Thursday, January 13, 2005

California Delight #7: Conversation

Some years back I met a Columbian man who was visiting Canada for the first time. I asked him what his first impressions were, and he said, “Don’t look, don’t talk, and apologize if you are clumsy enough to touch.” A little different from South America, then? “Oh, yes! We have to hug everybody. Unless they’re wearing a pistol, and even then sometimes.”

A friend who moved to Toronto from Newfoundland said much the same. At the time, I was pining for the prairies, so we mused over the quality of our homesickness. I suggested my fondness for my hometown was perhaps a bit na├»ve: I knew everybody there, which was why I thought it was friendlier than the city. He conceded that, but said the Maritimes were different. “It doesn’t take so long to be a neighbor, because everyone talks to you.”

The conversation in California differs considerably in quality from the conversation in Newfoundland (material for a future entry, perhaps), but the charming thing about California conversation is that, in sharp contrast to Toronto, it exists. This is a trait I’ve always appreciated about the citizens of the United States – so long as you are not the sole occupant of any given space, you have a ready interlocutor. I've conversed with complete strangers while cueing up for a movie, shopping for post-cards, visiting the local library, buying a pair of shoes ... Thankfully, none of these has ever concluded with a hug (too far out of my comfort zone, still - after all, I'm not just Canadian but Mennonite) but it leaves me with the impression that becoming a “neighbor” in this State would not be a long or difficult process.

California Delight #6


Smashlee said...

I found there are huge differences even within the US. I am from Kentucky (kind like a middleground) and have done a lot of travel in the South (being MS, NC, SC, TX, etc) and I saw the difference of everyone waves to you on the road - whether you know them or not. I have also been to WA in Seattle and Tacoma and Boston.
In the south if you want something that is not on a restaraunt menu, all you do is ask and you get a, "Why sure sweetie, we'll whip that right up."
When I was in Tacoma, I had asked if I could get a chicken and steak mix for fajitas and I was looked at as if I had 2 heads and heard, "Umm, no."
I think it's all in your upbringing and environment.

Whisky Prajer said...

Sounds like there's at least one restaurant in Tacoma that could use a customer service tune-up. "Waving" - yeah, same thing. I once drove to a mining town in northern Manitoba (Thompson). We're talking hundreds of miles of highway through unpopulated sticks and stones. Sometimes it would be over an hour of solitary driving before I'd see an opposing vehicle on the horizon, but when we were in visual distance, he'd wave. That was the "Northern" sensibility. Of course, when I returned to the (relative) south, as the traffic frequency increased, the waves decreased. Too bad, really. Friendliness brings quality of life.