We are on vacation in Canada. We’re up on Prince Edward Island, to be precise, where we are surrounded by people from all parts of Canada: Nova Scotia, Quebec, Montreal, Ontario, Alberta. It’s been a wonderful trip, let me tell you! I have learned so much!
First of all, I have learned that the ridiculously broad and sweeping generalizations about Canadians are all true.
These people are frighteningly nice. This whole country is nice! I feel as if I’ve spent the last five days in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
It’s so uniformly pleasant here that it almost seems fake, at least to a couple of jaded Americans like us.
First of all, there is absolutely no litter anywhere, even though there doesn’t seem to be anybody out there cleaning it up. Every street is spotless. Every field is clean. Every beach is immaculate.
I think Canadians are just too nice to make a mess! Even the two cities, Summerside and Charlottetown, are so pristine that they make me feel bad about the state of my kitchen. They’re like Disneyworld, only with awesome pubs and great seafood.
We’ve met tons of people here, because every single Canadian seems to have been born with a gene that programs them to smile at you and ask you how you’re doing. We’ve been greeted warmly and kindly by the guy who runs our motel, the teenaged kids in the little souvenir shops, the young waiters and waitresses in the restaurants and an old lady sitting on a bench outside of a knitting shop. They all ask where we’re from, how we like the island, and if we need any advice on good places to eat. And they all say lovely things about the US, too! I’m not sure if they mean those nice things, but they are too kind to say anything disparaging.
And Canadians don’t seem to ever swear (at least away from the hockey rink, they don’t). Truly, I haven’t heard a “freakin” or an “effin” since I crossed the border. So refreshing!
Of course, it’s not all perfect. We almost got killed on the roads a few times, because we weren’t prepared for drivers to stop and let other cars cut into traffic. We were totally shocked to find that merging in traffic up here is smooth and effortless, and when you let a guy pull in ahead of you, he smiles and waves. And he expects you to smile and wave back!
The city of Charlottetown had us a little thrown off for the first few hours. We couldn’t figure out why it sounded so strange, until we realized that we weren’t hearing honking horns, sirens, jackhammers or people screaming. We were in a city. A capital city, and we could hear the clopping of hooves from the horse-drawn carriages.
Even the dogs here are nice. They’re everywhere, walking along with happy doggy faces beside their polite owners. Some are on leashes, some are off. All of them walk along joyfully, tails wagging, greeting people and dogs alike with gentle “woofs” and lolling tongues. We haven’t heard a bark yet. Stranger still, we haven’t run into a single pile of poop. I am NOT kidding.
Naturally, I began to wonder how it could possible be that every aspect of Canada and Canadians seems to be so civilized and pleasant, when so much of life in America is not. It really got me to ruminating, you know?
Luckily, I know a fair amount of American history, and I got a chance to learn a little bit about Canadian history while we were here. By comparing the two, I think I’ve solved the mystery of Canadian gentility.
For starters, both countries began as Colonies of England and/or France. Both were part of the major tug-o-war between those two huge powers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Both had original settlements in the early 1600’s on their East Coasts. Both of them were big on fishing, cutting down huge trees, trapping fur bearing animals. So far, not much difference.
Eventually, all of North American came under the control of England, and France had to slink away and try to control places like North Africa. No difference between the northern part of the continent and the southern.
But when the Colonies decided that they wanted to have autonomy from their English rulers, they took two very different approaches.
The Americans had a “revolution”, replete with fiery rhetoric. Everyone knows the quote “Give me liberty, or give me death!” There were famous battles, like the ones at Lexington and Concord, that are still commemorated to this day. There was international military intervention (from the same Frenchmen who had been booted out earlier). The whole thing dragged on for eight terrible years, costing countless lives and millions of dollars, and leaving the new United States in a shambles as it tried to claw its way to its feet and take its place among the sovereign nations of the world.
And then there was Canada. The colonies of what is now Canada were perfectly happy to be run by the British right up until 1864. They just went along fishing, growing food, trapping furs and rolling their eyes at those violent thugs from New England, content to let the British provide protection. It wasn’t until the middle of the Civil War, it turns out, that a bunch of leaders in the maritime colonies decided that maybe they should band together and form a Confederation so they could fight off those crazy Americans if they decided to attack. (Nope. Not making that up.) The folks in the other Canadian Colonies (West Canada and East Canada) sort of crashed the meeting, and showed up on Prince Edward Island to join in the discussion of whether to form a Confederation.
As an American, I sort of expected that there would be a huge fight between the maritime colonies and the others, but there wasn’t! Instead, the maritime leaders invited the Canadian leaders to a whole bunch of parties. They ate, drank good champagne, danced with the ladies, got to know each other. When they all finally got together to hash things out, they did it behind closed doors in the Charlottetown Province House. Nobody knows exactly what was said, because they made sure that nobody took any notes.
Why, you ask?
Well, so nobody would get all riled up, that’s why!! They didn’t want to cause a fuss. They just sort of made a nice gentleman’s agreement and formed a Confederation. Simple.
And they didn’t break off from Britain, either. That might have been rude. Instead, they just gradually and peacefully took over more and more of their own governance, and the British just let them drift gracefully away.
No fuss, no muss, no death or blood or famous quotes.
And there you have it, my friends! Canadians are so nice and polite and pleasant and kind because, gosh darn it, they’ve been that way from the very beginning!
I’ve realized that Canada and the US are like brothers. The US is the older brother, the one who always had tantrums as a toddler, and who was a sulky rebellious teen. He was always making trouble, pushing the limits, taking risks. He kept his parents up at night with his out of control behavior. They wondered if he’d ever mature and settle down.
Canada is the quiet younger brother. The one who does everything he’s told, and apologizes when he accidentally breaks the rules. He kind of admires his big brother, kind of worries about him, and is a little bit scared of him, all at the same time. Canada is the younger brother who learned from his older sibling’s mistakes, and is determined to do things the right way. His parents adore him, and so do I.
If you have a chance, come to Prince Edward Island. Just be careful of all the polite drivers!