Do Americans need to pretend they’re Canadian when they travel abroad?

So, you’re an American who’s finally quit your job and sold all your stuff, and you’re about to embark on your RTW trip. You’ve been concentrating on planning your trip – researching what to see and do, buying your plane tickets, how to get from Point A to Point B, how many pairs of underwear you can get away with packing – when all of a sudden it dawns on you one night as you’re watching the news: Should I be worried about being an American abroad?

The U.S. of A. doesn’t exactly have the most stellar reputation in the world these days, and while the vast majority of the people you’ll run into will be able to differentiate between a U.S. citizen and the U.S. government, some American travelers are still concerned about announcing where they’re from before they get to know their new foreign friends. So BootsnAll member Jennifer Carillo asks, “Should Americans pretend to be Canadians when they travel?

I have heard on a couple of blogs … that American travelers have been getting harassed (esp. on bus travels) in foreign countries. Before when I traveled in Australia, I also heard of Americans sewing a Canadian flag on their backpacks…..Good idea or past tense?

It’s an interesting question – and one that’s generated interesting comments. What do you think? Have you had any experiences of being harrassed because you were American, or seen any Americans getting harrassed just for being from the U.S.? Or is this another one of those travel “old wives tales” that never seems to go away? Chime in and let us know!

Posted by | Comments (25)  | August 16, 2008
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

25 Responses to “Do Americans need to pretend they’re Canadian when they travel abroad?”

  1. Shaula Says:

    As a Canadian with a great deal of international travel experience, I can vouch that I have consistently run into Americans posing as Canadians overseas for over 20 years.

    I can also let you in on a big secret: Canadians know you aren’t Canadian. And while we respect your concerns for your personal safety, many of us don’t appreciate you trading in on our national reputation.

    Might I make a modest suggestion? Why not get involved in American politics: register to vote, make sure to vote by absentee ballot when you are overseas, get informed about US foreign policy so you can cast educated votes.

    Addressing the root problems behind the perception of Americans in other countries is more far-reaching and more responsible than ignoring the symptoms of the problem by hiding behind another country’s flag when you travel.

    Incidentally, Americans are the ONLY tourists I have ever encountered who pretend to be a different nationality while traveling. Isn’t that interesting.

  2. US Traveler Says:

    I’ve got three words for you: dumbest…trend…ever.

    If you are so ignorant of world events and your country’s policy decisions that you can’t have a reasoned debate with someone who doesn’t like your president, then stay home and study. I’ve never EVER been in any danger because I was an American, and I haven’t shied away from Muslim countries or egads–Europe–either. Americans being bothered just because they’re Americans is something that should be listed on No matter what you think of your administration, you shouldn’t pretend to be what you are not. Besides, you’ll have far more interesting conversations if you don’t.

  3. Kim Says:

    I, as Shaula above, am Canadian and travel extensively. I also run into many Americans posing as Canadians.

  4. j Says:

    Of course, the silliness all this is the idea that we should be ashamed of being American. But when I look at what my countrymen and women have given to the world, I feel a great amount of pride. There are always negatives that come, but they are far outweighed by the positives.

    I’m always amused by the idea that the international community has some great insight and knowledge of foreign policy that somehow escapes Americans. Just because someone from Peru expresses disdain for the American government doesn’t mean their opinion is informed or reasonable.

    If my opinion of Iranians were determined exclusively by the ridiculous theocratic rule of its government, I’d never allow myself to speak to a single one of them. But this is not the case. I take each individual on a case by case basis. I hope the rest of the world is undogmatic enough to do the same.

    Needless to say, I won’t be keeping my American heritage secret when I travel.

  5. brian Says:

    I recently traveled to Prague and was treated well by the Czechs as an American. With my honking New York accent, it would be hard to pose as a Canadian anyway. My hostel mates were different, but as I am both a Republican and college administrator, I am used to defending my point of view with great vigor. Those who would harangue you for being an American are merely bullies who attack when they smell weakness or fear. Laying low then jumping down their throats thus becomes part of the fun of travel. I’ve had many “debates” in my days and while I may not win them all (and please define win in this case anyway), I always defend my nation and people. Those who pose as Canadians are either cowards or secret (or not so secret) believers in the anti-American garbage strewn about the world press and are ashamed of their country.

  6. Ian Says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard these stories too, but I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to pose as a Canadian. For the most part, everywhere I’ve traveled, people have been interested to hear stories from the states. The fact that I share many of their opinions on our current administration, and have been relatively active in those opinions, doesn’t hurt. Still, most people in Europe and South America (all I can really speak to) seem very able to separate the citizens from the government.

  7. trevor Says:

    yes i have to agree. i am a well traveled Canadian and i usually run into a few Canadians posing as Americans. i have no problem with Americans. however i have found that a majority of those of whom are Americans traveling as Canadians ether cant defend American actions or have intentions to do things that are less then angelic. i have found that there are a few who travel as Canada as a cover so that when they do something out of line. its Canada who takes the blame. i don’t know if these were isolated incidents but if anyone else has experienced this let me know.


  8. Nicolai Says:

    I’m American and never have problems abroad due to my nationality. In fact, it’s been an overwhemingly positive thing in my travels.

  9. Audrey Says:

    My husband and I have been on the road for over eighteen months in Asia and lived in Europe for five years before that and have not shied away from our American nationality. We’ve found that people in most places are able to differentiate between the actions of a government and the citizens of that country. Ironically, we’ve had to “explain” ourselves most to are Europeans and Australians.

    In Tajikistan, a money exchanger said to us, “Bush bad. Tajik president bad. American people good. Tajik people good.” That about sums it up.

  10. Ryan Says:

    I’ve ran into a few on my travels, which is strange because as a whole I think even countries that are overwhelmingly negative about America’s policies still recognize that Americans, and particularly the type prone to backpacking, are generally OK folks. On top of that, Canadians in Europe / SE Asia are a dime a dozen – it’s actually stranger to find an American on the road, strange as that seems. The novelty factor alone has to be worth something.

  11. Violet Says:

    I’m an American who has done a lot of traveling to other countries, and I have never once considered pretending to be a nationality I’m not.
    As stated above, all of the people that I have met have treated me with respect, and are able to understand that I am not Bush, and Bush is not me.
    If anything, people seemed very eager to learn and listen to me when they found out I was American.

  12. Hap Says:

    I’ll be the first one to say I have had problems going over seas. I did go to countries like Pakistan and Dubai.

    Most shops in the Middle east will scam Americans for all their money, it’s more like a game to them that they can later tell their friends about and say, “Ha! I got the arrogant Americans to pay me 3 X as much for that hat! hahaha”. I was always accompanied by someone native to that country when I traveled. We caught so many shop owner trying to scam me into paying them more, My native friend always got me a good deal when I shopped for items.

    I was asked nicely to conceal my American accent by friends and family members. I was also asked to wear traditional clothes that everyone else wore, I actually had people refusing to give me rides around town when I wore American pants (basically baggy clothes). Most people thought I would get kidnapped if I wore such clothes, Most people feared their own life and refused to give me rides around the city.

    Sorry you guys, it’s the sad truth. Some countries just don’t like Americans. And if you go out of your way to say that you’re an American, then you’re stupid, you may be putting your life, and your families life in danger.

  13. Chet B. Says:

    Hi, canadian now living in the U.S. !…Love both countries !…However, in high school while visiting France, we were all told to sew Canadian flags on our bags !…They really hated Americans !…but in all honesty……..who really cares about the french !…Bring back Reagan and Mulroney please !

  14. lala Says:

    Im American and I travel a lot and would never ever pretend to be anything else. If someone doesnt like me because of the country i was born in, then they are not worth being my friend anyways so who cares. The French are the sweetest people i have ever met. I dont know where the reputation that they are rude and hate Americans comes from because that was not my experience at all. My friend did have some problems in the UK though, but the British dont have a reputation for being nice do they? I will say though that i think europeans have no right to treat Americans with contempt because of our government. Look at all of the horrible things that Europeans have brought to the world. The holocaust, the Atlantic slave trade. Myriad cultures annihilated all over the world because of the British and their greed for empire. I could go on. I myself am native american and black american. I could find a few reasons to hate europeans and hold a grudge but I dont because im bigger than that.

  15. Sarah.L Says:

    England i hate living there. I’d rather fry myself.

  16. Sarah.L Says:

    I’m british and i honestly actually hate having to live in my own country. People here are so disrespectful. They don’t listen. They are lazy about finding jobs. They moan when they know their in the wrong. They sleep with anything that walks. Would YOU wanna live in a country that does all that? Well you’re lucky if you don’t. The chat-up lines UK men use are downright degrading. No wonder i wanna move to Australia “Flaming Gallaghs” lol. I see how happy australians are and i feel nauses for my country.

  17. John C. Says:

    @ Shaula. I met a Canadian girl who tried to seriously fake a British accent when she was in England and told people she was a native of Manchester. So Americans are the only nationality you say?

    Here’s some advice for you. Look around your country; observe THEIR behavior abroad; and may I make a modest suggestion? Why don’t you get involved in Canadian politics or join some cross cultural groups that encourage reciprocal exchange and understanding. Something tells me you are the truly ignorant one.

  18. Is the GOP a Threat to National Security? « Palomino Road Says:

    […] Americans, for the sins of our leaders, re-opened.  How many travelers from the U.S. had to put a Canadian flag on their backpack because Bush and Cheney’s Wrecking Crew endangered our lives with […]

  19. Tim Says:

    I am American, and at times use my acting talent to feign an accent from a small Northern European country. I also speak that language as fluently as I do English, so if ever “called out” on it, I am able to save myself. I was doing this nearly thirty years ago when I realized how much disdain everyone has for the individual American. U.S. Americans are only fooling ourselves when we think and say that Europeans hate us only when a Reagan or a Bush is in office. Believe me, the Clinton years and Obama years aren’t much better. I tried the I’m Canadian thing once, when two angry young Arabs said “you American”!? This was years before any of the current wars. I however decided, why say I’m Canadian, when I’m able to perform various accents. I enjoy the performance as well.

  20. Marisa Says:

    I have traveled to over 16 european countries in the past ten years and have proudly identified myself as being an American each time, and have never gotten into any trouble or even dirty looks. Instead of being disrespectful to your country, have some pride in it. I certainly didn’t feel the need to pretend to be Canadian while walking through some of the many statues dedicated to the US in eastern Europe. As long as your not a stereotypical tourist, you shouldn’t have any problems. I never have, and even if I did, I’m not going to pretend to be from Canada. I swear, all of these people who do pretend to be from Canada, just move there.

  21. Rafa Says:

    Most of the world have no impression about Canada

  22. DEK Says:

    On those rare occasions when I did not want to be thought an American it has been because I didn’t want to talk to someone and wanted to pretend that I did not speak English. My false flag of choice is to pretend I am German, as my posture and bearing (combined perhaps with my age) have often given that impression. Oddly enough, even in formerly-occupied countries and at a time when the late unpleasantness was a more recent memory, thus caused me no problem.

  23. HHC Says:

    Why should Canadians allow our flag to be used; considering that action is known as “flag-jacking”? With your administration administering FATCA, we should actually start taxing you Americans who “flag-jack” 30% of your income for an “Assumed Canadian Citizenship tax” after all you are getting a benefit of being labelled as a Canadian so that they don’t get taken as a hostage or come to any harm while abroad while your FATCA gives no benefit to us while only you homelanders receive a benefit.

  24. MT Says:

    Canadians are as a group, horrible tippers. To pretend to be one casts huge questions on your potential generosity. Cheap people are treated cheaply. Still wanna be a fake Canadian, eh?

  25. Penny Says:

    As someone who was actually BORN IN CANADA but raised and educated in the USA I actually get treated like “American” everywhere I go; people IN the States act like I’m lying about having been born in Canada and so did Canada when I went back there as an adult. It’s racism, people. I’m “First Nations” but everyone treats me like “Black, American” and like I’m lying even when I show them my wallet-sized birth certificate! So all of you who assume that anyone nonwhite who says they’re Canadian-born and not US-born, must be LYING because “nonwhite people are Americans, Canada doesn’t have any ‘blacks'” sort of crap, go fuck off, you racists.