You can take the Canadian flag off your backpack

YOU CAN TAKE THE CANADIAN FLAG OFF YOUR BACKPACK…. It’s probably best to wait until there’s reliable data to start making any meaningful conclusions — the next PIPA study should be interesting — but this report about American popularity overseas is encouraging.

From Jakarta to Johannesburg, Americans who travel or live abroad are finding that instead of being scolded about the Iraq war, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or U.S. climate change policy, they are being hugged when strangers hear their accent.

Now, I do find that a little hard to believe. Americans are being hugged? C’mon. I recall a Saturday Night Live bit with Al Gore a couple of years ago in which he joked, in a fictional reality in which he’d taken office in 2000, that the United States had become so popular that “American tourists can’t even go over to Europe anymore without getting hugged.” Are you telling me this has actually happened?

Hug skepticism notwithstanding, if the anecdotal evidence is right, I’m glad Americans abroad don’t need to feel embarrassed anymore by their association to the Bush administration.

Many Americans interviewed in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe said that for years they have felt “targeted” by critics of U.S. policies. They said they often did not volunteer that they were American, and several said they even dropped the word “Ottawa” into conversations to try to avoid confrontations.

Now, even in countries such as Japan and Australia, where Americans were generally not taken to task over Bush policies as they were in Europe, Americans interviewed said they suddenly have new cachet. Some compared the feeling to the heady days after the fall of communism. […]

David St. Onge, 57, a John McCain supporter who works in the pharmaceutical industry and was in Moscow this week, said he has noticed a change in how his Russian clients treat him.

“They seemed to think better of Americans because we elected a black man as president,” he said as he walked through Red Square. “They think we’re more enlightened now.”

Andrew Leik, 40, an architect from Michigan living in Cologne, Germany, said that along with “it definitely being much easier now to be an American” overseas, he has noticed that German friends who had refused even to visit the United States are planning vacations there.

In France, Rick Parks, 64, a retired New York City public school teacher, said he has noticed gestures of friendship and “definitely a change in attitude” toward the United States. Gone are the days when relations with France were so testy that french fries were briefly renamed “freedom fries” in U.S. House cafeterias.

Parks said North African souvenir merchants at the landmark Sacre Coeur basilica in Paris smiled at him and hailed Obama’s election as a victory for them all, saying: “You are our people.”

A teacher from New York who lives in Prague said she no longer hesitates to tell people she is American. “Thank God! It feels better,” she said. “The people I work with give me high-fives and say things like ‘You can be proud to be from your country again.’ ”