As a native Torontonian there are two types of people you meet when you move to Calgary.
There are those who immediately tell you how wonderful Calgary is. "The mountains, the outdoors, the rivers, the Stampede!" These people have no doubt you won't miss Toronto one bit and can't imagine why you would have lived there in the first place.
Then they give you their cellphone number so they can meet you for lunch and show you around or invite you over and make you feel welcome. If you were expecting just an e-mail address, forget it. That's way too impersonal for a Calgarian. They tell you they are looking forward to your call. And they mean it.
Then there is the other type, best personified by a salesgirl I met at a local drugstore when my hairdryer exploded and I went looking for another. The store didn't have any dryers that were of the quality I wanted, so I asked the woman where I could get a salon-grade hairdryer in Calgary, explaining I was from Toronto and didn't know my way around yet.
Before I had even finished my sentence she blurted out, "Why would you ever leave Toronto? We have nothing here! We only just got an outlet mall and it's not even that great. I'm desperately trying to get into nursing school in Toronto so I can get out of here and live in a real city."
To be sure, after this anti-Calgary outburst, the salesgirl spent more than 20 minutes with me figuring out what I needed and where I lived, then drawing maps and looking up phone numbers of places that might carry what I wanted. She was helpful beyond belief.
Maybe Torontonians aren't really cold fish. Maybe it's just something in the water that makes us act the way we do. Remove the water and voila - nice.
And that's when it started to dawn on me. Calgarians, whether fiercely hometown patriotic or bigger-city wannabes, were not like most of the Torontonians I had lived among all my life before moving here in May for my partner's work.
Calgarians were nice. Not just polite - but nice. They wanted to talk to you. They wanted to listen to you. They wanted to help you if they could.
If anything reinforced this belief, it was driving. Or walking while other people were driving. On a nice day I decided to go out for a stroll, bringing my jaywalking habits along for the ride.
I was halfway out in the road trying to cross, expecting the cars to come whizzing past me with no regard, when the strangest thing happened. The cars stopped so I could get across. Stopped dead in the middle of traffic! With seemingly no ire that I was disrupting their right of way. No honking. No fist waving. Just a smile and a nod letting me know I was safe to cross.
This was not a one-time thing. As a driver, I have frequently almost plowed into the back of a Calgary-plated car as it suddenly braked to let a pedestrian cross a busy street. I have learned that to be nice in Calgary necessitates not just being helpful, but also being quick on the brake pedal.
All of this got me thinking, why aren't Torontonians this nice? Frankly, why wasn't I this nice? Is it really true what the rest of Canada says about us - that we are cold, cliquey snobs who don't give a damn?
I have probably behaved that way more times than I'd like to admit. I have ignored people in elevators. I haven't been friendly to the checkout ladies at the supermarket. I've looked at strangers who have tried to strike up conversations with me like pariahs.
But is this really me, or is it just the Toronto in me? Because when faced with the choice of being nice or not nice in Calgary, I find that I am almost always choosing the nice route. And while it still feels weird to be so friendly, the funny thing is that it always leaves me feeling happy and connected and, well, un-Toronto.
Maybe it isn't us then. Maybe Torontonians aren't really cold fish. Maybe it's just something in the water that makes us act the way we do. Remove the water and voila - nice.
I was at a networking event recently and found myself talking to a group of women who hailed from all over Canada and one woman from England. Since I was the newest in town, the women were asking me how I liked Calgary.
"Everyone is so nice here," I started gushing.
This naturally sparked a discussion on how inhospitable a city Toronto seemed to be. The British woman chimed in and said, "Its not that Torontonians are trying to be cold or unfriendly. It's just that they live in a big, overly busy city where there are so many bloody people that you don't bother being nice to strangers because you know you will never see them again."
This seemed to satisfy the other Canadians in the group. Maybe, I thought. But one thing I did know for sure - as much as I love my native city, Calgary is making me a warmer, friendlier, nicer person. And that alone was worth the move.
Jessica Goldman lives in Calgary.
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