better. )