Word/Phrase: “flag-jacking” (verb)
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 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.”
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.
“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).
“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.
“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.
“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.
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