Dom Joly: I’m sorry
PUBLISHED: 16:20 24 October 2016
The Canadians possess an essential niceness and politeness that has long since disappeared from our fair shores
Travel is always a culture shock. When roaming exotic lands you can be faced with such quandaries as to whether to partake in a feast of ‘Ginseng Sweet Meat’ as I did in North Korea. When it was subsequently explained that said sweet meat was in fact dog, things get seriously tricky, especially as I had finished said feast and rather enjoyed it. On my return home, I couldn’t look my Labrador in the face, but he sensed that something fundamental had changed in our relationship dynamic.
But when I go on my regular summer holidays in Canada, I sort of expect things to be a little easier. Canada, after all is about as Anglophile a country as you can get. Our Queen is on the bank notes. Towns have names such as Windsor and London. Rivers are called The Avon and The Thames. So really my summer holidays should be easy affairs, and they are… except for one little detail. The Canadians possess an essential niceness and politeness to their existence that has long since disappeared from our fair shores. Traveling in a lift with Canadians can be a long and complicated affair. Once your floor has been reached everyone in the lift refuses to exit before the other and there can often be a so-called ‘Canadian stand-off’ in which the doors actually shut before anybody makes the decision to rudely go first. This of course then leads to a serious volley of apologies from everyone involved.
It was therefore, almost a relief to get in the car and head ‘up North’ – to cottage country where Canadians relax on the shore of one of their two million lakes. I had an acquaintance in Toronto who, us having only met twice before, insisted that we use their cottage on an island in Georgian Bay. They told us that it was always left unlocked and, in true Canadian fashion, mentioned that they might be coming up themselves at the weekend but that they would stay somewhere else if they did so. We took a little ferry over to the island, which was an Indian Reserve with very few cottages save for a group on a large sandy bay on the east coast.
We drove the short distance across the island on a dirt track and came to several rows of cottages nestled within a forest of tall trees. We found our cottage and dragged everything we needed for the stay inside. The island is pretty much off-grid so everything you require had to be brought with you. The cottage was tiny and incredibly sweet. It was a two-minute walk down to the beach and the magical, crystal-clear waters of the lake. We’d been told to help ourselves to any water toys and so we used two paddleboards that we found under the cottage. Come sunset we traipsed back to the cottage and made supper before playing a competitive game of Balderdash – our favourite family board game. That night we slept like kings in the ethereal silence of the Northern night. This idyllic lifestyle continued for three days.
On the morning of the fourth day, we arose late and made a brunch that we laid out on the large table on the outside deck. All was well with the world. As we were coming to the end of our meal an SUV turned into the cottage driveway and parked behind our car. Assuming that this must be our hosts we waved vigorously, but the confused family that exited the vehicle were strangers to us. The subsequent interaction explained why. This was their cottage. We were in the wrong one. We were mortified. They seemed more upset at having to turf us out. We explained that we did have a cottage to stay in somewhere around here but they were insistent that we should continue our sojourn and that they would “find somewhere else…” We had to almost force our way out of their cottage and try to find the actual one that we were supposed to stay in. Our brand new friends lined up to wave us goodbye as we left our holiday squat.
We could learn a lot from this glorious country.
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