A favourite pastime of Canadians is to regale each other stories of ignorant Americans. Newfoundland comedian Rick Mercer even created a terrific television show about this phenomenon, called Talking to Americans. On it, he managed to get Americans to say very soberly and earnestly, things like “Congratulations Ontario, on getting your first traffic light!”
Another trait we Canadians don’t love about our neighbours is their rabid patriotism. They sure love the word “freedom,” yet, when France exerted its freedom to not join America in an unwarranted military invasion, Americans changed the name of their much-loved culinary treat to “freedom fries.” The layers of irony are numerous and fascinating.
And let’s not even start about how their backward attitudes toward homosexuality and environmental conservation compares to Canada’s (except Alberta, sadly).
Except, in San Francisco. I just left there and, honestly, it belongs in Canada. People there are so nice, it’s dumbfounding. They’re even friendly toward tourists. My friend and I were taking turns photographing each other in front of the Redwood Park that surrounds Transamerica Pyramid (a skyscraper). A local stopped and offered to photograph us together. And trust me, our identical bikes with a rental shop logo beaming from the handlebars and matching lime green helmets clearly marked us as tourists.
Another time, we had stopped to check our maps and figure out if we were on the right path to the Golden Gate Bridge. A local stopped and gave us helpful and friendly directions. We got a lot of help that we never even asked for. When I biked out of San Francisco into a forest park, a local couple gave me route tips and then took me for pizza and beer. Once I bumped into a local … and she apologized! That’s supposed to be a Canadian stereotype, right? I know, eh?
San Francisco public washrooms have bins for “paper towels only” so they can be composted. Streets that aren’t tiny and purely residential have bike lanes or painted “sharrow” bike icons. I even saw street signs that said “Bikes allowed full use of lane.” On the main road through town, the bike lanes are painted rich green. The city is so bikey that the guy who was the city staff member in charge of San Francisco’s bike infrastructure for 14 years gave us our own personal tour.
I needed a tool to switch the seat on my bike for the more comfortable seat I brought from home, so I went to Cliff’s Variety Store in The Castro: a gay store in the gay district. A nice clerk helped me pick out an Allen key, then told me to go out and try it on my bike before paying! Plus, all the rainbow flags that one sees around town are heart-warming.
Once we couldn’t figure out how to get out of the subway station. A local helped us through the gate, then told us where the trains were. When we said we were trying to leave, she just laughed and kept helping us. San Francisco has many theatres, museums, galleries, parks and bookstores. And beautiful architecture, much of it art deco.
One of my favourite sights was a poster advertising AIDS testing services. It said “No judgmental bull----.” Another favourite encounter was with the young girl who was so wrapped up in throwing food to seagulls that she didn’t see me coming and pegged me in the head with a french fry. (No freedom fries in San Francisco.)
The city could be an anomaly in America. However, I suspect that in reality, kind, helpful, open-minded people lurk in many American towns, their smiles and voices drowned out by the chest thumping pronouncements of the religious right.
Dave Lloyd is a writer and musician who grew up in St. Albert.