WHEN savvy travellers roam the globe, they often consult guides to local protocols. They learn not to eat with their left hand in some countries, not to show the soles of their feet in others, and, in certain parts of the world, they pretend to agree that women are inferior.
But do people who come to our country pay us the same courtesy, reading up on our exotic ways and testy sensibilities? It seems unlikely; in innocuous Canada, pretty much anything goes. What are we going to do if the visitor makes some gaffe – behead him? Start a war? History proves that we won’t.
Wikipedia has all kinds of advice on international etiquette. It informs us that Ghanaians, for example, consider it rude for a guest to ignore anybody in the room, so even babies must be individually acknowledged. (No word on pets.)
Australians may take offence if you refer to a “fanny-pack” as “fanny” has vulgar connotations, but “bumbag,” for some reason, does not. Meanwhile, supposedly, you must never present a Chinese person with a watch or a clock, as it suggests you’re counting the minutes until his demise. Good to know.
By comparison, the information that Internet sources provide about us Canucks is bland. We’re usually lumped in with Americans, with a little space set aside for French Canadian peccadilloes. We apparently distinguish ourselves from some other cultures by disapproving of racist remarks at social gatherings. We also avoid such topics of conversation as pay raises, education level, and blathering on about our “professional expertise” when we’re with people who might be intimidated. Thus speaketh the experts. Too bad we don’t all follow these rules; they make Canadians sound perfectly charming.
Visitors to our own Lower Mainland, however, likely arrive here with no idea of how to behave. Cut off from the rest of the country by geography and, often, choice, we’ve developed our own unwritten laws. Typically, we don’t feel like explaining what they are to random strangers; they’re just supposed to guess.
Herewith, a handy guide for visitors.
- When invited to a Vancouverite’s home – and don’t worry, this rarely happens – it’s best to enter backwards. Remove one shoe, leave it on the stoop, and inch into the domicile while facing the door. This reassures the host that you have no intention of moving in permanently.
- The appropriate breakfast greeting is an in-tune rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “O, what a beautiful mornin’.” If you cannot sing in tune, or it’s not a glorious day (especially possible in July), feel free to belt out “Didn’t It Rain,” the gospel tune popularized locally by our own Jim Byrnes and The Sojourners. This is Vancouver’s unofficial theme song, and its references to Noah and the Flood are tolerated as folksy humour rather than religious or alarmist propaganda.
- Make your bread-and-butter gift gluten- and dairy-free. Chances are your hosts are either allergic to gluten, lactose-intolerant or vegan hipsters who simply disapprove of gluten and lactose. Your hosts will not have mentioned this before you arrived because they assume everybody, like them, makes sensible choices. A jar of jam’s a good present, as long as it has no beef chunks in it.
- You will be expected to bicycle everywhere in a horribly unflattering helmet. If you’re unwilling, it’s best to pretend that your religion – which you needn’t identify -- forbids it. If you simply say you don’t want to wear a helmet, you’ll be forced to endure an excruciatingly earnest lesson.
- On being taken to Granville Island Market by a proud Vancouverite, don’t remark on it as “a waste of good real estate.” Likewise, Stanley Park.
- Be sure to look stricken whenever the death of any number of trees comes up. It’s fine to appear indifferent to the fate of rats.
- Don’t fail to admire what’s presented to you, whether it’s the view of Burrard Inlet from the Lions Gate Bridge or a crowded alley in the Downtown Eastside. It’s always correct to say “Wow” in a dazzled tone of voice. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson hears that word a lot, especially when he wears a kilt.
- The wise visitor never suggests that anything in Vancouver is sub-par. Our restaurants are the best in Canada, our theatre scene surpasses Manhattan’s, and there isn’t a smarter, warmer, greener, more hospitable place on God’s Green Earth.
- Act enthusiastic about visiting farmers’ markets. To imply that you can think of better things to do than fondle garlic scapes that cost three bucks apiece while listening to bluegrass played on kazoos is to suggest that you’re an ignorant redneck from a pathetic backwater. Note: The Chili Tank at Trout Lake Farmers’ Market is awesome, but you don’t actually get to dive in.
10. Most importantly, even if it isn’t your natural state of mind, feign a love of the outdoors. Our vistas are the main thing we have to offer. That, and bridge traffic.