Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Canadian State of Mind

Someone asked me the other day 'What's your favourite thing about Canada so far then?', which was shortly followed by '...and don't say the people'. So I was pretty stumped! I've been all over Europe and seen some of the most exquisite buildings known to man. Been to India and experienced some stella hospitality. Been to Morroco and tasted some delicious culinary delights. And now I have been to Canada, and made to feel genuinely good about myself by complete strangers.

I'm not entirely sure why this particular Canadian decided that one's best experience in Canada simply cannot be their friendly nature. I would be pretty darn happy if that was the stereotype most people perceived of my nation. (I'm sitting here drinking Earl Grey tea may I add, I think that's a pretty good stereotype too, but all the others not so much.)

The first time I was struck by a stranger in such a way was my first trip to the market for some cheap food on my second day in Vancouver. I went up to pay at the till and was greeted by an incredibly chirpy young girl. And the end of the transaction she said to me, 'Okay there's your change, have a great week and enjoy the rest of you afternoon!'. It was Thursday. This girl had just wished me four days of happiness, doubly so for that afternoon. Needless to say I skipped out of that market with a spring in my step.

Most of you I imagine will be thinking she was just saying that to everyone, and I shouldn't feel so special. Truth is, she was saying it to everyone, but bloody good on her! She's in a mind numbingly boring job, probably on minimum wage and she still has the energy to bless everyone she greets with kinds words.

Aside from shop workers, I have found the second most friendly occupants of this country are the homeless. If we take into perspective their situation, and how friggin' cold it is here at night, I would be walking around damning everyone wearing a warmer coat than myself and a roof to go home to.

I'll admit, I can be cynical when it comes to the homeless, and I rarely give them money, not knowing what they might spend it on. It's very easy to just pretend like these people don't exist; walk on by with our heads turned the other way so that we don't feel bad about ignoring someone in need. We all do it, don't lie now! However, I've tried to get out of that as much as possible. No matter what they've done to be put in their situation, these are people with real feelings, thoughts and souls. They deserve at least an acknowledgement of their existence, even if it's telling them that you have nothing to give.

And each time I say anything to any one of the homeless here in Canada, no matter what it is, I get a 'Have a great evening' back from every single one of them. In other places you struggle to get a sentence back that doesn't contain an expletive of some sort.

All of this has confirmed and enriched an opinion I have held for a long time, that kind words go a long long way. We all have no obligation whatsoever to say something nice to complete strangers, but if I look back on the times when someone has done so for me, it always makes me smile. It costs nothing, and sometimes you catch someone at a really bad moment in their lives. Those are the times when it can really brighten someones day.

Quick shout out at the end of this post for my favourite homeless guy I've encountered in Vancouver. He walks up and down Granville Street with a sign that reads 'Smile if you masturbate.' Granted, it's an unorthadox way to cheer people up, but damn does he get a lot of smiles. And a lot of tips.

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