Fact Check

Guilty American Motorists

Canadian police stop malfunctioning vehicle; American occupants immediately assume 'about to be frisked' position.

Published Jan 31, 2006

 (Chris Brown/Flickr)
Image Via Chris Brown/Flickr
When Canadian police stop a malfunctioning vehicle, the American occupants immediately assume an "about to be frisked" position.

As folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand notes, the above-quoted legend has been part of the canon of contemporary lore since at least the mid-1980s. It is an unusual offering in that it serves as an expression of a not uncommon view Canadians hold of the U.S. as a crime-riddled country.

There are two slightly different interpretations of the legend, depending upon how one reads the story. If one assumes the car's four occupants are bad guys engaged in an unspecified form of illegal activity at the time of their vehicle's being stopped for having a malfunctioning tail light, the story becomes one of a display of guilt revealing the actual nature of things — the Canadian lawman is twigged to these guys' being up to something nefarious by their instinctively assuming the "spread your legs and grab the paint job" stance. The bemused Mountie thereby nets himself a fine catch of American bad guys purely by happenstance.

Alternatively, if one assumes the four men in the car hadn't been up to anything untoward, the story becomes a comment on conditions in the U.S., where crime (according to widespread belief in Canada) runs rampant. Under this interpretation, the four men automatically position themselves to be searched not because they are lawbreakers, but because they are used to dealing with American police — who themselves supposedly have to deal with so many criminals (and so few law-abiding citizens) that they now save time by figuring everyone they stop is a rotter.



Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!     New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 112-113).

Brunvand, Jan Harold.   "Humor Emerges Along Highway of Cars-Crime Sagas."     The San Diego Union-Tribune.   5 November 1987   (p. D2).

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