08/20/2013 05:26 EDT | Updated 10/20/2013 05:12 EDT

An American in Canada: My Summer Day at The Beach Highlights Canada's Civility

There's nothing better than a summertime trip to the beach in Vancouver to remind one of the major differences in civility between the U.S. and Canada today.

I took in one of Vancouver's big summertime Celebration of Light fireworks shows up in B.C. recently. The fireworks were pretty amazing. Even more amazing was the difference in public behavior there and at a beach, say, in Southern California.

Over 300,000 spectators had gathered, packing the shores and beaches of English Bay near downtown Vancouver to watch the fireworks finale.

The parking lots were overflowing out at Spanish Banks beach, about two miles across the bay from where the fireworks were detonated and from where our family watched the 20-minute-long big bang. We could see blue lights of police cars near the fireworks barge, where bleacher seats had been set up near downtown to help pay for the show.

Over at our large and popular beach, we enjoyed an evening and sights (besides the fireworks) unimaginable in any major U.S. city today:


No open fires. No unleashed dogs. (Dogs were not even allowed on this beach). No obvious signs of anyone drinking. No amplified music! A well-behaved cosmopolitan crowd, many Asian immigrants, largely kids and extended families. And lots of young males -- who weren't out of control. Really. Lifeguards -- remember those? -- in towers and also offshore in rowboats. I am not making this up, fellow Americans. Canadians still have community resources.

In five hours on that beach on a Saturday night, we saw only one perfunctory police patrol pass by briefly. The overall civility we witnessed that night was astonishing -- at least to a visiting American. Even one (like myself) who'd lived in Canada. If there were ever an occasion for public rowdiness, this would have been it.

There was no doubt we weren't in the U.S., where individual rights -- including the right, nay responsibility -- to act like an inconsiderate jerk in public all too often prevail today.

There were plenty of young males there -- but I certainly couldn't tell it, given the widespread civilized behavior we witnessed.

Not that some people didn't try to spoil things: The Vancouver Province reported that there were numerous liquor pour-outs that night. (Translation for Yanks: The cops here find you with booze in public, they pour it out, and off you go, your cellulocerebral balance hopefully still within grasp.)

The 2011 Stanley Cup riot here was still on my mind, given the huge, celebratory crowds this summer night. I had nothing to worry about.

The civilized behavior I saw that night on that crowded and popular Vancouver beach was a reminder of how different the two neighboring countries have become in public behavior.

I was transported back to my U.S. childhood in a far more civilized time that night in Vancouver, and I missed it. Seeing thoughtful civil behavior in a big city says a lot about where a society is headed.