I emigrated from England to Canada in 1975, and one of the first things I noticed about Canadians was how “distant” they were. It was not an unfriendliness, but just a general indifference.
I came from a City with a population of around 70,000 and surrounded by agricultural land… to a City of well over 1M people which, if counting the urban sprawl and neighboring towns, included over 4M people.
I came from a City in which I had lived almost constantly for 20 years… and was now in a City which I knew very little about.
I came from a place where I had friends and acquaintances, and I knew some of the store owners and their staff… to a place where I knew nobody.
I was visiting downtown Toronto on a regular basis as I needed to get my business profile on as many work agency registers as possible, and was constantly amazed (and disappointed) at the total lack of a polite “Good morning”, or even any direct eye contact. Was this the culture of Canada? Was it perhaps just a “big city” trait?
I was having to adjust in so many ways, but one of the things which was really bothering me was that nobody initiated any social contact. After a couple of weeks of feeling rather isolated, I decided to do exactly what I was expecting others to do. I decided that the next person that I met on the street, I would look directly at them and if there was even a hint of eye contact, I would give them a big smile and cheerful “Good morning!”
The response was a big smile! I then repeated that wherever feasible and was surprised at, not only how many smiles were returned, but also how many times I received a “Hi”! I even received an occasional “Hi! How are you?” (rhetorical question of course).
If there was no possibility of eye contact, then I refrained, but in other cases I simply offered a polite acknowledgement of their existence, and the “payback” was priceless.
When I describe Canadians now, I say that they are in general a very friendly culture however, you may have to make the first move. They may not offer you their hand, but if you offer yours, they will usually take it with warmth and enthusiasm.
I have always liked the concept of treating people the way you would like to be treated but, whereas I would have thought it to be an automatic and intuitive approach to life, my first few weeks in Canada proved quite the contrary. I had an expectation from Canadians that I was not demonstrating myself. As soon as that flaw was resolved, everything else just fell into place.
A simple smile. A simple acknowledgement that you exist. A simple greeting. Isn’t that what most of us would like? Perhaps more of us should take the first step, and then enjoy the reward of a sense of belonging in a community.