In a world increasingly shredded by the vagaries and extremes of human nature, our Canadian writer has the time and inclination to castigate her fellow nationals for their over-indulgence in the civilities of human interaction.
And she just may have a point!
But where to draw the line on pointless politeness is always a problem. For without the right checks and balances on our more base animal instincts, selfishness and, oh yes, sheer greed, (euphimistically called drive), we end up with the excesses of US society… and we all know where that leads.
If you have done one or more of these things, you might be a Canadian:
* Apologized when someone else bumps into you.
* When doing something that legitimately requires an apology (like stepping on someone’s toe or sitting in their seat at the theatre) you apologize six or seven times instead.
* Apologize as a preface to saying anything at all (an infuriating example was my otherwise lovely waitress at a restaurant who would p apologize every time she approached us: “I’m sorry, can I get you a glass of water?” “I’m sorry, are you all done with your plates?”)
* When driving, waved repeatedly at another driver to go ahead of you even when it was clearly your turn to go, resulting in delays for all.
* Stopped at a non-crosswalk section of a busy street to allow a jaywalker to cross in front of you.
* Rather than say “excuse me” to a stranger who is in your way (something that would appear, in Canadian context, aggressive or con f . frontational) you simply stand incredibly close to that person, perhaps sighing in their direction, until they move.
* If you’re at the gym or browsing in a store, allow someone else to take what you’re looking at/using rather than speak up
The list goes on, but you get the point. At this stage, many readers might be thinking, “This isn’t that bad—so Canadians are nice, what’s wrong with that?” More about that later!
I’m a first generation Canadian. My American parents taught me to be polite and respectful—to have a healthy fear of your elders, to always say please and thank you. They also taught me to have a backbone, to stand up for myself when it’s necessary, and to not let anyone walk over me. I have as many character flaws as the next person, but one thing I can say proudly: I have mastered the fine art of being assertive without being a confrontational asshole—or, a more likely outcome in Canada, becoming a skittish, passive-aggressive wuss.
I realize that I’m lucky to have been born into middle-class Canada. In general, it’s a clean, safe place with lots of opportunity. It’s a country where you can expect decent healthcare, equal opportunity (more or less) in your professional life, and an overall high standard of living. I realize that because Canada is so great, and because I don’t have to worry about my next meal I’m free to bitch about less important things: so bitch I will. Because Canada isn’t perfect, and one of its biggest flaws is the self-perpetuating idea that Canadians are, above all things, “polite.” Even this innocuous word, taken in its Canadian context, makes my blood pressure rise. Because while the word polite is supposed to mean respectful and pleasant, it’s become a euphemism for something much less appealing: simpering, spineless, and pathetic.
Interacting with a Canadian is very much like one of my favourite Louis C.K. skits, where he is forced against his will into a confrontation with a deer. It’s a great analogy for a Canadian actually, his deer: beautiful and pure at first glance, but increasingly irritating the longer you’re exposed to it. The deer’s hilarious and frustrating inability to make a decision (cross the road, or not?) results in the animal running into Louis’ car and injuring itself—and Louis has little sympathy for the stupid, weak-willed thing. This scenario, sadly, is not unlike one you may encounter on a daily basis on the streets and sidewalks in Canada, where a large number of our citizens are more concerned with maintaining an air of extreme politeness than they are with actually getting anything accomplished.
A tragic—and true—example of Canadian politeness gone wrong, from earlier this year: a young woman, stopping on a busy road to allow a gaggle of ducks to cross in front of her, only to have a motorcycle smash into her vehicle, killing its riders. This may seem like a freak accident, unless you live in Canada and see this happen at least once a day: those lovely, kind-hearted Canadians who would rather disobey basic road rules than let someone wait by the side of a road (nowhere near a cross walk, mind you), attempting to cross the street illegally. It’s so offensive to their sense of overt generosity that they would risk a collision in order to allow that jaywalker an immediate opportunity to cross the street.
Canadian kindness, the sweet killer.
Now to get back to what’s wrong with extreme overt civility. What’s wrong with it is this: when the priority of politeness comes above other goals like self-respect, accomplishing tasks, or the general forward movement of society. What many Canucks don’t realize is that their small, stubborn attempts at politeness (“No, you go ahead. Really. No, really, you go ahead of me, it’s fine. Really!” ad infinitum) actually slows down the productivity of the world at large, creating bigger problems than the small ones you’re attempting to solve. And while smaller acts of kindness are generally not harmful and are excellent for human morale, when the country-wide doctrine of being polite becomes more important than anything else, you have to wonder: why are we, as a nation, so terrified of pissing people off? What are we hiding? Why is our collective self-esteem so low that we’d rather lose an opportunity or be mistreated than rock the boat in any way? Sure, we may shake our heads at our American neighbors’ “if you don’t like it, fuck off” attitude towards their own self-inflated greatness—but maybe if we learned a bit from their example we’d be seen more as a respected, formidable country with much to offer, rather than snow-bound, hockey-playing, adorably-accented simpletons who are worth nothing more on the global stage than a few weak jokes.
I realize this may not be a popular sentiment among my northern brethren, but I won’t apologize for it. If this pisses you off, good. It’s better than your usual reaction: to smile, to laugh it off, to apologize for someone else’s opinion. Look, we all have things we’d like to change about our country, and this is mine. You can call me a bad Canadian, or a bitch, but you can’t call me passive-aggressive. Not that you would, anyway. You’re much too polite.