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How to Spot a Flag-Jacker

flag-jacking memes

Flag-jacking; a time-honoured tradition.   |    Photo: Venture Vancouver

What is Flag-Jacking?

Word/Phrase: “flag-jacking” (verb)

Pronunciation: flæg-dʒæk-ing

Definition: The act of displaying a more favourable country’s flag on your garments/backpack (instead of your home country’s flag), with the hope of receiving friendlier treatment/service while travelling.

Example: “The kids in our hostel have red and white leaf flags on their bags, but don’t know what maple syrup is. They must be Americans flag-jacking Canadians, eh?!”

flag-jacking memes

Flag-jacking is a well-known phenomenon among backpackers and Internet meme creators.       Memes By: MemeGenerator of and Cheezburger.com

About Flag-Jacking

Flag-jacking normally occurs when Americans pose as Canadians (usually by sewing a Canadian flag onto their backpack) in order to avoid unfavourable stereotypes. Opinions about this practice among travellers vary widely. Some think that it’s a myth, while others, such as Richard Kaszeta of OffBeatEats.org, say that the practice is so pervasive in some places that “any claim of Canadian citizenship is met with automatic skepticism unless the speaker had an obvious Quebecois accent.”

Watch Our Video on How to Spot a Flag-Jacker

How to Spot a Flag-Jacker [PHOTOS]

FlightNetwork.com interviewed international body language expert Mark Bowden to find out how you can identify an American pretending to be a Canadian by their body language, as well as non-verbal signals that you can use to show people that you’re a good-natured, hockey-loving Canuck.

flag-jacking demostration 1
“The Cooler ”                                                  ”American Psycho”

Sometimes tempers flare, and a Canadian can diffuse the tension by placing his palms down at hip level, and keeping a calm demeanour (The Cooler).  At the same time, an American might unintentionally escalate the situation by placing his arms in the air in an attempt to calm others (American Psycho).

flag-jacking demostration 1
Sault-spression”                                                    “Stars and Gripes”

 When approaching someone with the intention of getting better service, Mark suggests employing the Sault-spression [pronounced “soo-spreh-shun”], and smiling in a relaxed manner.  (Oversmiling might seem stalker-esque.)  Contrast that smile with a blank look and your chin jutting out – you have the Stars and Gripes.  Mark dramatically expresses how this blank appearance gets you nowhere, especially when asking for something from airline employees.

flag-jacking demostration 1
“The Toque Tilt”                                                  “The Polka-Loon”

The Toque Tilt.  Slightly tilt your head to show courtesy.  It’s particularly effective when saying, “May I have a little more coffee?”  You might want to practice in a mirror before displaying “the Tilt” in prime time – overdo it and the person to whom you’re speaking might end up calling Security:  Mark calls that facial expression The Polka-Loon.

flag-jacking demostration 1
“Eh Display”                                                   “Canuck Crinkle”

An ‘Eh’ Display (open arms and a smile) expresses warmth and friendship.  You can add a Canuck Crinkle and the recipient of your attention will be inclined to offer their friendship in return.

What Travellers Think About Flag-Jacking

We asked several Canadian and American travel bloggers what they thought about flag-jacking. Their responses ranged from understanding to anger to disbelief. Below are some of the most entertaining.

What the Canadians said:

Flag jacking is still common, and I laugh about it any time I encounter it. I typically ask the American doing it if I can pretend to be from the USA while we’re hanging out. If I’m not mistaken, travelling is intended to celebrate all the different cultures on earth.”
Ian Ord of Where Sidewalks End

“I’ve met Americans passing themselves off as Canadians. It just takes the conversation in a different direction. I was about to start swapping stories about ducking into Tim Horton’s to escape blizzards, and then I found out I couldn’t. That’s about all that happens.”
Mariellen Ward of Breathe Dream Go

“I get why people do it, but honestly, if you’re not Canadian it will be immediately obvious to other Canadians.”
Jennifer Miller of the The Edventure Project

“I’m Canadian and while I’m proud to be Canadian, I’ve never had a flag on my backpack – a real Canadian doesn’t need one. We’re pretty easy to identify by how often we say “sorry” and how we wear shorts when everyone else is wearing winter coats.”
Laurel Robbins of Monkeys and Mountains

What the Americans said:

I think it’s stupid. American travelers are the best possible ambassadors for our country. But to be fair, I don’t actually know anyone who does things like this.”
Stephanie Yoder of Twenty-Something Travel

“I considered it last year when I went to Vietnam, but then I realized I never say, “eh” and that it wouldn’t work.”
Forrest Walker of The Other Side of the Coconut

“Never. That people have an issue with Americans is a stereotype itself.”
Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere

“In my travels, I introduce myself as a Californian, if it comes up. Almost universally, the next comment is “American!” but it’s said with a smile, and often the very next thing that happens is the person says “Baywatch!” and simulates running on a beach.”
Mike McColl of Travel Insider

“I was 40km from the Pakistan border when Bin Laden was killed. Yes…I told everyone who asked that I was Canadian.”
Jenneil Parks of Hello Meet World

“It’s ridiculous. I have never once experienced negativity from locals about being American (let alone from Texas), not in Egypt after the revolution, not living in China for almost year, not in Vietnam at the war museum. The only people who have given me flack about being American are pompous Canadians.”
Robert Schrader of Leave Your Daily Hell

What do you think? Is flag-jacking necessary for Americans? Is it insulting to Canadians, or is it flattering?

Tell us in the comments below!

About the Author: Matt Gibson

Matt Gibson is the Let's Roll blog manager. He also writes for the Huffington Post, About.com, and his own adventure travel blog.

  • Ralph

    Have traveled the world for years and have been in 50 countries. In almost every single instance with the exception of one young teenager I was on same plane with who was dressed in everything that shouts Canada attire (hat, jacket, pants, pins, flags) flying out of Calgary, every single Canadian flag sewn on to a backpack was an American.

    Most Canadians tend to avoid other Canadians when traveling. The reason being we get enough of each other in this country. So we you get an overly excited “Canadian” it is always an American imposter. Personally myself I just tell people I’m from Lichtenstein because I’m sick of talking about Canada.

    I’ve found one American is OK, two can be bearable, but Americans in groups of three or more can be downright dangerous. Usually I just laugh it off and tell them not be idiots when traveling because they are wearing our flag but that is almost like telling a leopard to change it spots.

    More then a few times, sometimes with guns pointed at me, I’ve been asked if I was an American because the accent is so close, but as soon as I correctly inform my foreign hosts that I am in fact a Canadian and that we Canadians tend to loathe our unwashed cousins to the south more then the Taliban the reception turns 180. I’ve been asked to marry daughters, share sparse meals, given rides hundreds of kms away (that kilometres to the USA crowd) for no cost, put up in pensions, and treated like a returning hero. Half of my travels have been in Muslim countries (North Africa and Middle East) and I never felt safer in my life.

    I don’t have hard feelings to my backpacking brethren to the south, just please stop chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A” wherever you go, especially if you going to wear my flag. Nobody cares about you, and you look like a fool when you go into American Pride mode. Just wake up and get over the fact that outside of the US, you are not the center of the universe.

    Enjoy the local food (that means NOT going to McDonald’s…but at least if you choose to go there know that no one patronizes them except Americans), see the sites, and just be proud that you are one of a small minority of your countrymen that actually owns a passport and has chosen to experience some sort of culture.

    If you choose to pass yourself off as a Canadian know these basic truths

    1) Tim Horton’s coffee is the elixir of the Gods, opposite thinking to this basic truth is punishable by death in Canada.
    2) We actually do have four seasons in this country…Before winter, winter, after winter and mosquitoes
    3) Not every Canadian lives in an igloo and has a dog sled team…some of us actually have houses and cars, albeit heated with wood stoves and powered by moose oil.
    4) Canada is north of the United States, not a town in Georgia.
    5) Not every Canadian knows “John from Toronto”. John died last year, he will be missed.
    6) WW1 started in 1914, not 1917 and WW2 started in 1939, not 1941.
    7) If you think we Canadians are quaint and cute and harmless, just remember we have burned down your White House before and we fight like a cornered wolverine having gained this experience playing street hockey as kids.
    8) While we might say “Eh” alot, they are about 50 different meanings for how we say “sorry”, not all of them are nice.
    9) About is not pronounced “A-Boot” but rather “A-bout”, only Americans think Canadians pronounce it that way. No Canadian in history has ever said “A-Boot”.
    10) Neighbor, flavor, favor, honor for example are all words correctly spelled Neighbour, Flavour, Favour, Honour in Queen’s English.
    11) English was not invented by Americans, but rather comes from ENGland.
    12) The capital of Canada is Ottawa not Toronto
    13) Our beer is not the best on the planet, but it is better then the moose piss you drink down south
    14) No one drinks Moosehead in Canada, we ship that moose piss to you
    15) Polar bears contrary to popular belief are not wandering around the streets, we keep them penned up with the dog sled teams.

    If you choose to be an arrogant ass and still want to pass yourself off as a Canadian do us a favour and at least speak with a French accent, French Canadians are the only group of travelers hated more than you.

  • Matt Gibson

    Wow, thanks for the very well thought-out comment Ralph! That’s a blog post in itself!

    I’m curious to hear what some Americans think ;)

  • chinamatt

    Never pretended to be Canadian while traveling, but I did pretend to be Chinese, which is funny for a white guy to do in Southeast Asia. Really, I just did it to confuse people–taxi/tuk-tuk drivers kept asking where I was from, and technically I was living in China at the time (and on a Chinese salary at that). It was also my way of saying, “I’m not a wealthy foreigner. I have no US dollars.” Really confused them when I started speaking in Chinese.

  • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End

    Great article with some pretty funny responses (thanks for the inclusion by the way, eh?)! I love the body language section the most.

    I think stereotypes follow people around no matter where you go, or what country you’re from. When I first started travelling internationally, around the age of 18, I often got “Oh, Canadian! Strange Brew!” (referring to a cult classic film from the 80′s which emphasizes to no end all Canadian stereotypes). I remember feeling quite self conscious about it, and even tried changing the way I said ‘out’ and ‘about’ to sound more American (I was quite unsuccessful, mind you). Over time I realized just how silly the whole ordeal was, and have learned to brush it off. We’re all human. End of story. :)

  • Suzanne (Just One Boomer)

    No, seriously, Canadians do say “oot” and “aboot”, but apparently, they can’t hear it, eh?
    Here’s my take (not entirely serious) on Canada and Canadians after my visit there earlier this month:

    http://www.boomeresque.com/canadians

  • Yep, I agree. In some parts of the country people definitely say aboot. It’s very similar to the Minnesota accent from Fargo.

  • Travelling Mudskippers

    As Canadians, we’ve encounter this a couple of times. Once in France, we struck up a conversation with a Texan couple who asked if we had extra Canadian flags because they were getting flack in Paris – but that was during the Bush Administration and the whole “freedom fries” fiasco, so it was understandable. The second time was in Egypt when we joined up with a Californian couple for a few days of travel. We negotiated a private tour to some far-flung antiquities and our Nubian driver and tour guide told us to say we were all Canadian if we got asked at a check point. He didn’t explain why but he said that it will be easier to get through without a lot of questions! We also witnessed some anti-American sentiments in Cairo towards another American couple but that was before the recent uprising and it was during Obama’s first visit so things were pretty politically charged all around. Never had anyone say or do anything disparaging towards us as Canadians, except some annoying Americans….

  • Jim

    Insulting, vain and shallow!!

    I like Laurel Robbins quote about the shorts and winter coats!

    Regarding the “Pompous Canadians” statement…..LOOK IN THE
    MIRROR!!!

  • Jim

    From an historical point of view;…..prior to D-Day, when the American GI’s were in various parts of England; it was quite common for the people of England to say about the GI’s….

    They are overbearing……oversexed….and over here!

  • Cheryl Semrau

    Canadians are Canadians and Americans are Americans. Got it? A proud Canadian

  • Joe Terrio

    I met my first Flag Jacker on what was known as the walking street in Kopenhavn in 1974. I noticed the Canadian flag on a backpack and approached the person carrying it and asked where she was from. Turned out she was from the USA. That’s 39 years ago and even then she stated she got a warmer reception from people if she carried the Maple Leaf.

  • Greg

    I think generally we Canadians should consider it a compliment! (They obviously think we are wonderful! and we are!)
    It’s a real shame that our very best friends, and ally in the world think they need to pretend to be Canadian when abroad! They really shouldn’t have to do this. Unfortunately the countries and people effected by poor American Foreign Policy want to take out their hatred against average Americans who can not do much to change or implement their countries foreign policy.
    I have found most Americans to be straight forward, many times RUDE, but generally honest, many times inaccurate, and often arrogant, regarding their attitudes towards other countries, including Canada. Obviously, I do not agree with everything they say or do.
    Alternatively, Americans could learn a lot from pretending to be Canadian. It could even help their Foreign Policy makers. Of course they would have to actually get off their backsides and learn something about Canada & Canadians, besides what our flag looks like! The downside, to their pretending to be Canadian is that many of them are bad actors and they could easily give Canadians a bad reputation abroad. While pretending to be Canadian, they may need to learn to not talk too much and that could keep them out of trouble.
    They could also learn how to make real beer!

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  • Ralph

    Have traveled the world for years and have been in 50 countries. In almost every single instance with the exception of one young teenager I was on same plane with who was dressed in everything that shouts Canada attire (hat, jacket, pants, pins, flags) flying out of Calgary, every single Canadian flag sewn on to a backpack was an American.

    Most Canadians tend to avoid other Canadians when traveling. The reason being we get enough of each other in this country. So we you get an overly excited “Canadian” it is always an American imposter. Personally myself I just tell people I’m from Lichtenstein because I’m sick of talking about Canada.

    I’ve found one American is OK, two can be bearable, but Americans in groups of three or more can be downright dangerous. Usually I just laugh it off and tell them not be idiots when traveling because they are wearing our flag but that is almost like telling a leopard to change it spots.

    More then a few times, sometimes with guns pointed at me, I’ve been asked if I was an American because the accent is so close, but as soon as I correctly inform my foreign hosts that I am in fact a Canadian and that we Canadians tend to loathe our unwashed cousins to the south more then the Taliban the reception turns 180. I’ve been asked to marry daughters, share sparse meals, given rides hundreds of kms away (that kilometres to the USA crowd) for no cost, put up in pensions, and treated like a returning hero. Half of my travels have been in Muslim countries (North Africa and Middle East) and I never felt safer in my life.

    I don’t have hard feelings to my backpacking brethren to the south, just please stop chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A” wherever you go, especially if you going to wear my flag. Nobody cares about you, and you look like a fool when you go into American Pride mode. Just wake up and get over the fact that outside of the US, you are not the center of the universe.

    Enjoy the local food (that means NOT going to McDonald’s…but at least if you choose to go there know that no one patronizes them except Americans), see the sites, and just be proud that you are one of a small minority of your countrymen that actually owns a passport and has chosen to experience some sort of culture.

    If you choose to pass yourself off as a Canadian know these basic truths

    1) Tim Horton’s coffee is the elixir of the Gods, opposite thinking to this basic truth is punishable by death in Canada.
    2) We actually do have four seasons in this country…Before winter, winter, after winter and mosquitoes
    3) Not every Canadian lives in an igloo and has a dog sled team…some of us actually have houses and cars, albeit heated with wood stoves and powered by moose oil.
    4) Canada is north of the United States, not a town in Georgia.
    5) Not every Canadian knows “John from Toronto”. John died last year, he will be missed.
    6) WW1 started in 1914, not 1917 and WW2 started in 1939, not 1941.
    7) If you think we Canadians are quaint and cute and harmless, just remember we have burned down your White House before and we fight like a cornered wolverine having gained this experience playing street hockey as kids.
    8) While we might say “Eh” alot, they are about 50 different meanings for how we say “sorry”, not all of them are nice.
    9) About is not pronounced “A-Boot” but rather “A-bout”, only Americans think Canadians pronounce it that way. No Canadian in history has ever said “A-Boot”.
    10) Neighbor, flavor, favor, honor for example are all words correctly spelled Neighbour, Flavour, Favour, Honour in Queen’s English.
    11) English was not invented by Americans, but rather comes from ENGland.
    12) The capital of Canada is Ottawa not Toronto
    13) Our beer is not the best on the planet, but it is better then the moose piss you drink down south
    14) No one drinks Moosehead in Canada, we ship that moose piss to you
    15) Polar bears contrary to popular belief are not wandering around the streets, we keep them penned up with the dog sled teams.

    If you choose to be an arrogant ass and still want to pass yourself off as a Canadian do us a favour and at least speak with a French accent, French Canadians are the only group of travelers hated more than you.

  • Matt Gibson

    Wow, thanks for the very well thought-out comment Ralph! That’s a blog post in itself!

    I’m curious to hear what some Americans think ;)

  • chinamatt

    Never pretended to be Canadian while traveling, but I did pretend to be Chinese, which is funny for a white guy to do in Southeast Asia. Really, I just did it to confuse people–taxi/tuk-tuk drivers kept asking where I was from, and technically I was living in China at the time (and on a Chinese salary at that). It was also my way of saying, “I’m not a wealthy foreigner. I have no US dollars.” Really confused them when I started speaking in Chinese.

  • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End

    Great article with some pretty funny responses (thanks for the inclusion by the way, eh?)! I love the body language section the most.

    I think stereotypes follow people around no matter where you go, or what country you’re from. When I first started travelling internationally, around the age of 18, I often got “Oh, Canadian! Strange Brew!” (referring to a cult classic film from the 80′s which emphasizes to no end all Canadian stereotypes). I remember feeling quite self conscious about it, and even tried changing the way I said ‘out’ and ‘about’ to sound more American (I was quite unsuccessful, mind you). Over time I realized just how silly the whole ordeal was, and have learned to brush it off. We’re all human. End of story. :)

  • Suzanne (Just One Boomer)

    No, seriously, Canadians do say “oot” and “aboot”, but apparently, they can’t hear it, eh?
    Here’s my take (not entirely serious) on Canada and Canadians after my visit there earlier this month:

    http://www.boomeresque.com/canadians

  • Yep, I agree. In some parts of the country people definitely say aboot. It’s very similar to the Minnesota accent from Fargo.

  • Travelling Mudskippers

    As Canadians, we’ve encounter this a couple of times. Once in France, we struck up a conversation with a Texan couple who asked if we had extra Canadian flags because they were getting flack in Paris – but that was during the Bush Administration and the whole “freedom fries” fiasco, so it was understandable. The second time was in Egypt when we joined up with a Californian couple for a few days of travel. We negotiated a private tour to some far-flung antiquities and our Nubian driver and tour guide told us to say we were all Canadian if we got asked at a check point. He didn’t explain why but he said that it will be easier to get through without a lot of questions! We also witnessed some anti-American sentiments in Cairo towards another American couple but that was before the recent uprising and it was during Obama’s first visit so things were pretty politically charged all around. Never had anyone say or do anything disparaging towards us as Canadians, except some annoying Americans….

  • Jim

    Insulting, vain and shallow!!

    I like Laurel Robbins quote about the shorts and winter coats!

    Regarding the “Pompous Canadians” statement…..LOOK IN THE
    MIRROR!!!

  • Jim

    From an historical point of view;…..prior to D-Day, when the American GI’s were in various parts of England; it was quite common for the people of England to say about the GI’s….

    They are overbearing……oversexed….and over here!

  • Cheryl Semrau

    Canadians are Canadians and Americans are Americans. Got it? A proud Canadian

  • Joe Terrio

    I met my first Flag Jacker on what was known as the walking street in Kopenhavn in 1974. I noticed the Canadian flag on a backpack and approached the person carrying it and asked where she was from. Turned out she was from the USA. That’s 39 years ago and even then she stated she got a warmer reception from people if she carried the Maple Leaf.

  • Greg

    I think generally we Canadians should consider it a compliment! (They obviously think we are wonderful! and we are!)
    It’s a real shame that our very best friends, and ally in the world think they need to pretend to be Canadian when abroad! They really shouldn’t have to do this. Unfortunately the countries and people effected by poor American Foreign Policy want to take out their hatred against average Americans who can not do much to change or implement their countries foreign policy.
    I have found most Americans to be straight forward, many times RUDE, but generally honest, many times inaccurate, and often arrogant, regarding their attitudes towards other countries, including Canada. Obviously, I do not agree with everything they say or do.
    Alternatively, Americans could learn a lot from pretending to be Canadian. It could even help their Foreign Policy makers. Of course they would have to actually get off their backsides and learn something about Canada & Canadians, besides what our flag looks like! The downside, to their pretending to be Canadian is that many of them are bad actors and they could easily give Canadians a bad reputation abroad. While pretending to be Canadian, they may need to learn to not talk too much and that could keep them out of trouble.
    They could also learn how to make real beer!

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