Having Sex in a Canoe: Questioning your Patriotism Abroad


There are times when one’s nationality becomes remarkably obvious. Preferential pizza toppings, the line-up entered at customs, favouritism for the Winter Olympics, and maybe better still, the spelling of the word “favouritism.” These moments can make your country of origin quite explicit.

However, if you remove the departure cards and passports, the IOC’s interpretation of your country’s traditional wear, and yes, even the letter “u,” then perhaps your actual nationality may not be so clear.

But then you move abroad.

Deny if you will, but the way in which certain nationalities behave as expatriates is likely to go one of two ways. One encouraging prediction is that these foreigners act exactly like themselves, make very few references to the things they enjoy about their own country, and roll their eyes at those claiming to be from Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, British Columbia (because really, NO ONE over the age of 18 was actually born in either of these cities). They are more interested in the peculiarities of the foreign land in which they reside because in the end, this is probably why they left that home in the first place.

Which brings the pigeon-holing of this article to foreigner number two, the patriotic foreigner. This foreigner behaves in predictable ways. Ways which often instigate an expat from some other foreign land to call them out (in a playful yet totally patronizing way) for being a product of their nationality. They find themselves becoming more and more akin to the stereotypes of a certain country and when meeting another foreigner from their native land (or better yet, a neighbouring area code), they’re instantly overcome with a level of enthusiasm only roughly matched by some sorority girls with coordinating pearl necklaces in Clearwater, Florida.

You can probably guess, solely from the title of this piece, which category I have electively stuck myself into.

It is here, some 11,000 km from home, here is where I become nonsensically Canadian.

I have a revolving baggage carousel of conversational topics which for the most part, can maintain the attention of others for roughly the length of a commercial break. But since moving to a country other than my own, these points of discussion have become almost exclusively about Canada.

I talk about the Rocky Mountains in a way which you would almost expect to be used with pedestrian adjectives like “awe-inspiring.” I brag about my toque collection at least once a day. I learned the Korean word for “sorry” during my first week. I buy overpriced maple syrup and then put it on things which don’t really need a sweetly browned viscous liquid as a condiment. (Yes, even the way I talk about maple syrup is pathetic.)

Recently, I actually said that the word “hoser” was romantic.

And I meant it.

The trigger to the tip of ludicrous patriotism occurred in a canoe some three hours from my comforting incubator of Seoul, South Korea. Deciding to substitute a Sunday of general lethargy in my shitty studio apartment for a 30-minute lesson on paddling and a closed-in canoe course was not a difficult decision to make. However, deciding which toque to wear on a day which didn’t even really require the additional layer of knitted headwear, was pretty much impossible.

It was at this point, with matted hair under some colourful threads of wool, when the canoe was transformed into a red and white soapbox of sorts. There was the praising of bike lanes of downtown Toronto. The rating of provincial parks in rural Alberta. The glorifying of a meal of gravy and French fries which usually, I’ve only stomached after a point of fall-down inebriation. Participating in this sort of Great White North partisanship (minus any and all topics concerning politics), was only strongly encouraged by the four other Canadians wielding Korean Cedar paddles of their very own.

This isn’t to be confused with a patriotic bout of homesickness. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. I find myself longing more for the nachos I once ate in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia than the distinct indentations on the mattress of my childhood bed.

It’s more about becoming acutely aware of the stereotypes others have formed of people from your home country- and then realizing that you may actually be further perpetuating them.

This is humourous in the event that you drag out those hard “a’s” for even just a millisecond too long, and you’re suddenly dealing with a heap of foreigners ragging on you for your seemingly hilarious pronunciation of the word “bagel.”

(If you need a further visual example, just watch any It’s My life 365 video and listen to Big B’s narrative when he overemphasizes the letter “a.” It’s harder than Will Peach’s …oh, nevermind.)

But it can also be incredibly self-reflective. In Canada, I whine about Toronto motorists’ refusal to check their review mirror before completely clotheslining me off my bike. But here, those dotted white lines squeezed onto four-lane residential streets are something that are not only appreciated- but also completely undervalued.

Removing yourself from the archetypal personality characteristics of your home country can only really do one thing- and that is to help to understand how much your time at home will influence you abroad.

Did I actually have sex in a canoe?

Of course not.

I was too busy readjusting my toque.

Author: Sarah Kloke

Sarah is a columnist for Vagabundo Magazine. She brags a lot about meeting a dude in the Philippines with 11 fingers. She keeps a steady routine of travel, write, brush teeth, repeat, and will continue to do so until she runs out of stories. Or countries. Whichever comes first, really. Sarah has been making different parts of Asia her temporary and not-quite permanent home for the past three years. She also writes at http://wheresmytoothbrush.com/

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4 Comments

  1. I identify – as I know that, should I ever be made to leave Israel, I shall take with me the mentality, the foods, the humour… hard though I may ever try, I might be leaving the physical place, which is my HomeLand – but I know, that I shall NEVER be able, to leave it in my Heart.
    Danniel Qeletti recently posted..געגועים לזמנים ההם, האחרים…My Profile

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    • Until I visit another country which considers road hockey games to be the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, Canada (to me) will still be one of the most fun countries in the world.
      Sarah recently posted..Thoughts from Three Birthdays AbroadMy Profile

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Having Sex in a Canoe: Questioning your Patriotism Abroad