When recently in England, equal time spent in London and the gorgeous countryside, I was struck by the juxtaposition of textbook perfection manners, and that infamous stiff English upper lip. The right words, but delivered in a ho-hum expression (not quite a scowl, not quite a smile…remember the opening bus scene in “Shaun of the Dead”?).
In Canada in general, and Toronto in particular, I think our version of cordiality is warmer. When we say our pleases and thank you’s, we say them with conviction. When I’d get pleases and thank you’s across the pond, in a charming accent of course, sometimes it felt like due diligence lip service: well-intentioned, but dare I say, insincere?
It became a game for me to see in how many mundane interactions (buying coffee, asking for directions, service at bars and restaurants, etc.) I could crack that austere front, and make someone make eye contact, smile, or raise a bit of intonation in their voice. You know, stir up a bit of life. The good news is that I was happily surprised. Time and time again my efforts were reciprocated. For sharing the same language and monarchy, it was an interesting social experiment to see just how different our conventions are. So while that stiff upper lip is a good front, there’s a bit of Canadian tucked inside every English folk that I met (just have to coax it out of them, a bit. Maple syrup, perhaps?).
As an afterthought, maybe if they shared our same tipping conventions , they’d have a bit of love in their service….