Canada, Abundantly Nice

Eric Weiner wrote this article – Can Canada teach the rest of us to be nicer?’ for BBC Travel. In it he talks about why he and his family make Canada a destination for their annual American road trip. If you are a Canadian, take a moment to read the article, then stand up and be proud to call yourself Canadian. If you’re not, read the article anyway. 🙂

“Canada is to niceness as Saudi Arabia is to oil,” Eric writes. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve shared some of my thoughts on Canada in previous posts here, here and here.

Over the seven years that I’ve lived here, I’ve been continuously amazed by Canadian niceness. Never mind the ease with which they strike up conversations with strangers, or the way drivers let you into traffic, even during rush hour. There’s a degree of road courtesy only seen in Canada. I’ve met polite, friendly wait staff everywhere I’ve gone and courteous, friendly, often helpful TTC staff. Polite, friendly public transit drivers?, you ask. Yes. This was one of the most difficult things for me to believe as being true in Canada – but it is. TTC drivers wait for you when they see you rushing for the bus.

It’s inherently Canadian to be polite, and over the years, I’ve picked up many of these Canadian habits – hold the door for the person behind you, say ‘thank you’ when the person in front of you holds the door for you. Simple, common courtesy. Stuff that’s not common in many other parts of the world.

For a Canadian, ‘sorry’ isn’t the hardest word. It’s the easiest, and they are often mocked for it. ‘Hello’, is another word that’s easy for a Canadian. Walk down the street and smiles and hellos are exchanged with real ease, whether you were born here, if you chose to make this your new home, or if you’re only passing through.

So, go ahead Canada, teach the world what you know.

I look forward to your thoughts on this Canadian trait.

Note to new drivers in Canada: Learn Canadian road courtesy. Then practice it – it’s good for you.

Canada eh?…Malaysia lah

I don’t know when the Canadian ‘eh?’ slipped into my speech. I just noticed it one day, when speaking with a colleague – what began as a statement,  turned into a question with the quiet addition of the ‘eh?’.  Maybe the ‘eh?’ was always there in my speech. Regardless, I wonder if it’s this distinctly Canadian speech pattern that makes it so easy to strike up conversations with strangers at a bus stop, or the grocery check-out line. In How to be a Canadian, Ian & Will Ferguson, describe the ‘eh?’ as “good natured…a little bit insecure…an agreement looking to happen.”

To my mind, the ‘eh?’ is an invitation, a warm ‘hello’ without the formality, a friendly self introduction to a stranger, without having to get too personal… “Cold, eh?” Now, would you not respond to that? Especially, if you’re at a bus stop and the temperatures are a frigid -30C?

Ok, so the ‘eh’ is commonplace in many other countries, just not in the same way that it is in Canada. The Canadian ‘eh?’ is not to be compared to American ‘huh?’.  Consider this: “Where you goin eh?” vs. “Where you going huh?” The ‘huh’ is less, way less, elegant. In Malaysia, ‘eh’ is an interjection to get someone’s attention, like, ‘Eh, where you going?”, or “Eh, wat you think, ah?” in classic mangled Malaysian english (aka Manglish). One would never use ‘eh’ in polite company. It’s simply rude.

‘Lah’ is the more endearing  language quirk in Malaysia  – a suffix with roots in Malay, Hokkien, and Tamil. Malaysians add the ‘lah’ frequently in their speech to soften harsh sounds like “no” (nolah), or  “don’t do that” (dun like dat lah). The ‘lah’ is friendly. So. if you wanted to say, “you can do it”, say “canlah, canlah” instead – the repetition is necessary when encouraging someone along).

Like the ‘eh?’, the ‘lah’ has to roll off your tongue naturally at just the right parts of your speech. ‘Lah’ identifies a Malaysian just the way ‘eh?’ identifies a Canadian. But, the ‘lah’ boasts a great deal more flexibility given that it can appear in pretty much the same parts of one’s speech regardless of whether you’re speaking in Malay (tak boleh lah), Hokkien (boh lah), or English (no lah). 

So, what’s your country’s language quirk? If you’re Canadian, what do you think of the ‘eh?’, and, if you’re a Malaysian, share your take on the ‘lah’.

PS: The ‘lah’ also appears in Singapore.

Shovel it Forward

This video showed up on my facebook stream today, hashtagged shovelitforward.

I tend to let the videos in my stream roll without any sound for a few seconds before I decide if I want to watch it.  After the first 37 seconds of this ad, I turned up the volume and pressed restart. I instantly connected with the message in this Canadian Tire ad and then, as one inevitably does, I did a little search to see what else was out there on #shovelitforward.  I wanted to know who started the movement (it was the Greenfield Firefighters/Paramedics in Wisconsin). Canadian Tire was quick to make it a part of their latest  social media marketing campaign (“Shovelling your neighbour’s driveway is as Canadian as winter itself”).  Good on Canadian Tire for reacting so quickly – they’ve been leaving shovels with “Shovel it Forward” stickers on driveways and encouraging people to spread a little kindness through this act of community. Unsurprisingly, the movement is spreading fast. I bet that social media types will still be talking about this campaign later this year.

The story in the video resonated with me mostly because I’ve lived on a street where people had  no problem coming out to help a fellow neighbour clear their drive, particularly in the aftermath of a major snowstorm. In the winter of 2013, when the skies dumped great amounts of fresh white powder on our streets, those who had snowblowers, would trundle their blower over to a fellow neighbour’s drive to help get the job done faster. We carried our shovels over to our neighbour’s place – a woman who was new to home ownership in Canada that year – to help her out with an unfamiliar task. When our neighbour was out-of-town, we would take the time to clear his drive. Often, when we got home after a long snowy day, we would find that he had cleared ours. This was the norm the four plus years we lived on that street.


Getting a little help from a neighbour.

Until I moved to Canada, I never really understood all the work that went into preparing one’s home for winter (turn off all outdoor water mains, so the water does not freeze and crack your pipes, wrap fragile plants in burlap, service your heating system, caulk window and door seals to help keep your heating bills down, etc.). I knew even less about what it was like to deal with the aftermath of a snowstorm. I never realized that it could turn into an unplanned workout, a medical emergency or even lead to death. As someone who lived in the tropics, these were things that were completely outside my frame of reference.

The first time I had to clear snow at all was in December 2007, when Toronto and much of Southern Ontario was hit by a really bad storm. At this point, all I had to do was clear fresh, fluffy snow from my car and I delighted in doing it. This could not have prepared me for the herculean task of shifting the dense wet stuff from a 30m long driveway. One was a delight, the other a hardship. Having shovelled my own drive and knowing how difficult it can get, I see how reaching out to a neighbour and sharing this hardship can make for a strong community.

If you’re new to Canada (say in the last 25 years or so, 🙂 ), what was your first snow shovelling experience like?

Fitting Into Canada

It was easy. I didn’t expect it to be so, but it was.

Is it because Canada is made up of immigrant communities that are as varied and numbered as the nations that span the globe? Is it because one Canadian, regardless of their origin, enjoys the same rights and privileges as the next? Or is it just because most Canadians, by nature, are pre-disposed to being  warm, friendly, welcoming, inclusive, and non confrontational? Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors – I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that this is a society that’s easy to fit into.

Though I had a ‘place’ while I lived in Malaysia, I never fully belonged – I felt ‘second class’, to put it simply. The feeling is quite the opposite here.  In Canada, I know that I have as much of a chance to succeed as the next person, given the same set of opportunities. I know that the colour of my skin will not dictate my chances of earning a seat at a university, owning shares in a publicly listed company, or even my opportunity to hold the highest office of government, should I be so inclined. The economic pie is for everyone to enjoy, if they choose to participate. In Canada, I compete based on merit, while in Malaysia, a race-based quota system dictates my higher education and economic opportunities.

While Malaysia’s race based affirmative action policies might have had some merit in the early 70s as a means to calm racial tensions and foster economic equity between the races, it no longer serves Malaysia – not if it wants to be a successful multi-racial, multi-religious nation.

For a vibrant society to thrive, we must respect each other’s values, beliefs and practices without imposing it on others. In my short experience here (and I know nothing is perfect), Canada has been able to strike a good balance at preserving certain Canadian ‘values’ while welcoming the contributions of everyone.

Welcome to Canada

When I finally stepped off the plane at YYZ (27 hours after take off), I was exhausted, but excited. I was at the start of something new. It’s one of the best places to be – the beginning. It’s the place where you’re often caught up in such a wide mix of emotions all at once, that the only thing you can do is take the next step and work through them all, one at a time. But I digress.

I funnelled my way  through the long lines to the immigration desk and dutifully presented my paperwork, all neatly organized in a clear plastic folder – I was not going to be caught out for missing any paperwork – you know what immigration officers can be like.  Paperwork cleared. The officer, much to my surprise, was pleasant (unlike stern-faced immigration officers the world over). He even smiled and asked if I had a good flight. “Long,” I said, trying to match his smile. “Welcome to Canada,” he added, and handed me my PR card and paperwork. I found my way to the baggage carousel, picked up my bags and walked out into Canada.

On the other side of the sliding doors, my husband greeted me with a single red rose and a copy of these two books.

How To Be A Canadian (Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson); Why I Hate Canadians (Will Ferguson)

How To Be A Canadian (Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson); Why I Hate Canadians (Will Ferguson)

Ahh…an instructional manual on How to be a Canadian (authors, Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson). How useful, I thought.

I didn’t get the Why I Hate Canadians title tough (author, Will Ferguson). It kindda rubbed me the wrong way. Why should I hate Canadians? I don’t want to hate Canadians… I just got here! I gave my husband a slight sideways glance, wondering what he was thinking (or even up to) giving me this book.

But, let me tell you…both books are hilarious and definitely worth a read. The best part: it only gets funnier once you’ve stayed awhile. I think Immigration Canada should be handing these out with their Welcome Packages.

PS: I started with Part 4 of Why I Hate Canadians – Sex in a Canoe and Other Delusions. With a title like that, it was hard to resist. 🙂