USEFUL CANADIANS

-“Why don’t you go faster?” chirped the Golden Boy, exasperated by our slow crawl on the snowy roads. Ever the obliging mom, despite my better judgement, I press slightly on the gas pedal, nudging the speedometer up from 25 to just under the 30. Bad mistake, we are on a slope, I try to brake, the car skids, I twist the steering wheel, and hit the high dirty snow banks on the roadside. I try to reverse, the wheels spin, the car is stuck.

-“What do we now?” the Golden Boy asks, his voice peaking anxiously. I turn on the flasher. “Just wait.”

My faith, born out of prior experience, in Canadian manhood is not misplaced. Under 10 minutes, there are seven men swarming the car, one brandishing an extremely large shovel. They barely nod at me, occasionally gesticulating to “ease the gas” or “turn the wheels”. Within 15 minutes, we are free. I turn the window down and shout “thank you!” to their departing backs. They wave. They had clearly enjoy themselves.

It is hotly debated, Gentle Reader, on whether and how much Canadians are “friendly” and “welcoming”. Are Nova Scotians as hospitable as they claim to be? Immigrants tell bitter stories of being labelled “come-from-away” despite living here for 20 years and more. Tales of exclusion and “polite racism” are rife. Allow me to add my two cents.

If you ask a Canadian directly to help you out, nine times out of ten they will (particularly if it involves snow). Last fall, I was unable to drive the Golden Boy to a soccer match. I emailed the parents of his team-mates, asking if anyone could give him a lift. Within the hour, my inbox was inundated by offers from parents whom I did not know by sight to take him there and back, if need be. Indeed, on many occasions, parents have graciously offered my children rides when asked. When I asked a mom if the Golden Boy could stay at their place for two days while I went to Montreal, she barely hesitated.

Yet that same mom, earlier in our acquaintance, refused an offer of dinner. This is the paradox of “Canadian society”. Barely a days goes by that I am simultaneously reminded how genuinely helpful and kind my fellow-citizens are, but yet, they are not friends- not to me, not even to each other. They will help, but they do not want to spend time with you. Ask them to shovel your car out of a huge snow bank, and they are happy, delighted. Ask them for their social time, and they are unhappy, miserable and poof! turn into ghosts.

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