Canada–’Apologies R Us.’

Our latest column from William Thomas

Police in Summerside, Prince Edward Island had a warning for locals this past summer–quit being so polite! Apparently so many drivers were yielding to other motorists and waving them on ahead, a rash of fender benders broke out on city streets. That is just so Canadian–being scolded by a police officer for being too courteous.

Rightly so, the rest of the world sees Canadians as exceedingly polite, a nation of people who like to avoid confrontation, behave cordially in all situations and apologize profusely even for the mistakes of others.

For example, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has issued four formal apologies for past historic injustices while in office for just four years. (Had he apologized immediately for the SNC-Lavalin scandal, he might have got four more years! Just sayin’.)

A study out of McMaster University in 2015 compared the top 10 percent of words used in tweets in both our countries proved beyond a doubt that Canadians are far more polite than Americans. In fact, many of the most-frequently-used words by Americans had to be bleeped on the study’s website.

At the border, US customs officials are all business. Homeland Security has put these people through a myriad of training programs but “Courtesy 101” is not one of them. Coming back into this country the Canadian custom officers are all business…with a smile.

Jeffry Dvorkin, a professor of journalism at the University of Toronto believes that Canadian murder rates are so low because “It’s quite rude to murder someone.” Good luck trying to introduce a little niceness to America’s weekly mass murder.

Although Americans are often accused of being rude especially while traveling in other countries I’m here to refute that stereotype. All Americans are not bad-mannered. Richard Joseph McEwan, 26 of Rhode Island is a respectful young man who would make his mother proud. Last week when Richard broke into Taylor Swift’s beachfront mansion in Rhode Island, he took his shoes off at the door. After being charged with breaking and entering and wilful trespassing, Richard explained to the arresting officer that he was always taught to “take his shoes off when entering someone’s home.” Even if he was entering through a basement window he’d bashed in with a crowbar.

It must have been Richard’s mother that taught him the importance of being polite. His father taught him how to disable a home security system and hotwire a car with a flashlight battery.

Theories on why Canadians happen to be so courteous range from hibernating half the year to harbouring an inferiority complex to Big Brother South.

Writing in the Hamilton Spectator, Heather Summerhayes Cariou took an informal poll and concluded that Canadians who take social democracy very seriously put ourselves collectively ahead of the individual. Americans put their individual rights ahead of the collective.We apologize because we want the system to work smoothly.

Me? I just think we are excessively polite to other people because that’s exactly how we would want them to treat us. At the post office or supermarket, I often get into a standoff while holding the door for someone who insists I should go in first. I just shake my head and think–now that’s why I love this country. Competitive civility in public!

I think we get our sense of humour from the Irish, our work ethic from the Scots and our flair from the French. But we inherited our penchant for politeness directly from the Brits who would rather set their hair on fire than butt into line at the bank.

Although they try, the French are not good at apologizing. Last week before an international soccer match between France and Albania in Paris, officials played the wrong national anthem for the visiting team. Instead of Albania, they played the national song of Andorra. Just before the correct anthem was about to be played the announcer grabbed the microphone and apologized to all the “Armenian fans.”

Classic Canadian actor Colin Mochrie’s apology to Americans will still stand up a century from now. “I’m sorry about our softwood lumber. Just because we have more trees than you doesn’t give us the right to sell you lumber that’s cheaper and better than your own. That would be like, well, say you had 10 times the television audience we do, and you flooded our market with great shows, cheaper than we could produce. I know you’d never do that.”

“And finally, on behalf of all Canadians, I’m sorry that we’re constantly apologizing for things in a passive-aggressive way, which is really a thinly veiled criticism. I sincerely hope that you’re not upset over this because we’ve seen what you do to countries you get upset with.”

Politeness. Yes, I know it’s kind of corny and probably tiresome to visitors who like life with an edge to it but I swear if one of us slammed into a tree while sleepwalking, the first thing we say when we came to would be: “Oh, sorry. Really.” May we never lose our trademark social grace.

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