Flag fails to promote adventure

By Lawrence Bailey

There are clumps of noisy red and white amoebic formations moving about Europe in cargo shorts and "Canada Kicks Ass" T-shirts. They have large shells on their backs, adorned with tattoos of a red leaf that lets everyone know they’re not American. To some locals they’re a nuisance, to others a curiosity but to the majority they’re a joke–and they’re growing.

It used to be that our flag was used to let fellow travellers know they could trust us; we are Canadian after all. Sick of being mistaken for Americans, a new custom came into being for young Canadians (necessity is the mother of invention). It was cute, it became tradition and it was all in good fun.

Many who have gone or will go to a foreign country for a backpacking escapade want a change of scenery, a change of perspective. The quickest way to deny yourself that opportunity is by sewing a maple leaf on your bag. A flag will assure you plenty of Canadian company and will have all other travellers pigeon-holing you at 50 paces.

In my own case, I was treated as a pleasant oddity due to my own flagless 70-litre home. William from Surrey (England not BC) went so far as to accuse me of being a covert American. Upon learning my nationality many people smirked and let out a sarcastic question about where my mandatory flag was.

The sad truth is that the harmless tradition has become vainglorious and proud. Brits, Aussies and Continentals alike feel the novelty has worn off and see the leaf we all sport as an arrogant, nationalistic insult worthy of our Big Brother to the south.

Like the sneetches of literary fame, we feel as if we need a star on our bellies to distinguish ourselves. If I may offer an alternate course of action however, I’d like to suggest that all sneetches go au naturel. That way you won’t find yourself drinking in the heart of Verona surrounded as far as the eye can see by people from Etobicoke and Oakville. The anonymity will also result in a more personal and memorable expedition.

Leave a comment