Notes
First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress
Traveling While American
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Do Americans really pretend to be Canadian or other nationalities while traveling abroad? Readers share their experiences. Contribute via hello@theatlantic.com.

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When Canadians Are Mistaken For Americans

A supporter of Canada's tennis star Milos Raonic (Issei Kato / Reuters)

We heard from Americans posing as Canadians while traveling abroad, but how do Canadians feel about that? From a Canadian ex-pat living in Germany:

I’m Canadian and a teacher to boot. I know my country and have no reason to fake it. These days, I avoid traveling to hotspots where I could be accidentally mistaken for an American. Let’s face it, your foreign policy is largely to blame for the current international climate. And I don’t want to be inadvertently caught in the crossfire.

Another Canadian reader:

I lived in Europe for 12 years, and during my time over there, the one thing I noticed is how Canadians were much more in your face about their nationality than Americans. You could be almost certain that Canadians would have a Maple Leaf flag sewed onto their jacket or backpack. If that wasn’t signaling enough, they would almost certainly announce their Canadian citizenship either directly or indirectly (“I’m from Toronto”). The funny thing was that I suspected their outwards displays of nationalist were more rooted in a dislike for Americans than a pride in Canada.

This Canadian reader says he was bought drinks after indicating he wasn’t an American:

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Traveling While American During the Iraq Invasion

When I was in high school, my family lived in Scotland for a semester while my father, a professor, was on sabbatical. Over spring break, we decided to go to Spain, taking trains to London, then Paris, and then a sleeper train from Paris to Madrid.

This was in early April 2003, in the early weeks of the invasion of Iraq, and anger at the U.S. was running high in Europe. In St. Andrews, where we were staying, there were demonstrations in the streets against the war and against British involvement, and we figured it’d be worse when we got into continental Europe. My parents talked with my siblings and I about possible anti-American sentiment and told us to be careful about advertising our nationality—to use common sense, basically. I think we talked about identifying ourselves as Canadian, but no one seemed eager to lie.

When we board the sleeper in Paris, the compartments were divided by gender, four people to a compartment. My father, my little brother, and I got found ours and made ourselves comfortable, and my mother and sister went to theirs. Just as we were thinking we might have the compartment to ourselves, another guy showed up with a friend, both speaking Arabic, dropped his stuff, and left. A little later, as the train got underway, he came back and introduced himself in halting, accented English. His name was Hassan, and he was Egyptian. He asked where we were from. My dad, thinking quickly, said we were living in Scotland, which had the virtue of being true without identifying us as Americans. Smooth, right?

About five minutes later, the conductor came around and asked for tickets and passports, at which point the three of us had to hand over our (very obviously) American passports.

Oops.

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Americans Posing as Canadians

Carlo Allegri / Reuters

After my earlier note wondering whether Americans actually pretend to be Canadian while traveling, a few Americans wrote in sharing stories of foreign deception and their general experiences with their American identity while abroad. Here’s an American ex-pat in China:

I have lived in China now for more than three years, and I absolutely do pretend to be Canadian sometimes. I only do it in rare instances when somebody asks me where I’m from, and I don’t know where they’re from (although to be perfectly honest, I often want to tell people I’m from Canada … especially with the rise of Donald Trump).

There was a time recently here where some guys were speaking a foreign language I did not recognize, and they asked me where I was from. I told them Canada. I did not know if they were from the Middle East, but I knew that Canada rarely goes to war with anybody, so I should be safe saying I’m from Canada (plus Canadians really are some of the nicest freaking people in the world). As it turned out, they were from Brazil—which itself has a complicated relationship with the United States. But I am sure it would have been fine. With as many countries as America has pissed off in its past and even in its present, I figured better safe than sorry.

This reader agrees on that last point:

Here’s another American whose tour guides told her to avoid that label:

American travelers pretending to be Canadian during the Bush years was definitely a thing! In the spring of 2008, my boyfriend (now husband) and I were studying abroad in the UK. We took advantage of cheap airfare to travel to Egypt during a school break.

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Do Americans Really Pretend to Be Canadian Abroad?

Back in 2014, Deborah Fallows wrote about conversation starters—those lovely little questions we use when small talking with strangers (Where do you live?, Where are you from?, Where’d you go to high school?, etc.) Our video team made a mini documentary based on her piece, quoting Americans from across the country:

Deborah shared an anecdote about living abroad:

And going international, expats everywhere get the question, “Where are you from?” When we lived in China, I got so tired of this question from shopgirls that I would start making them guess, saying “Where do you think I’m from?”  Surprisingly but invariably, their answers were always France, Scandinavia, Germany, Australia, England, Canada.. and they almost never got around to the US.

Hello from the other siiiiide …. of the world. A reader jumped on Deborah’s remark:

They do not say the United States first because they fear offending other nationals. For example, a Canadian may take offense at being mistaken for an American, but the reverse is likely to cause offense.

A Canadian disagrees:

I don’t take any offence, and very few Canadians I know would either. There are 9x as many Americans, and our accents are very similar. Also, while I guess there are some, almost no Canadians feel inferior. After all, Canada’s existence is a statement of not wanting to be American. I have been addressed as American, most recently in Germany, and was unsurprised and not offended.

There are a couple of other factors that haven’t been considered.

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