Friendship Pins and International Diplomacy

A different type of ‘travel tale’ this time, not so much about the travelling, but more about our attempts and successes at International Diplomacy over the years.  During our many years of travelling, we’ve always shown a lot of respect for other countries, their culture and especially their flag.  One way we show this respect is to wear ‘friendship pins’ whenever we visit a country.  These little pins are  lapel pins with crossed flags of Canada and whatever country we’re visiting.  Such a small thing, but we have always been surprised at how much these pins are appreciated, either with us wearing them, or sometimes we give them to our host, or some other person who has shown us kindness.

It all started when I was in the environmental business and I was training some Chinese engineers from Beijing and Shanghai.  They spoke very little English, they all spoke Mandarin and the ones from Shanghai also spoke Shanghainese.  Towards the end of the course, after several hours at home memorizing their names and greetings in Mandarin, I presented each of them with a friendship pin with the Canadian and Chinese flag on them.  Wow! What a reaction!  Large grins broke out on faces that hadn’t cracked a smile the entire time of the course.  They were absolutely thrilled, and in response, the next day they presented me with some small gifts for both myself and my wife, Diana, who they had never met.

It’s always fun when somebody asks us “where are you from?”  So we often reply by just showing our lapel pin, with the two crossed flags.  They immediately recognize their own flag, and most of the time they also recognize the Canadian flag, which is well known around the world. 

I must relate a humorous event that happened on one of our trips . . . this time in a little village up the valley from Merano in the South Tirol province of Italy.  We were doing a little shopping in a tourist shop for souvenirs for our new grandchildren at the time.  The clerk in the store happened to notice our pins, and commented “Oh, you’ve been to Italy?”   Dahh . . . what?  At first we thought he was kidding, but we replied “We’re in Italy now, aren’t we?”  Embarrassed, the clerk admitted we were right, and said something like “Well, of course, I just wasn’t thinking straight . . .”  This illustrated to us the divisive nature of the culture, citizenship and language of the people of the South Tirol.  Although it is bilingual area, part of Italy, there is still a lot of separatist sentiment, and there are many of the residents who feel they should still belong to Austria.  But that’s the subject of another tale.  We often laugh at this clerk’s response to our little pins, as it was so unexpected.

Friendship pins from Author Ian Kent
A few of my Friendship Pins

Another little act of diplomacy which I encourage all travellers to do, is to learn a little of your host country’s language.  I’m not suggesting taking a full language course, but just learn some of the basics to show respect of their country.  First, the greetings . . . Hello, or Good Morning, Please, Thank You, Yes, No . . . a few things like that.  I know, I’ve said this before, but you would be surprised at how much leverage you can get out of a few words or short phrases.  Don’t worry too much about how you are pronouncing it, the fact that you are trying makes the impression, not how skillful you are.  Google or many other apps can help with this, and even sound out the pronunciation.

The third act of diplomacy and kindness we do is to bring along some tourist information, photo books, about Canada, or specifically the city or province where you live.  We have found that Canadian Geographic, and Beautiful BC magazines are big hits, and we have even have had people give us similar publications from their area.  They are proud of where they live, and you should be too.  It gives them something to think about when planning their vacation!

Again, as you travel to another person’s country and enjoy their sights, food, culture and hospitality, please remember to show some respect and gratitude for this privilege.

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2 thoughts on “Friendship Pins and International Diplomacy

  1. This was interesting Ian, I’ve sent it on to Les, Sue and Wilma!


    PS Will call soon to arrange a get together for lunch now that things are opening up a bit.



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