Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Are Canadians really quintessentially nice?

It is always interesting to read outsiders' views on Canada. A recent article on BBC Travel investigates the commonplace, and I had thought specious, characterization of Canada and its people as quintessentially "nice".
This incorporates politeness, humility and, all too often, fecklessness. But, to a visitor from big, brash America, I can see that it would have a certain amount of charm. The article is replete with anecdotal evidence of our fabled Canadian niceness in action, from border guards to random acts of kindness to our excessive use of "hedge words" and apologies.
Some of it does ring quite true, and we often feel the lack of sincerity and politeness when we travel abroad, even if we also feel our own lack of it when we travel to other, even "nicer", places, such as some of the smaller Latin American countries, Iceland, Greece, etc. (Another article from a few years ago, in Forbes, purports to identify the world's rudest countries from a tourist's point of view, and points the finger at France, Russia, UK, Germany, China and USA.) But some of it - Canadian border guards and the supposed absence of road rage are two such examples - seems to me to be a product of its own mythology, and does not quite gel with our own on-the-ground experiences.
The article attempts to explain Canadian niceness in terms of a small population spread over a huge country trying to survive by getting along (this also seems spurious - in reality, almost our entire population is huddled together in a relatively small area within 100km of the US border), or as "fragments" of European colonial nations frozen in time (not sure I even understand that argument), or as some kind of a defence mechanism to cope with our inferiority complex (that sounds the most convincing).
Far be it from me to malign or disparage my adopted country, but I kind of feel that the articles lacks a little in objectivity, and suffers from the common error of generalizing from the specific. That said, in the most general terms, it is difficult to take issue with the Forbes/SkyScanner survey, which places Canada firmly at the "nice" end of the scale, along with the likes of Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, Portugal, Thailand, Philippines, the Caribbean and Brazil.

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