Camp and I talked about differences between Canadians and Europeans and I told him a story that highlighted the polite nature, sometimes painfully so, against the cut and dry and pragmatic central European way.
‘If a Canadian wants to have a day off, say Friday, they will write an email that reads something like this:
Hi Jack (presumably they are on first name terms) Sorry to bother you. How are you and your family? Did you have a nice vacation back East and how is Fluffy, your adorable poodle?
‘I hope I’m not imposing on your time but due to my cousin Erin having had a baby and her husband being away on a work commitment, I promised to help her out next weekend. Due to this ‘family situation’ I want to ask you a big favour. Could I take next Friday off? I’ll make sure that Bernice will cover me and nobody would be inadvertently affected. I hope that works for you and please let me know if that’s possible. Sincerely, Yours Truly.’
‘Ok, I get it, too much information. Too much blah, blah. What’s the Swiss way?’
‘Here It is: Hi Jack, I need to have Friday off. Thanks, YT’
Camp laughed and said: You missed something in the Canadian way. Where and when does Yours Truly apologize for nothing? Like: I’m so sorry Jack but I hope I’m not imposing…
We both took a sip from our brews and contemplated the different ways of the world. ‘I remember my French friend during his first time in Vancouver. We got on the bus and the driver said a polite: How are you? Pierre looked at the driver taken aback. ‘Why do you care how am I?’
‘Even strangers used to say a polite hello, when they passed each other. Today not so much. And thanks to Covid we even step aside when we encounter somebody coming towards us, as if in passing we could infect each other. Mind you, I find Canadians on the whole a very friendly and polite bunch and I’d rather be known for being too friendly and too polite than a curt pragmatist or a snob or loud and uncouth.’
‘May I ask you a personal question Camp?’
‘Are you being sarcastic now? Trying to be a super-Canadian?’
‘I just want to know if you feel like a Canadian or an Irishman? You are after all from good old Irish stock, aren’t you?’
‘I feel like myself, most of the time, not fitting some label or stereotype. I’ve been known to be abrupt and short fused but that’s just me, neither Irish nor Canadian. How about you? Are you Swiss or Canadian?’
‘I’m a hybrid,’ I said, ‘mostly friendly and polite but I don’t say I’m sorry, every time I want to ask a question and I try to be exact and to the point and on time which is an exact measurement not a fluid and flexible commodity, like some other people think. And I don’t start sentences with ‘if’ or ‘when’ and I don’t answer questions like: ‘What time is the ferry today?’ with” ‘I think…” I either know the time or not.’
‘Point taken but Canadians are usually on time except they make sure as in: Oh, I’m sorry, I hope I’m not late.’
‘Sorry to bother you two. How are we all doing? Ready for another one?’ Vicky asked and we both said in stereo. ‘Yes please?’ She gave us a funny look but then she knows us by now.