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Canadian Flag Pin (from my citizenship ceremony in 2009)

Canadian Flag Pin (from my citizenship ceremony in 2009)

I can’t remember where I saw my first Canadian flag. Listed on the last page of an atlas? Maybe. Probably sewn on a backpack, actually—Canadian travelers like to sport the Maple Leaf. Some even warn against “fake Canadians”: the joke goes that American travelers often put a Canadian flag on their luggage because abroad, it’s often much better to be seen as a Canadian—friendly person living in an igloo—than as an American—ooops, we bombed/invaded your country, didn’t we?

I found the design distinctive and pretty, as pretty as national flags go. I felt sorry for kids who had to draw it in class, though. In France, we had it easy with three vertical bands of equal width. Americans, Canadians or any member of the Commonwealth had to deal with complicated geometric figures, stacking stars into a small box  or sketching a big leaf.

It would be years until I displayed a flag. Like many French, I associated the national flag to yes, the French Revolution—a long long time ago—but mostly to more contemporary dark periods of human history or far-right movements. Schools and administrative buildings fly the Tricolour but individuals usually stay away from such display of national pride. In fact, you’re more likely to see regional flags such as the Gwenn-ha-du, the white and black flag of Brittany, or the Moor’s head, the flag of Corsica. Sadly, French flags often end up in the tattooed hands of neo-Nazis who occasionally feel the need to flex their beer-gut muscles and march, demanding that all those who can’t trace their ancestry back to Jeanne D’Arc to get the fuck out—who would want to be associated with them?

The Old World has a complicated relationship with national pride. Such term make us all a bit uneasy. No one wants to open Pandora’s box… again. French feel occasional bursts of pride when they win a big football game (it doesn’t happen that often) but few of us can sing La Marseillaise past the first verse. I wouldn’t even know where to buy a French flag, and anyone displaying it proudly out of context would be seen as bizarre at best, xenophobic at worst. National pride is expressed differently, not through official national symbols but mostly through gastronomic, cultural and artistic traditions. For instance, claiming “I’m proud to be French and I love my country” feels weird, but you can say “merde, French food is the best“.

When I first came to Canada, the national hockey team was about to win double gold in ice hockey at the at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Because of the much-anticipated Canada–USA matchup—even as a tourist I sensed that hockey mattered a lot—the number of Canadian flags didn’t surprise me. The Olympics are, by nature, an event where a little display of national pride (and shame) is encouraged.

But after the last puck was shot and the last beer was drunk to Mario Lemieux and team, the flags stayed—on top of government buildings or businesses (and inexplicably a car dealership close to home), on balconies, in apartment windows, in front of houses, on bumpers and on clothing items.

“Are Canadians suffering from amnesia? Doing too much drugs?” I thought. “Do they need a constant reminder that they are, indeed, in Canada? Isn’t the wind chill factor a good enough clue?”

As I quickly noticed, displaying the Canadian flag wasn’t as controversial as displaying a French flag. Everyone seemed to adopt it, newcomers and “WASP” Canadians alike. Only Québécois liked their own provincial flag best.

Over the years, I got used to seeing the flag everywhere, including on all the letters Citizenship and Immigration was sending me. There were like a trail of white and red pebbles to follow to become Canadian.

In 2009, I was given my very own flag during the citizenship ceremony. I wasn’t sure what to do with it—I waved it shyly. In fact, the ceremony had moved me more than I had thought. I had never been one to embrace patriotism but damn, finally, I had become Canadian, a citizen of a country I had chosen myself. The flag meant “welcome” and “you made it”. It was an inclusive symbol, the final milestone of a journey.

Today, I see the Canadian colours as a friendly symbol uniting all Canadians from all walks of life, an inclusive flag for all those who know what shoveling snow in April feels like. And admittedly, considering our Southern neighbours and their own flag addiction, you have to display a little bit of patriotism… at least, this way, tourists know when they crossed the border, eh!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

20 Comments

  1. I personally have a weird relationship with my passport country. On the one hand, I have only spent a total of 14 years (broken down into 4 different segments) living in the Philippines. I spent more years outside than inside. Yet I carry its passport and has its citizenship. So I feel a disconnect, and to some extent, I don’t fully identify as Filipino.

    And yet, on the other hand, sometimes when I am on the road, I meet people who have a hard time figuring out where I come from. I look Asian, yet speaks English with an American accent. A lot of people think I am Chinese based on the way I look. Given what’s happening between China and its neighbors right now, including the Philippines, I would rather be identified as a Filipino than as a Chinese.

    Finally, and this has something to do with perceptions of Filipinos overseas, which I have also blogged about. Sometimes, a lot of foreign perceptions about Filipinos are negative, that we are just migrant workers and such. People tend to be surprised to meet a Filipino who is not a caregiver, not a nurse, not a construction worker. And I am glad to give them the opportunity to realize that Filipinos can also do things other people do, and break their stereotypes.

    • It’s funny, no matter how many times you mentioned it, I always forget that you are a Filipino national. With your global lifestyle, I tend to forget the passport you carry! Would you consider becoming a German national? I know it’s very hard, but would you be open to getting a new citizenship, or would you rather keep your Filipino identity?

      • I’ve thought about it. I supposed the opportunity to get a new citizenship hasn’t presented itself yet, but when it does, I think I would have an easier time letting go of my Filipino citizenship than others. After all, I already feel a disconnect with it. My sister who grew up in the same household as me carries two passports, as she has a US passport as well, only due to the fact that she was born there. So I’ve always thought that citizenship is partly due to coincidence, and that if another one comes along, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it.

        • I can completely understand your point of view. Could a UE citizenship be a “plus” in your two-column “dilemma”? 😉 Not sure how it works in Germany, I know it’s complicated.

  2. Martin Penwald on

    Before the maple leaf, there was another flag for Canada, and I’ve already read some people complaining that the maple leaf flag was not patriotic enough …

  3. I’ve never thought about the french flag as something we were ashamed of, but yes you’re totally right! It would seem strange to have it on the balcony or in the garden. Would be a good thing to know exactly why. I’m gonna try an introspection 😉

    • It’s not so much that we are ashamed of it, it’s just that we are afraid to be associated with the morons who wave it. That’s very unfortunate!

  4. My husband has Gwenn-ha-du at his backpack, and he makes sure it is there whenever he travels. He is more proud to be a Breton than a French. He is among those who thinks that Nantes is in Brittany. In our house we have Brittany, Malaysian, and Austin flag, but no French flag.

  5. I only have positive associations for the Tricolour and La Marseillaise. I think of Les Misérables, one of my favourite books from High School. Also, Beau Geste and the dark romance of the French Foreign Legion. La Marseillaise is the most stirring and evocative of all national anthems.

    I think the Americans overdo flag waving sometimes but once in Plentywood, Montana in 1980, I was suprised to see so many Canadian flags. I know it is a border town and they usually have some Canadian flags. I went into the saloon and the bartender said that my money was no good. Then he waved to the patrons and said “We got a Canadian here”. I didn’t know what to expect. Soon the bar was filled with drinks for me. The bartender looked and me and said “You got our boys out of Iran”. It was the first that I had heard about it. I was happy when more Canadians came in and helped out with the drinking.

    • Maybe it’s just me, but I think most French don’t think that much of the French Revolution. Yes, it was a key event but it was so long ago… that’s the mindset. It seems almost more relevant to other cultures than it is to the French! Same goes with Les misérables, I think I know more foreigners who read it than French 😆

      Funny story. I had to Google around to find reference to the “Canadian Six” 🙂

  6. Great post!

    Igloos? Ha ha.

    I always had a lot of fun drawing the American flag as a kid… you have to plan out those rows of stars very carefully.

    I grew up with flags all around, but you’re right, it is funny to think that there are tons of them at car dealerships, for example. Why? It is pride, but it has also become an acceptable type of decoration and indication of festivity.

    • I’m really not sure why some business fly the flag… and I don’t think it’s pride. Maybe a marketing ploy? Or maybe I’m too cynical.

  7. Ahhh flags…before i moved to Canada, my husband brought me a Canadian flag. I used to keep it on my nighstand and stare at it when i would feel overwhelmed with waiting. It helped 🙂

  8. This is kinda how I feel about the British flag -it has become an emblem of ‘Britain first’ types, or of UKIP followers. The English flag is branded like a weapon on house fronts – we are English – we are best – I dare you to challenge this. I have always loved our flag. It has always made me feel so patriotic, but recently I worry it has been tarnished and misused.

    • I haven’t seen the British flag as much, except on typically British products as a marketing tool. I had the feeling British were like the French, the flag is, like you said, a political weapon.

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