Yes, still in Banff, still in Canada. Last night, my husband and I went to see Gordon Lightfoot at the Banff Centre, a lovely performing arts center that seats about 900 people. The concert was pleasant. It is obvious that Lightfoot is aging but he still knows how to entertain.
The point of this post is not a critique of the concert, however. It is to comment on Canadian behavior again. I know, I did that before. But it is so refreshing that it brightens my day on a frequent basis and I really want to share it. Perhaps it will be contagious and those in the US will “catch” it. Actually, it reminds me of the US in the years when I was young, when the US was a nation with civility (not political correctness), a desire to help others (not just via volunteer agencies) and gregariousness (not wariness). Those are qualities I see in Canada.
When people sit around you at an event in Canada, they strike up a conversation. I’m not talking about a simple, grudging “Hi.” I’m mean real conversation. “Hello. Where are you from? Massachusetts? What part of MA? I’ve met people from MA before, but from the Boston area. What brings you to Western Canada? Have you gone to ______? I think you’d really like it. What do you do for work? Have you ever seen Gordon Lightfoot (or the hockey team or any other group) before? I saw them ______ when I was in my 20’s.”
It doesn’t even have to be a big event. This kind of interchange can occur in a restaurant, a bank, a store or a museum. Canadians, or at least almost all of the Canadians we have met, both here in the West and in the eastern provinces we have visited, are outgoing, courteous, curious and well-informed about their neighbors to the south. I wish we could say that about US citizens these days. But having visited all 50 states, I have to admit that just hasn’t been our experience.
A prime example of this Canadian difference was something we observed last evening as we were leaving the concert. We had gotten our car from the garage and were proceeding up the driveway to the roadway. We had no trouble getting into the line of traffic, since Canadian courtesy extends to driving as well as direct personal interactions.
The driveway had a slight grade to it with a stop sign at the top. The vehicle in front of us stopped and we stopped as well, leaving a good car length between us and that car. It was a fortunate decision. Whether due to a patch of ice that would not allow the tires to catch any traction or due to the possibility that the driver was new at driving a standard transmission, every time that car in front of us tried to advance, it rolled backwards a bit. After the third episode, my husband sounded the horn lightly to let him know he was getting close to our front bumper.
THAT’S WHEN IT HAPPENED!
I called it a “Canadian assistance flash mob” in the title because that was the thing that came to mind as I watched it. Presumably alerted by hearing our horn, numerous pedestrians – men and women – converged on the car in front of us. Everyone found a place to latch on to the vehicle which was having difficulty. There must have been 15 to 20 people who gathered along and behind that car to push it and help the driver get out of his predicament. As soon as the vehicle was moving forward, the small crowd disbursed and went on their ways. We were able to proceed on our way as well.
But we were really impressed by that spontaneous event. As we drove back to our room, we noted how things would have been different at home. One important difference is that this would not have been the kind of thing that happened so spontaneously. At home, people would have looked at each other, perhaps asked each other what the problem was, discussed the foolishness of the driver for getting into the situation and then moved along. A few might have dared to ask what the problem was but felt that, alone or being so few, there was nothing they could do. They’d have walked away, perhaps feeling a bit guilty for not helping.
If someone at home had been able to convince a group to help, they’d have hung around after to pat each other on the back for being such generous folks.
Last night there was no conference to decide how to fix the problem and there was no self-congratulation. People recognized the problem, reacted to help in a totally appropriate way without needing to be convinced then left immediately because you don’t need to congratulate yourself or others for doing the right thing.
It happened so automatically and fast that it did indeed remind me of a “flash mob” — and it was just as entertaining in its own way.
One more reason to love Canada and Canadians!