The Golden Rule of Travel

In a travel email newsletter from Bite-Sized Travel this week, there was a link to a blog post at Outside Online telling Americans to stop telling people that they’re Canadian when they travel. You can read that here. The gist of it urges American travelers to stand up for themselves and their country to Make America Great again. Be proud of where you’re from. They say it makes the traveler lie to people they meet right from the start and it doesn’t fool anyone. (Krista at Bite-Sized Travel says the easiest way to tell an American from a Canadian is to pronounce the letter Z!) It certainly won’t make you any safer traveling abroad.

American travelers pretending to be from Canada is nothing new. It might be an urban myth but I remember hearing that American travelers and backpackers have been sewing the maple leaf on their jackets or luggage even back when I was young, in the 60s and 70s. I’m from Canada so it wasn’t an issue for me. I am what I am. American tourists had a reputation as “ugly”, that is, loud and rude when they travel so people from other countries allegedly didn’t care for Americans. From my limited experience, I can tell you there are loud and rude travelers from pretty much every country, *including* Canada.

Having said that, Canadians do tend to be polite and friendly on the whole. I have a small number of experiences with the perception of where I’m from by someone in a European country when they discover I’m from Canada and not the United States.

The first time came when I was on a school trip to Paris. A few of us were trying to explain to someone in a cafe that we wanted hot dogs but couldn’t quite manage the French needed to make the waiter behind the counter understand. He seemed dismissive and we were getting frustrated. Our French teacher arrived and within the space of a minute, after she explained where we were from and what we wanted, the waiter was all smiles. “Oh, les Canadiennes!” What we got wasn’t quite a hot dog, more of a sausage in a bun but it was served with a smile.

Because the general Canadian English accent isn’t really that different from many of the American regional accents to the foreign ear, I often get mistaken for American and I’m always pleasantly surprised when someone recognizes my accent as Canadian straight off but I do think that my East Coast Canadian accent is a bit more recognizable. I do remember someone asking me a question about products on a shelf in a pharmacy in London that we were both perusing and when she heard my accent, immediately expressed her sympathy. It was about 2 weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. It was very kind of her but I did tell her where I was from but that it was quite frightening to have something like that happen so close to home and there were some Canadians that had died in the towers.

I’ve taken a few bus tours over the years. Most of the time, at least half of the passengers have been from the United States with various other countries represented as well. Sometimes, there have been fellow tourists that have been loud and opinionated and yes, they were from the USA. But there have also been some very lovely passengers from there as well. One older single lady traveling on her own complained through the whole trip. Everyone else sympathised with the other single traveler that was paired with her to share a room (saving that single supplement cost) and the tour guide must have had his work cut out for him. She was from Canada. In stereotypical response, most of the rest of us Canadians on the bus always felt like we should apologize on her behalf! (Canadians have a reputation for apologizing a lot and it’s true, we do!)

One last anecdote: On another bus tour through Italy, a group of 5 or 6 Canadians from Montreal kept themselves to themselves and didn’t join in at all with the rest of the passengers. They used the bus for transportation only and went off on their own all the time while the rest of us mingled and chatted with each other about our own cultures where our respective native languages made it possible. For most of us taking a bus tour, the camraderie between tourist from different countries is part of the fun. So, you see, tourists of all stripes and attitudes can come from any country.

Mainly, though, I haven’t really experienced any difference in attitude in people when they learn where I’m from, one way or the other, though I have had a friend say she’s noticed a thawing from a frosty service person when she’s self-identified as Canadian. It is true that there are a few countries on this planet where the USA is not welcomed and perhaps some travelers feel safer pretending to be Canadians out on the streets. For me, I wouldn’t travel to a country where I wouldn’t feel safe but I’m not an adventurous traveler.

I have had it (smugly) suggested that I am still considered an American because I’m from North America. That person happened to be from Scotland. Right. So, I suggested, it’s perfectly all right to call you European because the U.K. is part of Europe or perhaps I could refer to him as British because he was from the British Isles? That person’s national identity raised his hackles and he insisted that no, he was Scottish. I made my point. He conceded. (In fact, you won’t find anyone from the U.K. agree that they are European, in my experience, and even moreso now since Brexit.)

I think the writer of the Outside blog post is right, American travelers, (or travelers from anywhere) you should be proud of where you’re from and when you travel, just remember the Golden Rule. It all comes down to respect, doesn’t it? If you treat people with respect and use good manners, they’ll respect you in return. Don’t get cranky because things are not the same as at home. You aren’t home! You travel to experience new things. Why would you want them to be the same? If you find that people from other countries assume Americans are rude and obnoxious travelers, prove them wrong and change that reputation.  Travel, enjoy, come home with wonderful memories!

You can see what Krista at Bite-Sized Travel is up to here, and she does a great weekend mailing list with loads of interesting finds about travel, packing and planning and you can also read her blog posts about all the places she’s been and is planning to go.

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3 thoughts on “The Golden Rule of Travel

  1. Marie says:

    Hey. Interesting post. I do think it is a bit of an urban legend, though I’m sure it does happen. I read the original article, and I must say I am perplexed by some of the author’s statements. I have traveled extensively outside of the US, and I have yet to meet an American who claimed to be Canadian. :) Not that Canadians aren’t lovely people. I was truly perplexed by the writer’s statement that he had seen”Canadians” taking selfies in Havana, implying I gather that they must have been Americans because only Americans take selfies. I’m not sure what world he is living in. He also made a comment about traveling after 9/11. I went to Italy about 10 days after 9/11. If there were hordes of Americans claiming to be Canadian, I certainly didn’t meet them. In fact, everywhere I went people expresses distress and sympathy for what had occurred. And even under Trump, maybe only a Trump supporter would claim to be from somewhere else, out of fear that they might have to listen to world opinions of the current president. :) I have been amazed how informed non-Americans are about Trump and his administration. Too bad many Americans can’t demonstrate the same knowledge about other countries. :)

    • Tvor says:

      I haven’t met anyone that pretended to be Canadian either but you hear people tell stories about the difference in attitude for a tourist pretending to be one. It might have happened more in the backpacker days of the 60s and 70s but I don’t think it happens as much now. most Americans I’ve met are as proud to be from the USA as Canadians are proud to be from Canada and they don’t want to hide it. I traveled to the UK 10 days after 9/11 and experienced the same as you when people first thought I was American. I wonder though, in less friendly countries, whether it does happen more often. In the Middle East, Communist or Socialist countries perhaps, rather than in the Western countries.

      • Marie says:

        It is possible it happens more in some regions. I think if you don’t advertise you are American, it is less of a problem. I do think the American ego is sometimes an issue. :)

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