Friday, January 23, 2009

Culture: A Canadian Snowball Fight

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In his parody song "Canadian Idiot", Weird Al Yankovic included the following lyrics:
Always hear the same kind of story
Break their nose and they'll just say "sorry"
Tell me what kind of freaks are that polite?
I really have observed Canadians apologize to tables after they banged their knees against them.

Yet, even after more than two years of living here, I am still sometimes pleasantly surprised at just how polite Canadians can be. Today, I was walking home from the grocery store, loaded down with stuffed bags when I started to come up behind a group of teenagers. It was a typical group of Toronto teenagers, with a wide variety of races represented, and they were engaging in that most typical of winter pastimes--a snowball fight.

A pair of girls were across busy Jane Street from the bulk of the group, and they were the primary target of the other kids, though they would sneak attacks on the same side of the street. I noticed first that one of those girls and at least two of the guys in the main group had throwing arms worthy of major league baseball as their snowballs crossed the street at high velocity and definitely were hitting a strike zone around their target if not the exact body part they were targeting. Before long, I also noticed that they were taking great care to send their volleys when there were significant breaks in traffic; the closest thing to a surprise attack was to throw right after a car had cleared the scene.

As they were walking slowly and paying far more attention to the snowball fight than their unknown destination, assuming they had one, I came up behind them relatively rapidly. But, when I was within about ten meters and a snowball landed on the ground behind a trailing person, one of the others turned to me and said "sorry," even though it had splattered nowhere near me. Then, the whole group instinctively and without coordinating conversation stepped off the cleared portion of the sidewalk, some taking advantage of the break to pack more ammunition, and allowed me to pass. Another said "excuse us" as I went by. I was so surprised by their courtesy that I didn't know what to say, and just muttered, "Thank you."

Only after I was about ten meters in front of them did the next cross-street volley ensue, and I was probably twenty-five meters in front of them before snowballs started flying down the sidewalk again. This group was clearly having a lot of fun, but they weren't interested in their fun getting in the way of anyone else. It was so Canadian, I almost wanted to sing "Oh, Canada!"

Then again, when I arrived home minutes later, I probably looked like a frostbritten hose-head.

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