4 Aug 2013

Nice

Stereotypes make for good conversation. So good, in fact, that my goddaughter, who is spending a few weeks in Montréal to brush up on her French, is discussing them at lenght in her language school classes. The appropriately cosmopolitan make-up of her class is certainly helping, although from what I hear the cornucopia of accents is not.

Unsurprisingly, the Swiss are perceived as rich, on time and precise, and the Americans as overweight and monolingual (fittingly, no Yankee is in the class to defend his country's glory).

And how do the students perceive their hosts? As nice. Extremely, persistently, overwhelmingly nice. That, and addicted to the delights of Tim Hortons (a trait my goddaughter quickly assimilated). All of which the teachers were undoubtedly pleased to hear, for it is in line with how Canucks tend to see themselves.

Are these perceptions just clichés, then? Or is there something to them? As if on cue, a wonderful story from out west made the news last week: In just a few days, Canadians had bought over 5'500 cups of Tim Hortons' finest for strangers - just because. My teenage guest could not stop laughing when she heard of it, so poignantly had coffee addiction and niceness been combined in these random acts of kindness. Even yours truly was touched (although he tend to think that a cup of Timmy's is more a curse than a blessing).

And if this had not been evidence enough, we put Canadian politeness to the test at Kingston's Royal Military College last weekend. On an evening stroll along the bay, we were attracted to it by the sound of marching bands, and while the road gate to the complex was closed, the pedestrian entrance to the side was wide open - and unattended. So we carried on walking, first through the grounds randomly dotted with decommissioned military hardware and eventually to a big square, where the college's band was rehearsing for the next day's tatoo at Fort Henry. Other recruits were in the stands watching, and so we simply sat down next to them and enjoyed the show. All the while, we were looked at with a mix of intrigue, apprehension, queasiness, and perhaps a dash of disbelief. Clearly, we were not really supposed to be there. But then again, the entrance had been open, and we seemed to appreciate the performance.

Could they have asked us to leave, possibly to return to the ticketed event the next day? Of course. But they didn't. Because they wore Canadian uniforms. And throwing someone out is simply not nice.

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