Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Ready to trade that Yo for an Eh?

There are those who insist that smart American travelers should stow their Yankee identity and simply pretend they’re Canadians to ensure safe passage overseas.

New Mexico-based T-Shirt King, in fact, is offering a “Going Canadian” kit for $25 that includes a T-shirt emblazoned with the Canadian flag and the phrase “O Canada,” a matching maple leaf patch for luggage, a window sticker, lapel pin and a little guide called “How to Speak Canadian, Eh?”

“Now when somebody asks you about American politics, you can say, ‘I’m on vacation. I don’t want to talk aboot it,’ ” the company advises.

The kits, which the company intended as a collegiate gag gift, are literally flying off the shelves.

“You’ve got to have a sense of humor here,” said owner Lisa Broadbent yesterday.

She’s getting calls from Canadians and Americans alike.

“Some of the Canadians are thrilled by the idea. Others are offended, because they don’t want what they call ‘rude’ Americans disguising themselves as Canadians,” Mrs. Broadbent said. “The Americans say if you’re not proud to be an American, then go pack your bags and move to Canada.”

Both sides, Mrs. Broadbent said, “are definitely wrapped up in politics.”

And those politics have gotten partisan.

Her husband, Bill, who created the Canadian kit after hearing tales of Americans harassed overseas, said 70 percent of the buyers are Republicans who had a Democratic recipient in mind.

Meanwhile, the kit includes a quickie guide to all things Canadian, advising readers that “Wayne Gretzky” is a good answer for any sports question, and that Toronto is nicknamed “Hogtown.”

Academics and diplomats would have nothing to do with the discussion yesterday.

“It’s a tempest in a teapot. American travelers have been disguising themselves as Canadians for 30 years,” said one expert in Canadian-American relations at the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York.

A Canadian diplomatic source also was reluctant to comment.

“It’s an American company, and it’s a domestic matter,” he said.

Downplaying one’s stars and stripes for security reasons is not a novel idea, however.

“Avoid luggage tags, dress and behavior that may identify you as an American,” the U.S. State Department advises in Publication 10942, a guide to safe travel abroad.

“That to me is indicative of just being an aware traveler, a smart traveler,” said Kelly Shannon, spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

“Travel and look like a local,” advises travel guide Rick Steves, who hosts a PBS travel series and advocates through his Web site that Americans shun the “ugly American” image because they’ll be safer — and have a more rewarding visit.

Some think anti-Americanism — at least in some spots — is being overblown in the press.

“There is absolutely nothing to worry about (and no need for an American to pretend to be Canadian),” noted one visitor to Mr. Steves’ Web site who had taken a trip to Paris.

Still, the fears of September 11 persist: U.S. colleges routinely advise internationally bound students to forgo American-style clothes, know how U.S. foreign policy has affected their host country and stay out of touchy political discussions or street demonstrations.

The Los Angeles-based Center for Global Education asks prospective young travelers to “avoid provoking unwanted attention by not flaunting ‘American-ness’” and “to dress conservatively — by local standards, so you can’t be identified on sight as a tourist or a U.S. citizen.”

Coincidentally, foreign travelers to America also have their fears of looking, well, “foreign.”

According to Dr. Voyageur, an Iowa-based travel publication geared toward Europeans venturing to America and Canada, international visitors should dress “in clothes that do not stand out, so that we blend in.”

The publication recommends that European visitors buy their travel duds from “the mass merchandisers, the J.C. Penney’s, the Gaps, the Levi and Dockers outlets” just to be on the safe side.

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