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Friday, September 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Travel essay: Fake Canadians roaming Europe

By Joseph Cohen
Special to The Seattle Times

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It was my third day in Cinque Terre, a five-town tourist destination on Italy's northwest coast.

Made popular by postcard views, homemade pesto and travel-industry guru Rick Steves, the Cinque Terre in July is very busy and very American. The cozy 10-bed hostel I was staying in was home to backpackers ages 20 to 23. There were six young men from the United States, two young women from England, and a brother and sister from Canada.

I decided to get to know the Canadian siblings who had been sleeping four feet away from me. All I knew about them was that they were proud Canadians, since they had Canadian flags patched on their otherwise unmarked black backpacks.

My icebreaker question: "So I saw the flag on your backpacks; whereabouts in Canada are you guys from?"

"Oh, we're actually from Oregon," they replied. "The flag on our packs is to confuse people."

These 20-somethings were so scared of being American during their travels in France, Germany and Italy that they decided to put Canadian flags on their backpacks. That they were really Americans in disguise didn't surprise me; I could have held a full (and very poorly played) hockey game with all the fake Canadians I ran into while traveling in Western Europe.

The plethora of Canadian flags on American backpacks this summer obviously has roots in current events dealing with Iraq and President George W. Bush. Yet Europeans do not translate their dislike of our president into animosity toward American travelers. You have a better chance of being pickpocketed in Switzerland than accosted for being an American anywhere in Western Europe.

I last traveled in Europe during the summer of 2001 for 10 weeks, and the only thing that has changed since then is that more Americans fear (at least initially) that everybody dislikes them.

Too many Americans mistake the European dislike of our current government as hatred of American people. But most Europeans separate their opinions about America's government from what they think of Americans themselves. In fact, a lot of American things are still in vogue. T-shirts with U.S. flags are commonly seen on European youths; American singers and rappers are as popular as they have ever been; and American movies still draw the largest crowds.

If you are considering the fake-Canadian approach to Europe, please stop. All you are going to do is draw disgusted looks from other Americans who find out your secret. After all, how adept are you at speaking Canadian, anyway? Not very good, eh?
Joseph Cohen lives in Bellevue.

The Travel Essay runs each Sunday in The Seattle Times and also online at To submit an essay for consideration, make sure it's typed and no longer than 700 words. The essays, which are unpaid, may be edited for content and length. E-mail to or send to Travel, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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