I found a really interesting article by the Globe and Mail on the practice of sewing Canadian flags onto luggage while traveling. It is a weird thing that only Canadians do. There are several packs of flags lying around my house.
Back when I first traveled to Europe in junior high it seemed absolutely necessary to have one. This was the Bush era and it was very important to show the world that I was not from the country that had started the Iraq war.
The article notes that the practice traces its origins to a similarly unpopular war from a previous generation.
The curious practice seems to have begun in the 1970s during the Vietnam War, when popular opinion around the world was against our American lookalikes. It’s difficult to find historical literature on the rise of travelling Canadian flag patches (our flag became official only in 1964), but the increase in independent travel among baby boomers during the period likely helped it catch on. When baby boomers became parents, they would pass the ritual on to their own travelling children. That practice has now become ingrained in young Canadians.
Nowadays it doesn’t seem as important to mark myself off as being a Canadian. Most days I’d rather have Obama running my country than Harper. The conservatives aren’t that much to be proud of or very different from American governments.
They make the important point that so much of our identity as a country comes from not being Americans. We love the War of 1812 even though nobody knows much about what happened or why it matters. We like to think we’re different and celebrate the rare Canadian tv show that isn’t so terrible it makes you want to vomit. Murdoch Mysteries and Orphan Black are magically and wonderfully actually good even if they are both set in Toronto. Part of it is trying to be unique when it’s so easy to be an extension of our dominant neighbours. Part of what made the Vancouver olympic hockey win so big was that it was against the Americans. The semi-final loss at the London olympics would not have been as painful against a different country.
It seems a bit tacky to do it. The closest I come to having a Canadian flag on any of my backpacks is a patch from a bagel place in Canmore that I adore. It is the flag with a bagel instead of the maple leaf. It’s more of a local signifier than anything. Someone from Calgary, Canmore or Banff would know it. They’d also pick out my Camp Brand Goods patches. Those are cool brands I like. They say where I’m from in a subtle way.
I’d rather bear the subtle markers of Canadianness abroad. A Roots hoodie, a MEC tote bag. These signal a Canadian or someone who has been in Canada from a mile away but they only work if you know the code. We are different but we don’t need to awkwardly announce it to everyone.