Uh-Oh, Canada

image: canadianmoose.comFirst, sorry I couldn’t get this story out in time for Canadian Flag Day (Feb. 15, if you didn’t know, and chances are, you didn’t.) As every Canadian unlucky enough to cross my path the last couple of weeks can attest, I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the well-known but underexamined “Canadian Flag On Backpack” (CFOB) technique of terror preparedness. It’s Canadian Common Sense: when you travel abroad, sew a Canadian Flag on your backpack, and everywhere you go, everyone will treat you with friendly kindness. And let you sleep in their barn.
To this embattled American, the explanations I’ve gotten range from the naively implausible (“It’s gratitude for all our peacekeepers.”) to the blindingly obvious (“It’s so we’re not mistaken for Americans.”) to what I thought was the same thing (“It’s just Canadian Pride.”).
Yeah but how’d it start? Look at the built-in assumptions: 1. You travel with a backpack 2. You travel with a backpack. My guess: It’s a generational thing. The Maple Leaf flag was only adopted in 1965; Gen-X are the first to grow up with it. When they go abroad junior year, they take the flag with them. Douglas Coupland should be able to clear this up in no time.
Interesting in peace-ier times, but only as much as it sheds light on the sudden surge of references I’ve found– from far-flung media sources– to Americans abroad using the CFOB technique to protect themselves from terrorists (or argumentative Old Europeans). As this MetaFilter thread shows, these “Canadians” are not a new phenom, either. Hell, when Americans could care less, like, say during the Kosovo crisis, big-time experts casually recommended Canadian drag, or at least avoiding American symbols (both clothing and TGIFriday’s, I guess.)
But the US administration seems to have set its sights on Canada now, which may bring an end to the benefits of posing as OR being Canadian. BoingBoing points to a story about a Canadian who had her passport shredded by the INS and who got shipped to India. Danny O’Brien writes about a Canadian they shipped to Syria, where he sits, uncharged, in jail. There’s nothing on Ready.gov about CFOB, either. And since the insidious PATRIOT II act being proposed sets a far lower threshhold for stripping an American of his citizenship, who knows if sporting a Maple Leaf is enough to classify you as an “enemy of the US.” My advice, if you’re gonna be “Canadian” while you’re abroad, fine. Behave yourself, make our northern neighbors proud. Just ditch the patch before you come back.
[A heady read: Sean Maloney’s Dec 2001 paper, “Canadian Values and National Security Policy: Who Decides?”]