Embarrassed to be Canadian

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Day 342: Arica, Chile

I say I’m Canadian with pride, never needing to apologize for my government or feel the urge to defend my people. I wear a flag on my backpack and I’m always warmly welcomed, hostel owners whisper that we’re always clean and polite and other backpackers say we’re friendly.

I’ve been to Vietnam, I cannot imagine what it feels like to be American visiting the country. And while the Vietnamese don’t appear to have hostility I have certainly seen it in Latin America. It can be tough to be American.

I’m not saying Canadians are perfect. I’m saying no one knows about our dirty laundry.

I arrived in Arica, Chile and was enjoying the day meandering around the city. I stopped at a display that a large group was reading from an environmental group about how mining was destroying the land around a protected UNESCO area.

The photos depicted the region before and after the mining. The land was destroyed and the landscape was drying up.

I was horrified.

But not as horrified as when I looked a bit closer and read that the mining company is Canadian. A man came over to talk to me and asked where I was from.

I was embarrassed.

It gets worse.

There are over 30 Canadian companies in Chile but the worst offender is Barrick Gold, the largest mining company in the world with an equally long record of environmental and human rights abuses including the forced relocation of indigenous villages, violence against union organizers, and environmental devastation.

It’s bad enough we’re ruining our own country with the Tar Ponds in Nova Scotia and the Oil Sands in Alberta but we’re also destroying others.

Environmental activists report Barrick’s explorations have led to the degradation of the glaciers near Barrick’s Pascua-Lama project. In 2005, the water authority in Chile issued a report a loss of 50 to 75 per cent of the glaciers in the area.

Despite protests in Chile and in Canada the Chilean government continues to allow the abuse.

The Chilean economy is strong, better than many countries in Europe. It’s used as a model for other South American countries.

But I’m starting to see the price of a strong economy.

Join the Conversation

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’m American and it’s true, sometimes it IS really hard (particularly the last couple months when I’ve been in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). While I love my country, there are a lot of things it has done, and is still doing, that I am pretty ashamed of. The thing I try to remember, and that I *hope* the people I meet remember is that I really have no control over most of the things my country does- particularly the stuff that happened before I was born.

    I think that’s part of why travel is so important, it opens your eyes to the world and our place in it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      When I was in Vietnam I wondered what it would be like to be American, especially on the tours where they show videos about how they trapped their enemy.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post, although I don’t enjoy the subject matter. I had a student once in Barrick who defended it ip and down. It wasn’t until I met other Chileans that I learned what was really going on.

    It’s true that Americans get a lot of slack for what our government has down around the world (and in our own country). I met some Germans who said they felt the same always having to say they aren’t in any way affiliated with the Nazis when they travel, or the my Spanish friend who says in Latin America she has to try to distinguish herself from the “colonizers”.

    For a while, while in Chile, if in a tight spot (like alone in a taxi late at night) I would say I was Canadian, so it’s interesting to read what a Canadian has to say.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I´m pretty open about being Canadian. Most people ask and I do wear a flag on my backpack. I don´t think people are as impressed in Chile and I´m starting to see why.

    2. This is not about nationalities, but it is about the damage and destruction of Chile´s natural resources and environment, the implicit bribing between foreign companies and Chile´s politicians, and the repressed economic situation of Chileans, who witness how outsiders and the minute elite of the country become richer and richer…

  3. Nomadic Chick says:

    I lovesss this post! Some Canadians take glee in spearing the American government’s activities, when ours can be equally shocking.

    Thanks for shedding light on how a “strong” economy is being gained in Chile and at what price?

    Not a good one.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have to say the more I have been reading at home about what´s going on in our own country makes me cringe, we pride ourselves in being a progressive society but that really appears to be slipping.

  4. Yep, every country does plenty of dicey things, whether it’s out in the open or not. Just think of all those little nations involved in shady, anonymous, offshore banking and stuff like that. I just think in the end though, people need to realize that you can never judge people by what country they are from. Also, I absolutely love traveling as an American, and wouldn’t change it for anything.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The more open Americans are about their nationality the more people´s perceptions will change.

  5. I love how you put it “no one knows about our dirty laundry.” That’s exactly it, Canada has done, and continues to do some horrible things. This was one I wasn’t aware, so thanks for bringing it up.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      We just sweep it under the rug and pretend we´re the socialist society that cares about everyone, it turns out not to be everyone.

  6. jenny smythe says:

    wow thanks for the heads up. Very sad indeed

  7. Lauren Quinn says:

    Great post. And as an American, I’ve definitely been there. Traveling in Venezuela during Bush administration especially stands out.

    I think the important thing to remember is that, as a citizen of your country, you’re in a better position to enact change than are the people on the country you’re visiting. You can vote, write your representatives and work to raise awareness. Your voice is louder than theirs, and you can use that in a positive way. For me, the trick is what I chose to do with those feelings of national shame/outrage/embarrassment.

    Ok, that’s my activist pitch for the day. Thanks for raising this issue.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have definitely seen a difference in attitude post-Bush years but there is still a lot of aggression toward Americans. It may not always be direct but I´ve had a lot of locals ´note that I am Canadian and somehow that makes me acceptable in their eyes.

  8. Rafael Rodrigues says:

    Yeah I’m American but all these wars that were involved in I don’t support. I kind of like the idea of living in a socialistic society like Norway, Sweden, Canada etc.. with free tuition for school and health insurance. America has done allot of great in the world such as the first man on the moon but also caused a ton of destruction of peoples lives in war etc…

    Like you said I am a twenty one year kid with no power what so ever in this political environment.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      America gets a bad rap and is often traveler´s favourite country to pick on but really we´re all part of the problem.

  9. Katherina says:

    That’s unfortunately true – every country has a bitter past (or present) relation in some way or another with another country. It’s not always a good idea to say you’re spanish in Latam, as they were the “colonizadores”, which is why I always specify “Canary Islands” (usually we’re much more welcome!).
    I had read about the strength of canadian companies in Chile. I guess you never really see the bad side of it until you’ve actually lived it (those two pictures say it all).

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Canadians get away with a lot and as awful as that was to experience I think we need to bring more attention to these things. I´m sure Canadians have no idea that as much as we pretend to be the peace keeping, green country of the North, we are really part of the problem.

  10. Nightmare.

    My grandmother was Canadian.

    As an Australian it’s hard enough to travel anywhere with that Union Jack on our flag.

    Where am I going to hide now?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I´m starting to think there´s nowhere to hide!

  11. Ughhh. I had read somewhere that the Canadian mining was doing damage in Argentina, but didn’t realize Chile as well. Those pictures say it all, disgusting.

    I love my country, I really do. But each day I get more pissed off at the decisions its Government and greedy corps make to earn a buck. Soon that Canadian patch on the sack might not have as much luster.

    You are certainly right that we are seeing what price they sacrifice our (and others) land for a good economy.

    1. Matt | ExpertVagabond says:

      It’s not just South America, but Central America too. Both US & Canadian mining companies are destroying the land & people’s lives for profit.

      Runoff from gold mines in Honduras are sickening whole villages.

      The companies come in promising prosperity & development to tiny communities that have seen neither, then proceed to wreck everything and leave the people just as poor as they were before.

      Corrupt politicians in these countries let it happen because it makes them rich.

      1. Ayngelina Author says:

        It´s such a complicated issue. On one hand if there were no demand, they wouldn´t be doing it. But especially with minerals, as long as we continue to consume electronics there will be a need to mine these things. You want a cell phone? well someone needs to mine to get the components to build it.

    2. Ayngelina Author says:

      It´s Chile, also Peru and probably Ecuador as well. As much as I shed light on Texaco in Ecuador, we have oil companies too.

  12. South America ME says:

    It doesn’t have much to do with any specific nationality unless we are talking about the nation of Greed.
    I hate what their citizens do.
    Rob W.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Totally agree with you Rob. I also found out that Bolivia is the home to the world´s supply of lithium, we want things that require this and so they continue to mine for it.

      But as much as our own consumerism is to blame, I do think we can do better, there are better, more environmentally friendly ways to mine. It´s unreasonable to think that suddenly we´ll stop consuming, but it is reasonable to think we can source these materials more responsibly.

      1. Dalene - Hecktic Travels says:

        It will be really interesting to see what happens in Bolivia. President Morales actually seems to be taking a stand for the environment of his country (he was the only one who opposed the resolution at the 2010 Environment Summit in Cancun, which required unanimity to pass). Yet that country is so full of mineral riches, will he hold that stand or will the $ offered become too much to ignore?

        1. Ayngelina Author says:

          Yeah I really like what he is doing. I’m sure they’ll still mine but they can do a better job of it.

        2. Morales is an indigenous himself, not a son of European migrants like many of SA presidents, so I’m truly hopeful he’ll keep working for the sake of his land, not for the sake of the greedy.

  13. I know exactly how you feel Ayngelina. It seems that because Canada is not always in the spotlight, we don’t get ripped on as much as our neighbors to the South.

    I recently travelled to Huaraz in Northern Peru and learned of the same things happening there, again by Canadian companies. I remember the guide talking about it and for once when Canada was mentioned, I kind of hid down in my seat with embarrassment.

    The Rimac river which provides most of Lima’s water is also so filled with different metals as a result of mining runoff where companies are not cleaning up, it’s one of the most polluted rivers in the world. I don’t know if Canadian companies are involved in this, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Where there is money to be made, there will be companies and corporations looking to exploit these places, whether they are Canadian, American or from somewhere else.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      To be honest I´m not surprised, I watched an interview with David Suzuki, a man I think is one of the most trusted people in Canada, say that basically we´re destroying South America and the amazon and Canada has its hand in it too. It was always in the back of my mind, never right in front of me.

  14. islandmomma says:

    I doubt that there is a country in the world which can honestly claim to have totally clean hands. Not that that excuses any of them, nor should it disuade us from trying to change things. Put the world Colton into YouTube and see the misery that mining of it has caused in Congo. Misery is far too mild a word to use, in fact, horror would be better. Yet none of us want to give up our cellphones or computers, even though we give up other things. Mining of just about everything which has ever been mined has caused nothing but tragedy, both human and environmental ever since man discovered uses for minerals.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      And I would have never assumed that Canada, a developed nation, would be totally clean either. But I´ve always escaped with the fantasy that we´re a better country. To be called out like that was awful and the only thing I know to do now is draw attention to it.

      1. islandmomma says:

        I shared it to my FB too. So much is done by governments (or by governments allowing big business to do things)that we don’t know about. This, I suppose, although I have reservations, is where WikiLeaks comes in.

        1. Ayngelina Author says:

          Thanks so much, I really don´t know what I can do about it but I do know the first step is sharing it with others.

  15. those canadian companies you speak of are american subsidiary’s …. still, i would put a bullet in my right temple if i awoke one fine morning to discover i had to give my allegiance to an american pres. or flag … the last pre show superbowl progaganda machine was disgusting… americans have about a 1% from a tiny pool of 1% elite who are wizards the rest are as dumb as nails and gluttons with no self will easily manipulated like no other people in the world…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh I wish that were true but the headquarters for Barrick Gold is in Canada, in fact I learned that almost all of the big mining companies are Canadian.

    2. Wow, talk about some sweeping generalizations my friend. What perfect nation is lucky to have you as a citizen?

      Also, ironic that you watched the Super Bowl yet have this disdain for American, lol.

  16. I feel embarrassed to be American sometimes, especially when young U.S. tourists give the rest of us a bad rep by going crazy on their “vacay.”

    I’ve also had to hear a lot about how we are destroying the environment, using up all of the petroleum, continuously stick our fat American nose where it doesn’t belong, etc, etc.
    I COMPLETELY understand where these people are coming from (because these horrible habits disgust me as well so I’ve ALWAYS tried to maintain good environmental and social habits), but I can’t help but wish that they wouldn’t generalize us.

  17. I think it’d be impossible for anyone to be 100% unashamed of everything that any country has done in history.

    The important thing is that you now KNOW this. Knowing is half the battle. You’ve already done a lot by using your blog to mention the issue, even if casually done it’s still important.

    It’s also important to signify the difference between being proud of ones government and ones people (or maybe ones businesses as well?).

    Also, I think there were actually tens of thousands of Canadians who actually DID fight in the Vietnam War by volunteering for the US military. We’re humans, no country can be 100% perfect, but you can still be proud!

  18. I’ve experienced this in a couple of different ways.

    The first was not by being embarassed by my government, but by a fellow traveler in Italy, the typical “ugly American” whose behavior mortified me.

    While I’ve also been embarassed by my government, I tend to separate myself from it when I travel. I don’t make the decisions which condone that type of behavior.

    In Vietnam I was horrified by some of the things I saw regarding the “American War” as it is called there, but I was equally horrifed by some of the things the Vietnamese did during that time.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I think it´s ugly traveler behavior, I´ve seen many nationalities throw fits, not only Americans but when they do it everyone notices.

      In Vietnam I was startled too, no one is innocent in war and during some of the tours I was startled at how open they were about how they caught Americans basically in animal traps.

  19. I can’t believe this was the first time you were ashamed to be Canadian?!

    I kid, I kid…

    Seriously, well done for highlighting this.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I guess it´s not completely true, our country keeps electing an ass of a conservative government, although I lay that blame on our crappy opposing parties who can´t stand up and say they believe in something and would rather lie in the middle.

      It´s like the best of the worst – no actually right now we have the worst of the worst.

  20. Am I the only European following you Ayngelina? I think no individual had to be embarrassed because of their country’s economic misdeeds (or other misdeeds for that matter). Nobody has clean hands, that’s the sad truth.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It is really sad.

  21. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    Many times when traveling people would assume I was Canadian or Swedish, so I often just went with it. I used to be embarrassed to say I was an American, but I honestly haven’t run into anybody in the past few years that has looked down on us for being Americans. We only encountered friendly and kind Vietnamese people in Vietnam and there wasn’t a moment where I felt ashamed. Although, I didn’t take the tour you had talked about.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It was awful, just as a human being to see the contraptions.

  22. In Europe, they recommend American backpackers to wear Canadian flags on their backpacks, to get better treatment.
    But you’re the first real Canadian that I hear has one on her backpack, and proudly so!
    In any case, I really enjoyed your article. As an American abroad, I must say that what generally differentiates Americans from other English-speaking travelers is that (yes, I’m generalizing!) they have absolutely no clue of how their own country has influenced others: both positive and negative. In Europe, I’ve heard people call it a certain “naivete”, or stupidity mixed with innocence. The best remedy is to be armed with a short speech detailing all the positive things, accompanied by some humbleness, just in case locals come and reproach you something or treat you different. 😀

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The more reason why Americans should be more vocal, I´ve met a lot of great ones who shy away from sharing their nationality.

  23. Seattle Dredge says:

    Ohh nooooo.. I’ve been hearing a lot about this in school for the past few weeks. I have a lot of environmental sciences/geog/geol classes, and they’ve all gone pretty in depth into the issue. I think this is the first post I’ve seen about it online so far.. and it kind of makes it more real.

    I really hate that all Canadians (including ourselves) are probably going to end up being associated with all of it.. maybe one day Canadian backpackers are going to end up putting American flags on their bags 😐 haha

    I guess all that we can do in the mean time is support those countries that are being affected, and hope for the best!

    Great post, btw :]

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s been happening for years, decades, no one blames Canadians. Maybe that is the problem. If we were given pressure to change maybe we would?

  24. Kristijan says:

    I like and have shared your post on David Suzuki Facebook page.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh wow thank you so .much, David Suzuki is really such a hero for me

  25. Debbie Beardsley says:

    I don’t think anyone should hide from their nationality. No country is an innocent. Unfortunately, there are quite a few countries run by dictators that support evil and pocket the money. Politics is everywhere

    I think traveling opens our eyes and hearts! This is why I think everyone should travel. Only by learning can we hope to change anything and we can’t rely on our news media to actually report so we must go out and get our own information.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I agree I have met lots of really wonderful Americans who are so shy. The world needs to understand that there are great people, and assholes, everywhere!

  26. kara rane says:

    it is the seperateness that is the problem. Truly we are all one. If one suffers by the control and greed of another we all suffer. Together as a united world nation of compassion and eco-love…it is the way.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      So true Kara!

  27. Hi Ayngelina,

    You know I was never able to relate to this because I always traveled as an Indian citizen until recently and in most places (except perhaps the west) we get treated nicely. Now that I travel as a Canadian, I can clearly see a different attitude in the way people treat north Americans. Its kinda mysterious but I can certainly appreciate what you are saying. 🙂

    As long as we keep shopping from places like walmart and try to get cheaper bargains, the supply chain is going to suffer at some point, (un)fortunately you saw one of those places but most people are oblivious…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have always been welcomed as a Canadian and the man wasn’t mean to be at all but I realized that we need to start paying more for things, we’re ruining other people’s home.

  28. Cathy Sweeney says:

    Interesting post, Ayngelina. As a proud American, I get it.

    You may have answered this in the comments — haven’t had a chance to read them. How did the man react when you told him you were Canadian? Just curious.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Honestly I was so ashamed I told him but launched into a diatribe (best that I could in Spanish) that I had no idea and neither did Canadians and I would tell everyone I knew.

  29. Those photos are really disturbing, many governments are involved in destroying the planet, and as much allow them to.
    I’m not sure they realize they live in the same planet they are contributing to kill.
    To be honest, I think also our lifestyle is not really planet-friendly, only the other day I was considering how much waste we produce, instead of starting recycling in our houses just by re-using things until they are not usable anymore.
    This is a very serious issue, I think we can all do something, both within our household and outside raising awareness against those greedy companies committed to ruin places like that one in Chile for nobody’s sake.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It was really disturbing to view the photos and think how terrible this is, who is doing this?? and then realize that it was a company from my country, the country that is supposed to be more progressive.

  30. Yeah, it’s depressing to think of the huge price we are paying for capitalism. Future generations are going to look back at us and think we were barbarians.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      If we have future generations, at this point I hate to say it but we´re really screwing up this planet.

  31. Daniel Roy says:

    I like to say I’m Canadian too, and it’s nice where you’re in a country where we’re generally thought of as the ‘good guys.’ It was fun being told 1,000 times about Normand Bethune while living in China, for sure.

    But in some ways we are doing worse than our American neighbors. They have to live openly with the issues their country have created. While we are more or less allowed to wallow in our own myth of ‘the world’s gay friend’ who does no harm.

    But the harm’s there… Whether abroad or at home. Canadian mining companies are notorious. They’re in Africa as well, where they rape the environment without restraint. Then there’s Quebec selling asbestos to India even though the province outlawed it for domestic use. (I’m from Quebec btw.) Let’s not forget we’re part of the international occupation of Afghanistan.

    And at home? Well, go walk in a Native American reservation and see how you feel about Canada’s illustrious history. Visit the tailing ponds of tarsands exploitation in Alberta.

    Yeah… We hide our sins pretty well. I’ve decided to no longer wear a Canadian flag, not because I’m ashamed of my country, but because I figure, hey, if people mistake me for an American and give me a hard time, let them. I deserve some of the blame too.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It´s such a tough thing. In so many ways I think we get it right, but I´m starting to see all the ways we´re dong it wrong.

  32. It’s sad what corporations are doing to our world. Though some of the companies are Canadian, I wouldn’t go as far as being embarrassed to be Canadian. Its big multi-national corporations and greed that is to blame, not the citizens of Canada.

    I would be willing to bet many Chilean politicians and CEO’s also got fat wallets out of the deal. Energy corporations are the root of most environmental disasters these days. This is much more than a Canadian embarrassment, it is a global embarrassment that has no passport.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      True it´s not me doing it but people and corporations that represent our country. It was really such an awful experience.

  33. Here’s the other side of the coin.

    I have no doubt that there has been some environmental degradation & in fact there are very few mines on the planet where that hasn’t happened. That doesn’t mean that after the lifetime of a mine that the land isn’t rehabilitated & yes people that is possible.

    I am pro environment but I am also pro “let’s get the facts from both sides of the argument.” And unfortunately I know of many instances where environmentalists presented facts that were not the real thing or that were taken out of context. Speak to Barrick & then you can decide if you still want to be embarrassed to be a Canadian. They actually have a very good reputation overseas – and mining companies in Canada do generally try hard – and harder than most best to do the right thing.

    There is another reality which has been addressed in the comments & that is our desire for material things – & especially electronics. Do you know what minerals go into them & how they are mined? Do you know what happens to them afterwards? We are all part of the problem…and part of the solution. All I ask is that people get cold hard objective facts from both sides before making a final decision. That takes effort & that isn’t often done.

    You’ve got people talking Ayngelina & that’s a very good thing.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Leigh

      I just read an update that Chile is investigate Barrick on a number of issues, apparently what they said they were doing and what they actually did are two different things.

  34. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    Wow, I had goosebumps when I read this! You always have to remember that there are good and bad sides to EVERY country. The US has done some unforgivable and horrendous things, but I’ll always be a proud American, but we’ve also done some extraordinary things and those are the things that I like to embrace and focus on.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Good for you, it was so startling because I´ve never encountered any negativity. I love that I´m Canadian but now not entirely proud.

  35. Justin Hamlin says:

    I understand where you are coming from. When traveling in France, it was almost easier to speak to them in Spanish, or tell them you were Canadian, rather than speaking English or telling them you were American.

    I find it really sad that America, this great melting pot of cultures, who has done so many great things, gets remembered for their transgressions.

    As Andi (above me) said, I am a proud American, always will be, but it is such an interesting social experiment to see how other cultures treat Americans.

    (okay, that comment came out weird, to me, but hope you understand what I was getting at)

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I got it 🙂 and I´m not sure Í would want to see the results!

  36. I ran into something similar in Mexico. The locals told me that for hundreds of years they’d had clear, clean mountain spring water flowing into their city.

    A Canadian company bought the rights to the water and the mountain (which was a sacred mountain!). They not only stopped the water supply (and sold the water, bottled to the locals (!)) they were destroying the mountain to get to minerals.

    I knew that no government is innocent, and despite what Canadians might like to think, we really are no better.

    Knowing that it was a Canadian company to blame for the local children not having clean water to drink or even play in, truly broke my heart. I felt like a lost yet another piece of innocence that day, sadly it’s an awakening I’ll never forget.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It´s definitely one thing to know in the back of your head that your country is just as bad but to see it is really disheartening.

  37. Interesting to consider… the former owner of the North Face brand owns 2 million acres of private nature reserve called Parque Pumalin in the Chilean and Argentine Patagonia and plans to keep it a nature reserve. Still a controversy because he’s American and has taken the possibility of nature conservation out of the hands of the locals. Raises a lot of questions. Why would the govt. sell millions of acres of their land to a foreign businessman? Could locals do it better? Would they have funding to do it better? Unfortunately what happens between big business and politicians of any nationality is beyond the grasp of locals and harmless travelers, despite their country of origin.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Have you seen the documentary 180 South, part of it talks about this founder and his mission to protect the land against the government. Really interesting movement called Sin Represas happening there.

  38. To add, as a novice American traveler I’d been conditioned to go abroad apologizing for my country and its excesses and bad deeds. But travel broadens the mind in a way that recognizes that all countries are capable of abuses and brutalities, that the U.S. is not the first, nor will it be the last. You learn to recognize both the good and bad about your country and appreciate people as individuals rather than as a punching bag or spokesperson for their country’s government. In any case, after many trips I’d say I’m much more proud to be American than I was before I traveled.

  39. It is things like this that made is so hard to be in Hiroshima. While people were so forgiving and nice, we had to walk around viewing the deformities that are still happening today. I’ve never seen so many people missing feet and hands in my life. It is a guilt that has lasted generations.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh wow, on its own I can imagine that would be awful. I know I had a really hard time in Cambodia with it.

  40. Wow great post Ayngelina. I just started traveling internationally and so far I can tell you I have not once lied about where I am from. I am proud to be an American and say it with grace. I do however understand the resentment held against my country for many reasons & well it’s something we have no control over. All we can do is be the best Canadian or American and show people we are not all like that. In the end I think us travelers are the frontline image for our country.

    I also find it funny though that when I say I am American the next question is “but why do you speak perfect spanish?” I have to answer with both of my parents are Mexican and then as soon as I say that they start saying so many wonderful things about Mexico. It makes me gleam with pride because back home Mexico is getting such a bad rap because of the drug war going on.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Okay I have to give Americans shit for this one. I took French in school and when I went to France I could speak French. I have met tons of really lovely Americans who don’t speak Spanish yet they took it in school – what is up with that?

      1. Nick Laborde says:

        That’s the difference between learning it and living it.

        Besides, they don’t really teach you a whole lot of practical stuff in school anyway. That’s a whole different rant for another day 😉

        1. Claire (Travel Funny Travel Light) says:

          HEY. I teach school. I try to be practical and more importantly…relevant. For me, that’s the key. If I can’t really relate it to their lives somehow, some way, it doesn’t get taught. Ha. Don’t tell.

      2. Americans have to be the worst, along with Australians, at language in the world – I have noticed on European CVs – if they say they speak a language at a beginner level, they speak what an American would call
        expert; and if an American puts a language on their CV, they claim as fluent or advanced what a European wouldn’t even BOTHER to put on their CV

  41. I enjoyed this post, not for what it is about but because it’s nice to have something to relate too. Your post was actually the topic of conversation among my friends and I the other day.

    In Florence I work with American study abroad students and they (and all Americans) get A LOT of shit. Much of it is justified, they are annoying and most of them couldn’t care less about the culture. But it still bothers me as an American. Italians are always quite surprised when I speak the language and shower me in compliments that I probably don’t deserve.

    My point in saying that is that Americans get a lot of shit when traveling for a lot of things. Political and social actions. Some of it’s true but even when other countries get shit for social things (like British stag parties for example) it doesn’t seem as mean. I think that politically America stands out because the government is loud about its actions. The government is big-headed and wants to be the fixer of the world’s problems, usually just causing more. I think it gets talked about more often, also as Americans we notice more because it’s personal.

    I know that went a bit off topic but that’s my two cents. I wish that no one, no matter where they came from had to deal with these stereotypes. As others have said, judgments should only be made on who that person you have in front of you is, not any stereotypes of who they might be.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Europeans LOVE to pick on Americans.

      There are loud, obnoxious, terrible travelers in every country. And truth be told if I had to pick the worst travelers by my experience, it wouldn’t be Americans.

  42. I am a Canadian myself traveling in South America so I feel like jumping into the fray as it were.

    While I agree with 99% of what you said, there’s one thing I just don’t, and can’t, agree with. Being ashamed to be Canadian. Yes, it is deplorable what this company, and others like it, are doing in other countries but we must step back a bit and look at it from a wider angle.

    This is a company first off. It is not the Government of Canada and the GoC does not hold shares(I don’t think) or a deciding vote in the running of this business. As much as I wish I could say “Damn you Harper!!! Look what you’ve done!!” I can’t. The only place in Canada, that I can think of, that one can blame a government on the direct actions of a company is Saskatchewan(my home province) where the majority of resource development and services are fully government owned. The government is the sole shareholder. We’ll ignore that whole experiment in democratic socialism for another time.

    What we would be getting into here, if we want to lay some blame on the Government of Canada, and therefore Canada itself, is jurisdictional problems. When dealing with a multi-national corporation like this one headquartered in Canada, how much regulation can our government put on it that would not infringe upon other states sovereignty. In that matter, Chile’s government is much more at fault for being so lax on regulating foreign companies within their home country. Kudos to the government there though for taking the initiative to investigate though.

    One of the more interesting facts around these issues is the companies nationality is only ever a big deal during negative news. You hear barely a whimper if a company is doing good work. I’d be slightly curious as to whether regular people(those not studying local economics and such) could tell you where the headquarters of the other companies in the area that aren’t in such hot water.

    Getting mad at someone, or having negative feelings, for something their government is doing is one thing(unless they’re not a full democracy, in which case they had no choice) as it’s something that can be changed. A government is the ultimate representative of a country to the world. A company that just happens to be headquartered in Canada starts to move a bit too far from the “blame the entire country” category.

    As travelers, we have an unimaginable opportunity before us to create both positive and negative perceptions of who we are as citizens of our respective countries. While my above rant on placing blame(and feeling ashamed) for the right reasons and on the right people is logically correct, it’s not plausible. People in general like to . . . generalize. I swear I didn’t mean that sentence to turn out like that. Media likes to help those along(CANADIAN COMPANY DESTROYING LOCAL ENVIRONMENT . . . as opposed to MINING COMPANY DESTROYING LOCAL ENVIRONMENT).

    As unofficial ambassadors, I think you and I need not be ashamed of our country. When we see things like this, of companies from Canada doing such deplorable acts, we need to be loud and clear. This is not us. I’m not ashamed of Canada. I’m furious/angry/pissed off that there’s people from where I live doing this.

    And that goes for anyone, from any country. Always be proud of your country as there’s always something to be proud of. But being proud does not mean you let your country skirt by on issues. Look what we’ve done right(proud of that) and look what we need to fix(I love my country enough to point these out and do my best to change things for the better).

    Sometimes it’s nice to be knocked out of our little cloud of superiority. We’ve had years with the Bush Administration that anything we did paled in comparison. We could do no wrong, or at least not as wrong as him. The honeymoon is over. We’re no angels. No one is.

    Don’t be ashamed.

    Stand up. Take the direction the country moves into your own hands. As a democracy we have that ability. Fight to improve it. Continue being the wonderful ambassador you are. Implore your government to impose regulations on companies that insist on working as though they are above the law. Implore the companies to be champions of sustainable and responsible development.

    I am not ashamed to be Canadian. I’m as proud as they come, and like hell am I going to let some company tarnish it.

    And with this blog post, Ayngelina, you are doing just that. Get the word out. Perhaps we’ll see changes made because of this. Thank you.


    ps. I’m going to forward this to some friends in the News Radio industry.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Wow Corey what a thoughtful reply. In so many ways you are right, it’s not my government but a company within the country. And I don’t have to like it.

      I just wish it weren’t happening.

  43. This is really interesting and I struggle with similar situations while traveling.

    I’m American and have found we go out of our way to be humble, accommodating, and remember we are guests in someone else’s home country.

    There have been times, incidentally, that I’ve said I was Canadian instead of American! 🙂

    We’re going to Chile this summer, I’ll be especially mindful there could be some resistance to being American.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Chile is wonderful and probably the most welcoming to the US that I have traveled in. And honestly even when I said I was Canadian the guy didn’t say a peep and just listened. I guess he knows that the issue is all too complicated and I’m not personally causing the problem.

  44. I’m in no way applauding certain actions you mentioned of the mining companies, but I wonder how many Chilean families were able to clothe and feed themselves thanks to the jobs these companies created.

    There are good and bad sides to everything. Give and take. Yin and Yang.

    You are not the company CEO or decision maker. You can disagree with their actions, but never be ashamed from where you came. Anyway, you should probably be more embarrassed of the retired Canadian snowbirds who come down to Florida and steal the condiments and salt shakers from all the restaurants. 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Chris I definitely agree there is a balance and the mines do give jobs, but some are also poisoning the communities they live in and forcing the indigenous to relocate so we can have copper in our televisions.

  45. It’s interesting, isn’t it? No matter where you are from in the developed West, your nation is going to be screwing up some developing country or other and raping their resources. Australia, interestingly, is doing some terrible things here in Indonesia.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The more I read the more I find out we’re doing terrible things everywhere.

  46. Hi Ayngelina! This is my first time visiting your lovely blog. I’m glad to come across posts written like this because I think it’s really easy for people in many countries to default to the “well, we’re not as bad as the US” syndrome without even realising that problems have been caused by people from all countries (although they are less publicised if they are non-US). It gives us a false sense of superiority. This is not only important for the residents of the country in question, but also to people looking in from the outside. You can often be seen as guilty until proven innocent as an American abroad but if you come from certain other countries this never happens. I live both realities as a US/New Zealand dual national and I can tell you which one it is easier to travel as, yet I am still the same (hopefully good)person no matter which passport I flash. I think it is a good lesson for all of us (I include myself here) to think about how we assume people to fit into a specific role based on our stereotypes of their nationality. Isn’t that the openmindedness we, as travellers, constantly tell people that we have?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      We definitely get away with a lot being next to the US and when people pick on Americans, we laugh too (sorry guys).

  47. Lorna - the roamantics says:

    wow! had no idea, and as a first generation united statesian i always felt like my parents country (canada) was innocent of any of the bullshit the states would be involved with. awesome that you’re willing to shed an unflattering light on it in an effort to expose an injustice.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I too like to pretend that we are so pristine, but then again I grew up in the same province with the tar ponds.

  48. Globetrottergirls says:

    Interesting post and the comment discussion too! I have to say that I have never once lived in the U.S. during the Bush or Obama administration, and the change of people’s perceptions of me as an American were more than palpable. Especially following Obama’s election, I never received more ‘love’ for being American. But in reality, my country and yours are filled with super people, so nice and caring and no different than people in other countries. I think we can all be proud of the good in our countries and vocal about what we see as ‘wrong’ or ‘unjust’.

    The ‘nation of greed’ was mentioned before, and I think that’s the difference. Economics vs. National Identity. Money has no borders and a whole lot of power. That’s where things get tricky. The best thing you can do is speak up in times like this and make yourself heard.

    Can’t wait to meet even more Canadians very soon with you!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      So true, I’ve just been lucky and never had to deal with it before.

  49. A.) I didn’t know you were Canadian. You like mexican food way too much. 🙂

    B.)I’ve felt this same way- several times before… and actually recently I read a post about how these baby seals were being clubbed to death in Canada and I felt ashamed- even though I’m not Canadian- I felt like a collective we shouldn’t be taking part in harming animals in that way.

    For me, the first step is just recognizing the situation and figuring out how I can help- no matter the situation.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I started my trip in Mexico, honestly all I did there was eat!

      Oh yeah the baby seal thing! I totally forgot I was embarrassed about that as well. Maybe we should start a list…

  50. its sad what industries do to communities and environments

  51. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ says:

    Shame on my homeland. I was in Vietnam at the cu chi tunnels and watched the video which started the tour, bashing Americans and praising Vietnamese who killed them. I guess people assumed I was American as well. Through the video people kept looking back at me, dirty looks or interest to see my reaction to it.
    Ignorance is bliss. People are people and if you have a beef with gov’t of a nation, don’t take it out on the citizens or make the assumption they stand for what that gov’t does. I know it’s hard to not make judgements. I was going to use an example that when I meet Germans I don’t think ‘Hitler’. Alas, I do think of sausages and beer haha. So I guess I may be no better? but I try to make my own opinions…

  52. I felt horrified just reading this. I’m from Alberta, land of the oil and gas, and it’s a disgrace how unenvironmental our country can be when it comes to mining, logging and oil and gas.

  53. Fearful Girl says:

    At least the only thing you have to be embarrassed by is a bit of nasty environmental damage. I have to be embarrassed by my Australian countrymen getting drunk, and then running around half clothed and rowdy in countries all over the world. I can’t even blame that on a company.

    Good thing I have a US passport too.

  54. Cornelius Aesop says:

    Just think of yourself as a global advocate.

  55. This is the first time I have heard of a Canadian being embarrassed to be one. I cannot really relate to what you and Americans go through because I encounter a whole set of different issues when I travel as a Filipino. However, I do see similar things happen in my country where large multinational companies come in and exploit our natural resources. Honestly, I don’t take it against citizens of whatever country said company belongs to. I’m often more upset with our corrupt government for robbing us of these resources. It’s really a vicious cycle and I hate to be a pessimist but I hardly see an end in sight.

  56. If people judge me for being American, I judge them for being judgy.

    Although, yes, we do have a responsibility to write our senators and push our governments to end things like destructive mining. But, as a whole, the government is not the people and the people are not the government.

  57. Good you are spreading this kind of information. As far as the being American/Canadian etc thing – the main thing as travelers, I think, is to both always remember that people are not their country, and, if you are American or Canadian or British or whatever, to let the rest of the world know there are caring, compassionate people in the ‘west’, and we don’t always, or even usually, agree with our governments, their past history in the region, or their current actions.

  58. It’s pretty eye opening to travel around the world and see how the rest of the world perceives you. Regardless of your political affiliations, you are judged usually by the worst examples in your country. It’s a shame.

    Fortunately, everyday we have the opportunity to prove to others that the countries we come from don’t churn out robots that are all the same. Even though they may be pissed at that mining company and a lot of Canadians, you have the power to show them one warm, compassionate and awesome Canadian who actually does care about their land.
    And that is one thing they will go home and talk about.

  59. Jen Laceda says:

    Huh, this is quite disturbing. Not a proud moment as a Canadian 🙁

  60. As a Chinese Canadian I’d never thought of feeling embarrassed either as a Chinese or a Canadian. After all, what exactly can we do about it in a flawed political system? But I think spreading the words is something we should do. Thanks for sharing!

  61. Pingback: Travel Writing Round Up [April 2011] « Caroline in the City
  62. Chuck Kuhn says:

    I’ve photographed Vietnam n 2005 &06/ My friends at the Hanoi photo club (over 200) were amazing. Never once did I feel being American was wrong. It’s the people who embraced me for weeks. In Sapa, I remember having Vietnam coffee and a couple from Belgium asked how the Vietnamese people treated me, since I was American. It’s the only comment anyone has made to me about being from the USA. They treat me like family was my comment. Visiting the Vietnam War Museum in HCMC blew me away. The innocence people & War Remnants from the Vietnam point of view. I’m of who I’m, not proud of any country that invades others for WAR. Bush/Iraq, Johnson/Vietnam you get the drift. I will have a photo gallery in 2 weeks about this Museum.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Chuck great stuff on your site, really interesting to hear perspective from an American in Vietnam. Since the day I’ve talked to others about Barrick Gold but you’re right they would never say anything unless I brought it up and don’t blame me personally.

  63. I never thought it can be embarrassed for Canadians in any country.

  64. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures says:

    As an American that has been to Laos and Vietnam, two countries that my government totally ravaged, I can speak to that awkward and embarrasing feeling you describe. Neither country has hostility, but there are some real awkward moments…

    I think what touched me most poignantly was the choice of wording at the Lao National Museum in Vietntiane, where the French were described as “Colonists” and the Americans were described as “Imperialists.”

    And you certainly are correct that nobody seems to know about Canada’s dirty laundry…

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