By Monte Lazarus
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes purportedly said, “All generalizations are false; including this one.” Thus, let me begin with a generalization: Canadians are just plain nice people.
We have just returned from our annual Cultural Fix in the town of Stratford, Ontario, about an hour-and-a-half west of Toronto. Stratford was once a bustling rail hub; but it ran into severe economic problems as the railroads declined. A gent named Tom Patterson had the wild idea of making Stratford a theatre centre (Canadian spelling) and thus build a tourism base while providing some cultural experiences. With private funds, in the nineteen fifties, he erected a tent, somehow persuaded Alec Guinness to appear and play Richard III. From that extremely modest beginning, Stratford developed into a major centre (Canadian, again) for dramas, comedies, musicals and experimental theatre (yep, Canadian again) including a heavy dose of good ol’ Shakespeare. The latter has caused a few internal family problems. My wife insists that it is enough to see “Hamlet” three times, “Measure for Measure” twice, and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” even once. At least on the last one she is absolutely right. Surely, someone other than Shakespeare wrote it. So, this year we filled the gap with “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” No comment.
Oddly enough, the good burghers of Stratford are uncommonly nice to – dare I say it (?) tourists! Of course they love the income, but they go far out of their way to be – yikes! – pleasant. Smiles abound, folks enjoy themselves and each other. We could not help recall the time when four of us entered a local restaurant, with my beloved wife leading the way. As we were about to be seated a lady (I use the term advisedly) turned to my spouse and said, “Damned tourist!” My wife, well known for her perpetual civility, even to me, smiled and simply said, “I’ve lived here for more than twenty years.” Actually it was closer to an eon, but why rub it in?
The week following 9/11 the tiny town of Shakespeare turned out at the local firehouse. The town is really a crossroad with three or four antique shops and a small church. The citizens raised about $15,000 (U.S.) and sent it to the New York firefighters. Even though Canadian television is now touting a program about the War of 1812, and how the big, bad Americans invaded Canada (true), the folks treat us as the naughty big brother and recognize us as individuals.
Now, to learn to speak Canadian, there are a few absolutes. In “English Canada” (pretty much everywhere except the province of Quebec) you must practice saying “Eh” in each sentence. Examples: “So you are from Wisconsin, EH?” “We really liked the show, EH?” That mastery will get you through Canadian 101. Then move on to the famous word “about.” In Canadian it is “aboot.” If you are out, it’s “aboot, EH?” If you can do that consistently you advance to the Masters Program. You are now on your own. There are a number of other oddities, but you must discover them yourselves, since you are going for an advanced degree in Canadianism.
Got it, EH?