We all learn things through small bits of information. When you’re thrown into a foreign land, this becomes apparent after the enormity of the situation sobers you up. Perhaps it takes the probing of a curious mind to come to that conclusion? Sometimes it’s these little fragments we see a culture from, the small window of insight we’re given. Before I get even more cryptic on your ass, it’s time for a story…
It begins with a story of firsts. My first full time job was being a salesman at a hardware store. My first task was to trundle over to Tim Hortons and buy the staff coffee. My first lesson? Answer: not knowing what the Hell people are talking about.
After one dropped phone call and a brief argument about who was paying, I receive a Tim Hortons coffee-list. I beamed at receiving this task. I’ve bought coffee for plenty people in the past, how hard can it be? So I scan the various hieroglyphs on the coffee-list. My brain collates the L’s and M’s, the number of coffees that take sugar…and then Zach happened.
All he wrote were the words “Orig. L double double”.
“Hey Zach, you didn’t say how many sugars you wanted?”
He says he did. I scan the list.
Nope, I didn’t see it. He continues to explain to me saying “double double” just means two milk and two sugars.
I managed to get everyone coffee that morning and I had a new tool in my arsenal. I had “learned” the language. Remember that part about learning through small pieces? Well this is it. No one said to me “you have to learn how the Canadians order their coffee.” About two years prior to coming to Canada I had cut sugar out of my diet, purely in an attempt to get healthier. This fact deteriorated rapidly after acquiring a new magic power that involves sugar. I remember once or twice going into a Tim Hortons and that letting those two words float out of me like a sigh of relief. I could feel a smile wash into me much like a glug of Dark Roast, but better. I had figured out a teeny part of this cultural algorithm.
On another note, have you ever semi-completed one side of a Rubik’s Cube…and then put it down to smile at you? There’s no time to dig into the rest of it right now. And it’s not worth it. Right now it’s just fine the way it is.
By now I’ve got that other part of your brain ticking…what is this heading all about? This is much harder to articulate to someone than a mere coffee order. Before my fingers run off into the story, let me clear up an acronym that may look familiar to some and strange to others…
Have you ever found yourself shouting at your computer late at night? There’s been at least one occasion where you installed a useful piece of software, and moments before the install process starts you’re asked that one crucial piece of information…do you have a little time to spare to read 34 pages of the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA)? If you’ve ever scrolled through 30 odd pages in 2 seconds and clicked yes and I Agree so heavily your mouse felt a little assaulted in the ordeal, then my friend, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, it’s all the things there could ever go wrong with this electronic beast in front of you. The point I’m trying to make is many Canadians I’ve encountered understand the general laws of society, sometimes they will even tell you. What they don’t realize is when this first happens it annoys the living %&@#! out of you…
Before I rant about the law abiding ways of a Canuck I guess I should put this into a bit of perspective, and give you a little something about the laws in the jungle (i.e. South Africa). This is also a good time to mention that all of my banter packed in my series titled Canadian nuances is based entirely on my experiences. These are just my views and it does not make my feelings and interpretations synonymous with all South Africans. This is just the way I see it. This is looking like the start of my own EULA now…best I continue and avoid it.
In South Africa, Durban, most people don’t obey the law. Obviously I’m not pointing at rape, murder, heists and other heavy weight crimes. I mean the little things. There’s little respect for people in traffic, and there’s a ton more visible road rage among other things. Being a storyteller it’s hard to talk about Africa without leaning too much on the savagery and chaotic energy that often erupts. My point in a nutshell is there is no respect for the other guy on the street. None. The other day I had to pinch myself and realize I had never seen a vehicle jump a red traffic light the entire time I’ve been in Canada. (1 year and 3 months I calculate at the time of writing).
Yes, so it does start to sound crazy. Guess what? It is. I can remember giving a mental sigh after learning that Canada is a law abiding country, and so are its citizens (for the most part). I knew that sticking to the rules based solely on principle would be a tough pill for the Bohemian in me to swallow. At first it was…
On a frosty winter’s day and I’m working outside the hardware store. I’ve been given the task of hanging a banner off the awning at front of the store. I’m armed with zip ties and a ladder. The icy air invigorates me as I climb the aluminium frame. I’m about halfway through the process. My back is turned to the street and I’ve almost fed the pointy end of the zip tie through the little hoop at the top…and then it happened.
A middle age Canadian was walking down the street at a brisk pace. He is about to pass me. He aims his head in my general direction and says “you know you should have someone holding that ladder for you.” I flick my head to where the sound came from, but it seems Bert The Blameless was already out of earshot. I had just been hit with 30 pages of the Canadian EULA.
Soon after this incident I had another disturbing thought creep into my head. “If almost all Canadians stick to the law, does this turn some men into little whiny bitches?” Thankfully this was not the case. Someone was waving consequence in my face before I had taken the time to figure out the storyline. Technically Bert was right that in the workplace having one man on a ladder is not safe practice, blah blah blah. It’s a weird thing that Canadians have somehow internalized this “common law” and aren’t afraid to tell you so. On the other hand…if I was given the gift of being put back in that same situation I would fail the resist the urge of climbing off the ladder and punching Bert in the face.
Allow me promote this law abiding business in a better light and bury my face-punching fantasies. If you’re using a SkyTrain in Vancouver, which is a pretty efficient train that travels above ground, things can get very busy at rush hour. They could get worse if you fail to follow three pieces of logic (when you’re waiting to board).
1. Wait for the doors to open
2. Wait for the arriving passengers to get off first.
3. Enter the train when the tunnel of faces dissipates.
It’s a simple process. You arrive and then wait for your turn. Lump on a few deadlines, a garrulous smart phone, a gallon of Starbucks igniting the synapses and then patience can evaporate. Fear not my little infidel, this is exactly when the EULA becomes effective! I’ve often heard people say to those impatient people forging ahead onto the bus “you should wait for the others to get off first.” This is when it really makes sense.
I’ll be bold and say I like the idea that says, if a person is acting against the rules just to calmly say to the imbecile in question “look this isn’t the way to do it”. It seems like I’ve spent over 20 years fighting against laws that didn’t hold a sense of integrity. Now to just accept the way things are feels like a release. Maybe the real reason was I felt like I needed to fight against the laws inside of myself? Hmmm…it does raise a few interesting questions in my own head. I can take a step back. I’ve found a real rock to rest on, phew.
Now I think it’s about time I stare at the Rubik’s Cube lying partially completed. Sometimes you just need to stare at the best “answer” you’ve put together at that time. Sometimes that is all we have left. One day I will feel my haphazard collage smile back at me. I’m okay with that.