A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Every Canadian over the age of 12 has heard this story. It’s a rite of passage in Canada, like going to the bar the first time (legally) or getting your driver’s license. It’s one of the things that binds us together as Canadians — like hockey and godawful cold. Unfortunately, it’s rapidly becoming a damn lie. I’ve heard the story hundreds of times; so have you, and it has a million variations. Essentially, it’s this: a Canadian returns from a trip that required a passport. They unpack their clothes, show you the flotilla of pictures and then say something like,
“We had a great time. You’ve got to go. The people were just wonderful. They were a little grumpy at first, but once they found out we were Canadians, [knowing pause] they couldn’t have been nicer.” Everybody agrees, and somebody passes the dip.
What a crock! This may have been true back when the Travelocity Gnome was a baby, but these days, in the realm of mythology, this ranks right up there with unicorns. Canadian tourists are becoming obnoxious – I can’t state it any plainer. We’ve been living on our rep for years, and even that’s wearing thin. Back in the day, we pranced around the world content in the knowledge that our maple leaf would protect us from being mistaken for Americans, and that was good enough. Our cup of smug overflowed every time we didn’t act as jerky as our American cousins. The legend grew in the 10 provinces that people liked us best because we treated foreigners nicely – in their own country.
Now, I’m not saying Americans have started minding their manners; I’m saying we’ve forgotten ours. Over the last decade, I have personally witnessed an ever-widening circle of such outrageous acts of rude as to make a crack addict blush — and I don’t travel much. The sordid details run to volumes, so let me just hit the low points. I’ve seen a man loudly explaining the stupidity of Castro’s police state to a couple of bartenders – and half the bar – in Havana, Cuba. In Mexico, I watched a woman negotiate the price of a bracelet in English while her husband gave the rest of the tour a detailed play-by-play as if the shopkeeper was invisible. I’ve seen a woman in a halter top and short shorts slide her chubby little bum over the barricade inside a cathedral in France so she could get a better picture of the people praying. Also in France, three women from Ontario, would finish their breakfast, then go back to the buffet and load enough ham, bread and cheese into their purses to feed Camp Kandahar. These chicks were notorious; we called them the “Je m’appelle Kathys,” and when they weren’t pilfering croissants, they were showing off their French 101 by complaining. I think the desk clerks had a standing bet every morning on which one would start beaking first. I’m not sure, but I saw money change hands. They weren’t backpacking college kids, either, but professional women of an age who should have known better.
Those are just a few examples, but the granddaddy of them all (so far) happened in Mexico. A particularly drunken crew of Canucks went marauding across the beaches of the Mayan Riviera south of Cancun. By the time they were finished, the local police had been called in once, the Federales twice, and the all-inclusive resort where they were staying refused to serve them. To show their disdain for the local custom of sobriety, they climbed to the top of the pyramid at Chichen Itza, proudly waved the flag, dropped their pants, and took turns taking pictures. For those unfamiliar with Chichen Itza, it’s an ancient Mayan city in the Yucatan and a Unesco Heritage Site. It is also the second most visited archaeological location in Mexico. Their audience was huge. Several other Canadians in the area, including me, began telling people we were from Seattle. Ironic isn’t it?
Cheap airfares and a renewed sense of patriotism have combined with this super myth that Canadians are automatically liked wherever they go: it’s a perfect storm. We’ve become loud and proud, but we still cling to the belief that everybody loves us just because we’re Canadian. Then, back home we congratulate each other on the accomplishment – reinforcing the myth.
Here’s a news flash: you’re a tourist, one of many. The people in the places you go to can’t complain. They have to put up with you because their livelihood depends on it. I don’t care how quaint the village is or how close you get to the local culture, those folks have to shut-up and take it or they might be out of a job. Of course they smile; they’re in the service industry. Whether they think you’re a nitwit or not, depends entirely on your behaviour. So when you’re planning this year’s winter get-away to the fun and sun, here are a few tips that will make everybody’s life a little easier.
1 – When you’re sitting around the bed and breakfast complaining about the hired help, you need to remember two things: 1) the person standing there probably speaks English and 2) she’s not deaf.
2 – Tim Horton’s is a local establishment, so when you go to a busy restaurant, order a Double-double and laugh like you’ve been possessed by demons, the natives don’t get the joke — no matter how many times you repeat it.
3 – While it’s true that Canadian liquor laws were written in the 12th century, other countries are different. You don’t have to drink it all. They’re not going to take it away.
4 – People around the world may be poor and/or downtrodden by our standards, but you don’t have to point it out to them. It’s embarrassing.
5 – Don’t tip in Canadian money – it’s not cute.
6 – Yes, swearing is de rigueur in Canadian society, but in other parts of the world, those colourful verbs, nouns and adjectives are considered crude — especially when you shout them in public places.
7 – Keep your clothes on.
8 – Whereas bargaining is part of some local cultures arguing over the price is not. Know the difference.
10 – Okay, okay, okay, you’re not American. They get it.
Finally, there’s one thing that would make me particularly happy. If you absolutely insist on acting like a jackass, leave our flag at home.