I’m Not Nice… I’m Polite

Years ago my hubby and I had driven from Calgary down to San Diego. We took his car because it was so gas efficient. However, it was his baby and he hated to let me drive it. In fact, he hated when I drove anywhere. If he was in the car. Anyways, for some long forgotten reason I was driving. We were in a parking lot in Balboa Park and the gal in front of us was stopped. She was half turned from one aisle to another and I was sort of trapped behind her. All of a sudden her back up lights came on. It was like a slow motion scene from a movie as we watched her back into our car. I laid on the horn but she didn’t seem to hear it. Can you believe my husband was mad at me? Anyways, she got out of the car and as we looked at the damage together, she said “Wow, I just don’t understand how this happened.” I gently but firmly explained the situation to her. “You backed into my car!” Since we have a dash cam, which we neglected to tell her wasn’t on, she quickly exchanged information with us and we were soon on our way. During our chats, she was so happy to hear we were Canadian. She gushed about how nice we all are. I think she was mainly happy that we weren’t Americans intent on suing her. I was a little miffed about the whole affair and gave her my standard nice Canadian reply. “We aren’t nice. We are polite. There is a difference. When I get back in the car I am going to call you every name in the book.” She laughed thinking I was kidding but was I?

I was golfing once with an American fellow who had met a gal online. She was from one of the many small towns I lived in as a child and teen. He moved to Canada and thy were married. He offered me his viewpoint on the Canadian nice/polite angle. He believes we are more polite than Americans but that he found his countrymen to be friendlier. I guess it makes sense as Canadians embraced our history with Great Britain while the Americans were quick to cut all ties. The British are Polite to a fault. At least that is the stereotype but it is one they take great pride in upholding. It does make sense that Canada would follow suit in some way. I thought about his idea of friendliness. It is hard for me to speak to that from a countrywide view but personally I am really not that friendly. I speak to strangers all the time and I am quite kind and outgoing when chatting but the bottom line is I don’t invite many people into my life. Perhaps it is my personality type but I believe Canadians are big into sticking with their tight groups. It is comfort. I found it easy to fit in and make friends whenever we moved from one small town to another. But living close to a large city I saw that the attitude towards new kids moving from the city wasn’t quite as inclusive. There was always this suspicion and colder attitude towards the city kids. I have been a city “kid” now for 38 years and I don’t mesh with the small town people I knew from high school. I am however good friends with some who also moved to the city. We have somehow adopted the ways of city life. The rural and urban distrust is not unique though. It is a very real division throughout the world regardless of country. As for the American fellow, I believe he may have been subjected to a little anti-American rhetoric and if he was a transplanted Canadian he may have been exposed to a little more friendliness. There is a prejudice here as Americans are often stereotyped as loud and arrogant. Perhaps he was the unfriendly one.

As Canada is such a large country we do have many differences. Areas were settled at different times and by various groups. There is evidence that first nations peoples were here as long ago as three or four thousand years where they lived in harmony with the land. Even then there were differences. Mainly because of food sources. Some fished, others hunted and some grew crops. There were migratory groups as well as those who built more permanent communities. In time the Vikings are thought to have made an appearance and then in more modern times the British and French exerted their claims. We all know how that went. The big thing is the two official languages. Chinese workers originally came up the coast from California. As the west opened up Europeans came in search of land. The railway drew more immigrants and settlements. The populations in the Prairie provinces grew like never before until the thirties when the depression saw masses of people leaving. My fathers family who came to Calgary in 1928 went home to Denmark in 1934. Nowadays, and indeed since the 1970’s more and more people are arriving from Asian and African countries. Sadly, like anything else in the world there is a pride of “I was here first”. Unfortunately those who have this attitude forget they weren’t here first. Yet each group who arrived on our shores brought their own uniqueness which makes our country so diverse.

The folks from Newfoundland are said to be the friendliest in Canada. They are a unique breed whose geographical isolation made times tough for many years. They have accents and colloquial terms that are meshed from different historical influence. Though modern life has become easier they hold tightly and proudly to their roots. Anyone not from Newfoundland is referred to as coming “from away”. PEI is also unique with a history that was one of peaceful coexistence with the Mikmaq and the French, a brutal time of African slavery and also a nasty British takeover with bad results for the French. They are a sturdy lot. The summers are sweet but winters are brutal. Quebec has a unique archeological history showing life long before even the ancestors of the current indigenous peoples. The initial settlement by France continues to show its influence even with the eventual British rule. They are less apt to embrace the British stiff upper lip politeness yet truly live their “Frenchness”. Their reputation is often one of rudeness but personal experience showed me they are the most welcoming and friendly people. Quick to switch to English after my first stilted French question “Bonjour. Parlez-vous anglais?”. Acadia had French settlers as well. Acadia was the territory we know as the Maritimes. The folks known as the Acadians with the French heritage were in time tossed out and shipped off to various locales with some not so good consequences. That whole British and French hate has been around forever and continues even today. Nova Scotia once encompassed a huge territory including PEI, New Brunswick, Cape Breton and even part of Maine. Their “immigration” encompassed all the same nationalities and then came the Scottish. Eventually the Irish started to come and in time New Brunswick was a thing. While the Americans were pulling away from Mother England there were those still loyal to the King who were given free land here north of the border. Makes sense as we are still loyal to Elizabeth and her crew. Some aren’t but she is on all the money. In fact our flag is only 56 years old and earlier versions were all tied to the union jack in some way. Even after gaining their independence from England, the Americans to the south had issues with the Brits. Easier to fight them in Canada so that’s what they did. The first town they burned we let slide but the second wasn’t kosher so we hit back. So much war in the making of a country. Anyways, in time, after a few tries Quebec was split up into two areas and Ontario was formed and in 1867 we became one big dysfunctional family. What we call the prairie provinces were all once part of Ruperts land which was controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company and which they subsequently “sold” to the Queen who signed it over to Canada. Rupert’s land was pretty much everything that touched the Hudson’s bay except British Columbia, Alaska (who the Americans bought from Russia) and parts of some northern states. Eventually the 49th parallel became the border between Canada and the United States. Alberta is the most “American” of all provinces due in part to oil and the boom years. When the good times end it’s hard to come down in the world. Saskatchewan is like Alberta light. Oil, farming. Not the same level of prosperity but the same rural take care of your own mentality. The truest football fans you will ever find. British Columbia has had a more unique immigration as there was less of the spillover of people from the east. They are the province of the more hippiesque. Those who embrace the lifestyle of natural and slow down. I have a cabin there and you often hear about “Valley time”. Meaning it will get done when it gets done. People on the Islands both east and west call it Island time. When we had a cabin on the Siksika Reserve it was called native time. Whatever you call it the meaning is the same. Relax. We will get to it.

Throughout Canada there are pockets of immigrants from all corners of the world who arrived and settled in communities with people of similar origins. There is a comfort. For the most part each generation moves farther and farther from the roots of the “old” country. Some traditions are embraced as well as foods. In time we are meshed together regardless of original country, religion or race. Children are the quickest to assimilate. Growing up in an immigrant home is so different from being raised second or third generation. It is something I feel blessed to experience as I was exposed to “different” at a young age. I think it helped to develop an attitude of compassion and empathy towards others. Let me be very clear though, immigrant and refugee are two very different things and I could never imagine the life of a refugee. Yet both are what adds to the vibe I love. Diversity. Same same has never been popular with me.

I believe over time people come to reflect the attitudes of their surroundings and the idea of “polite” is something I think Canadians old and new embrace with great pride. Each province or territory is truly unique based on their histories and we are as diverse as the world as a whole. I think we have a situation of chicken and egg going on. What happened first? Were we polite and everyone noticed? Or was the title bestowed on us and we now try to live up to the reputation. I personally think we are still the dysfunctional family but we try to keep the fighting behind closed doors. We bicker but the face we show the world is one of unity. There are some problem children and they are dealt with by the family as a group. We take care of our own. Everyone hates taxes but health care for all is non negotiable. Higher education certainly isn’t free but it is subsidized. While the system isn’t perfect, overall as a country we try. And you know something, even when we disagree I have found the majority aren’t in your face abusive. Even our anger is a little more reserved. Polite. I don’t want to blow smoke up your ass because we have our share of jerks. Its just plain old numbers. In the end though I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Well, Denmark yes. But not forever. We are polite. Perhaps somewhat nice. I’m not that nice. I am generous. Somewhat polite. It all comes down to putting societies needs before our own personal rights. Sort of a bizzaro American world. You know. The opposite. Individual rights are number one there. Here we all want to be number one but its not part of the make up of the countries moral or ethical fabric so… we push down a lot of the me thing. It is a little more frowned upon.

As for the lady who hit my car, eventually a cheque arrived in the mail. Initially she requested we get two estimates and she would pay the lowest. I sent them to her and she soon ceased communication. Turns out her lawyer husband felt we really didn’t have a case. I listened politely and in the end accepted her decision. No problem for me. I would get my car fixed at home through my insurance and pay my deductible while the insurance company worked to get our money back. However I did have one request for her. Although I took a picture of her drivers license, license plate and insurance and registration documents, it appeared her documentation had expired. Could she kindly send update versions of her registration and insurance? I was sweet as pie. I knew she would cave as soon as she spoke with the lawyer husband. You see, after I received my second estimate for the repairs we made a little stop at the San Diego main police station. Could they tell me what the fine and or punishment was for driving with expired documents? You see, I am polite. Not nice. I gave her the opportunity to do the right thing. She didn’t. So I did a little background check and hit her with it. Her next email was that they were mailing the cheque immediately. Big fines for expired docs!

The best part is that even with exchange, the cheque was almost $100 lower than the cost of the repairs. The autobody shop here in Calgary? They wrote it off. I cost me nothing. That was pretty nice. As for me I wrote the woman a thank you letter. Because I am polite. Or perhaps maybe it was to gloat! As for the lady in San Diego I hope she learned a valuable lesson. Never confuse kindness with weakness. We are polite but aren’t always that nice.

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