The Worst Thing You Can Say to a Canadian

What is one of the most insulting things that you could say to a Canadian? No, it’s not pointing out that Nickelback sucks (we will agree) or asking if we ride a dog sled or have electricity in our igloos.

According to guidelines from the British National Tourism Agency, the worst offense you can commit when speaking to a Canuck is to mistake us for our neighbours from the south and ask us what part of the USA we are from.

These guidelines were created for the 2012 London Olympics and they were intended to instruct tourism staff on how best to communicate with the influx of travellers arriving from overseas. The workers were advised to avoid assuming that anyone with a North American accent is from the USA and to look for clues such as maple leaf badges or pins on backpacks and clothing. did a survey and found out that two thirds of Canadian respondents would be very offended if they were mistaken for American. I can verify that this is true, as I have listened to international conversations in hostels all over the world and whenever this mistaken identity occurs it is always slightly awkward for everyone involved.

I personally don’t understand it. In my travels I’ve been mistaken for an American many times and whenever I make the correction and mention I’m from Canada, the person I am speaking to will always apologise profusely as if they have deeply insulted me. It’s an odd moment, until I reassure them that I am not offended at all.

When someone says to me, “So, what part of the States are you from?” I never fly off the handle with them, nor go into a long rant. I simply smile and say, “I’m from Canada” and then carry on the conversation.

Why? Because there is no need to be insulted, my fellow Canadians! Even though we take great pains to let everyone know how different from Americans we are, like pretending not to be related to your embarrassing sibling on the first day of school, we are actually quite similar at first glance.


We’re More Similar than You Think

When someone from another country meets you, they see a person who is speaking English with a North American accent, which is perhaps an accent that they are unfamiliar with. I’m sure you can tell the difference between a Torontonian and a New Yorker or a Californian and a Vancouverite based on subtle variations in accent, but to people from the other side of the world we all sound exactly the same.

To put it another way, could you tell the difference between an Aussie and a Kiwi accent at first listen? If you heard people speaking German, would you be able to tell whether they were from Austria or Germany? Unless you have spent time there yourself, you would be likely to get it wrong.

“So…” you might say, “If people can’t tell, then they shouldn’t guess!”

Who cares? What’s the big deal? It is important to understand that these people aren’t trying to be insulting; they are simply trying to start a conversation with you and find out more about where you are from. Some people will ask and others will be bold and hazard a guess. When you get angry at them for their mistake, they will be embarrassed and taken aback… even though they didn’t do anything wrong.

Also, when Canadians get super offended by being called American, it makes us look pretty hostile and prejudiced against Americans. Why is it so insulting to be merely mistaken for a Yank? Sure, our southerly neighbours have their flaws as a nation, but it’s unfair to characterise all Americans in a bad light. Every country in the world contains a fair mix of jerks and wonderful people – the USA is no exception.

Dealing With Misinformed Questions about Our Home and Native Land

When you travel outside of Canada, you will get all sorts of misinformed and confused questions about it. To most people, our country is a vast and mysterious frozen wilderness associated with moose, Niagara Falls and Justin Bieber. When people from other countries meet you they will very likely ask stupid questions about Canada, which is totally fine.

Countless people will tell you that they have relatives in Toronto, even if you are from Vancouver which is practically the entire length of Europe away. Don’t give them a condescending geography lesson right off the bat; they are only trying to connect with you.

When people ask you if it snows all year round, if you have seen a bear, or if you speak French, don’t roll your eyes and give a snarky answer. They are just trying to verify the image that they have of our country and gain an understanding of what it is like to live in.

So Canadian travellers, the next time someone mistakes you for an American don’t flip your lid. Instead, take the time to talk to people, answer their questions and tell them about your life in Canada. Help them learn about your culture and then ask them some questions about theirs. After all, isn’t that what travel is all about?

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. i think this post is brilliant. i constantly get asked by people internationally why canadians are so hostile and hateful towards americans. and i just laugh and say, ‘canadians are amongst some of the nicest people ive ever met’, and people tell me they gain this assumption based on the way they get nasty after people assume they may be from the US. i agree that perhaps instead of getting nasty, just educate and talk about your land is the right approach! canada is great and any opportunity for a canadian to showcase country pride and not disgrace for someone assuming wrong is cool i think. very well written post!! <3 hope all is well with you two!

  2. You think it’s bad to be accused of being from the United States when you are from Canada? Try being American and being accused of being from the United states–LOL Theres nothing I can do, except apologize. Now I have a better idea. I will lie and say I am from Canada.

  3. As an ignorant Brit, I have made this mistake many times. I found Canadians were never bothered, and actually quite proud to say they are from Canada.

    I tested the opposite out by calling Americans Canadian and the results were very different. Most of the Americans I spoke to looked at me like I was calling them a different species, and the conversation ended abruptly.

    Bare in mind I only tried it about 4 times though.

    There is a similar issue with Scottish and English people, but I don’t see how they could ever be confused. I’m sure you guys think the same! I would never be offended if someone asked what part of Scotland I was from, but everyone is different.

    Great post by the way!

  4. As a French Canadian everyone is puzzled by my accent and when I say I’m Canadian people don’t believe me… Actually many people think I’m from Scotland.

  5. I’m Hungarian-Canadian, and I seriously don’t get all the Canadians who’re offended when you call them American. I first came to Canada when I was 10, and there were two things I knew about Canada before that: (1) the Yukon territory’s located in Canada (because I’d already read Jack London’s books), and (2) there’s a French-speaking place in Canada called Quebec. Not much, is it?

    The more patriotic Canadians need to realize that Canada isn’t the center of the world. Instead, it is LIKE the center of the world because it’s so close. Even though I’m pretty Canadianised by now I really wouldn’t be able to tell who’s Canadian and who’s American. Canadians are often described as “polite Americans”. But I don’t think that’s true any longer, not when there are Canadians who’re so disgusted and shocked at being confused for American that they start fighting over it — not polite at all!

  6. Okay but someone wanted to call me American even though they were well informed that I was from Canada because we live on the continent of North America. I said you can call me North American if you would like but AMERICA is the short name for the United States of America where I do not live. Please don’t call me that, I’m either Canadian or North American, but they kept insisting and poking fun so I snapped and asked him how hard was it to be respectful of my wishes of not being called an American. You wouldn’t call someone from Mexico American either like respect where people say they are from or what would prefer to be addressed as. If it’s a mistake I honestly have no problem but he tried to dive in on why I didn’t want to be called that because it’s the continent and honestly I shouldn’t have to explain it if I asked not to be called something just respect that. I’m Canadian but I’m not a push over.

  7. It’s more than insulting when it’s done because of race. I always get told I’m “American” and now even in French, in France (in the North of France) because I’m black. And “Canada doesn’t have any blacks.” That’s racism. That’s why it’s more than insulting. I”m sick of it. Even IN FRENCH I can’t say anything without getting asked what my “origin” is and when I whip out the French birth certificate I get told I must be from “Etats-Unis.” Because “Americans” even speak French, asshole country? And this is in French. In the UK it was pretty much a constant daily occurrence for the 2 misspent years I put up with that. And as being born to an Irish father, I had the right to be there in the UK as here in France, and wound up on “the dole” because I could never get a job past this “North American accent” and being “black.”

    “Black” plus “North American accent” “must be American” is RACIST, world. And I’ve had enough of constant daily racism like that.

  8. I’m addicted to Block Blast! I can’t stop playing it. The game is so much fun, and I love the sense of accomplishment I get from beating each level.

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