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Miranda Frum

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Canadians vs. Americans: The Final Showdown of Manners

Posted: 08/23/11 04:10 PM ET

Canada is known as America's polite hat. My Canadian friends always encourage me to travel with Canadian flags stuck to my luggage when going to Europe, as I will be treated "better" if I manage to trick Europeans into thinking I'm Canadian. Why? Because, according to them, the world's opinion of an American's manners has been shaped with labels such as "American idiot" or the "ugly American."

In my travels, however, I've found that Canadians seem to be the only people obsessed with not being mistaken for Americans. If I tell a French person or an Italian I am American, no acid is thrown in my face; he or she does not begin berating me over America's foreign policy, or even blame me for Europe's economic woes. More often, I find Europeans usually will immediately want to talk about their love of America -- and end up telling me about their first trip to New York or Miami or LA.

Yes, Canadians are famously polite. But as I have found as an American living in Canada, this may just be a very convenient stereotype. Politeness does not automatically mean you are also kinder, or more generous, or a generally better person than another. Although Americans, generally speaking, may seem loud when out in public, or unapologetic when they run into you in the street, I've found they are more likely to say good morning to you in the elevator, or come more quickly to your aid when you are in some sort of trouble. Manners are better than no manners, of course; but manners are something that can be taught. Actions speak louder than "please."

Recently, I was on a flight departing from Washington D.C. to Toronto. Sitting behind me were two businessmen; from their conversation I gathered that one was American and the other was Canadian. The Canadian asked the American if he had been to Canada before. The American replied that he had not yet had the pleasure of visiting Canada, however, he was very excited to visit Toronto as his Canadian business partners had been so polite and wonderful. The Canadian businessman laughed (in my opinion, rather nastily) and informed the American to "be careful" as Canadians saw Americans as "extremely rude." The American took this insulting generalization good-naturedly, and even chuckled.

But to me this exchange struck me as a perfect example of Canadian rudeness. It is the very opposite of politeness to keep pointing out to others how polite you are and how inferior are their manners. Now that I have spent so much time away from the States, I notice not the "rudeness" or "loudness" of my compatriots, but in fact their extraordinary graciousness in the face of total strangers who keep telling them how unpleasant they are.

 

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