In addition to absolute essentials like passport and credit card, there is one thing that I always try to bring with me when I leave Canada. A Canadian five dollar bill.
No, it’s not a universally accepted currency, and no it is not some sort of Get Out of Jail Free card (Monopoly money and a Canadian $5 bill probably have about the same international bribe value). You see, I’m not an overly patriotic person, and I would much rather see a border or a wall come down than see someone celebrate that they are on one side or another. That said, I am very proud of two Canadian symbols/items, including our $5 bill. Why? Take a look at what is on one side:
That’s right, the Canadarm2, an astronaut, and SPACE!!!! It’s pretty rare that you see anything space or science related on currency, so I think this is pretty cool. Whenever people ask what Canadian money looks like, which has happened to me a surprising number of times, I show them that yes it has funny colours*, but it also has some science-y stuff on it.
Admittedly, it doesn’t have as much science as it could. Travis Purrington feels the same way about American money, which is why he redesigned all the bills to have science on them for his masters thesis. Check out his re-imagined $5 bill, with neurons on one side and agriculture on the other:
What a simple, beautiful way to sneak science into everyone’s pocket.
While we’re talking (okay, while I’m ranting) about science as a part of national identities: what is the deal with flags? If an alien had to piece together what the abundance and distribution of living species on Earth is like, lets hope they don’t have to base that understanding from what we put on our flags.
Of all of the flags with animals on them, there seem to be a lot of lions, at least 102. Some of those lions even have wings (note: not science). There are flags within Canada that have lions on them, and if you’re wondering, lions are not and never were one of the three wildcat species in Canada. There are at least 94 flags with birds of prey, many of which have two heads. Hell, there are almost as many flags with entirely mythical creatures (33) like unicorns and dragons as there are flags showing off plants in general (42).
Last time I checked, Unicorns and dragons were less common on Earth than fish, but our flags suggest otherwise. Also, I couldn’t even find a single flag with an insect, microbe, or a fungi on it. Maybe that doesn’t surprise you, but our fictional alien spectator would have no idea that microbes are make up the majority of life on earth (by weight and also just by sheer number). She would probably think that Earth was inhabited mostly by lions and eagles.
If I had a country, dont worry – this is also hypothetical, I would love to have a species on my country’s flag, but I would put some scientific thought into it. If leaf cutter ants were local, they would look sweet on my flag, otherwise in a more northern climate, I might chose a lichen. Both cases are really cool examples of symbiosis: different organisms and different species working together to achieve something neither could do on their own. I think that using this sort of symbolism would show the unity of a country more than one of lone predation (RE: eagles). Not saying my country could be communist, just saying that we would have a sweet flag.
No matter how good of a depiction of a lichen that flag would have, it would probably just end up in people asking what a lichen was. This is great! Perhaps those people would even learning something about biology! Objects can be science communication catalysts.
This brings things back around to one other Canadian symbol touch patriotic about. Did I mention I like plants? Wait, is that a leaf?
*In Canada, we spell color with a ‘u’, by the way.