Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Traveling While American
Show Description +

Do Americans really pretend to be Canadian or other nationalities while traveling abroad? Readers share their experiences. Contribute via hello@theatlantic.com.

Show 2 Newer Notes

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.

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.