Not counting the United States, I’ve been to thirteen different countries, the vast majority of them in Europe. And I remember, before setting out on my travels, reading and hearing the same vein of advice: Pretend to be Canadian. Tell people you’re from Toronto, or sew a Canadian flag on your backpack.
The obvious accent discrepancies aside — I don’t have a Canadian accent; that’d be like someone from London pretending to be from Ireland in another country — I’ve never done this and never would and never will.
I strive to be a “good American” while abroad. I read menus and signs in the native language, using a phrasebook if necessary. I try to converse in the native language, however badly (you oughta hear my French, sacre bleu). I try to be quiet and respectful and never push or shove or take photos where it’s verboten (tourist group in the Vatican, looking at you). I eat the local food if company permits. In short, I like to think of myself as a model traveler.
And why should Canada, God bless it, be the beneficiary of that good behavior?
It occurred to me that if all the well-behaved Americans masqueraded as Canadians while abroad to avoid anti-Americanism, and all the hubristic Americans, the loud, rude, pushy types that you do find in every country, were “out and proud,” so to speak, then of course foreigners would have a negative opinion of American travelers. All or most of the good examples are pretending to be from another country! More than that, I’m now curious as to how much of the stereotypical Canadian “good will” is down to well-behaved Americans passing themselves off as Canadian as much as it’s down to actual Canadians.
When someone asks me where I’m from, I tell them I’m American and leave it at that, or, if they inquire further (the ones who know that life exists outside of New York and Los Angeles are my favorite), I tell them I’m from Kansas City and “it’s right in the middle.” Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are destinations, not hometowns. I’d never pass off as a Montrealer anyway (again, the French). I then behave myself and act courteous and try to give them a good impression of Americans. And if they ask if I voted for George W. Bush, I can honestly tell them no — I was too young to vote then anyway.
So, my fellow American travelers, don’t hide behind the maple leaf. If enough of us act like “good Americans” instead of “ugly Americans,” we won’t need to pretend to be our friendly northern neighbors.