Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


A Canadian moment

File under: Home And Native Land, Talking To Strangers. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 5:19 pm.

The rain was coming down hard when I waited for a break in traffic to cross the street.

I paused at the intersection, waiting for the Volvo, and the Honda that trailed perilously close behind, to pass. I saw the Volvo decelerate, and I tried to catch the driver’s eye. Speed up, I willed her, don’t stop. I can wait five seconds to cross.

But the Volvo stopped, and within an instant the Honda collided with it. It was a gentle hit, and I stood transfixed at the corner, wondering if the two drivers needed a witness. The Honda was technically in the wrong, but the Volvo shouldn’t have stopped.

The two drivers’ doors clicked open simultaneously, and the women approached the touching bumpers.

“No damage,” said the Volvo. “Sorry about that; I shouldn’t have stopped.”

“No, I’m sorry,” said the Honda. “I was following you too closely. And in this weather especially -”

“No, I shouldn’t have stopped,” repeated the Volvo. “It’s my fault. But no harm done.”

“Is everything okay?” I called out.

“Everything’s fine,” they assured me, and I forget which one apologized for making me stand out there in the rain watching a minor car accident.


  1. That’s it, I’m moving.

    - Lauren — 4/13/2006 @ 6:42 pm

  2. Well, aren’t you going to finish the story, MS? You didn’t tell the part where there’s screaming and they pull out their guns. I mean, they must have starting screaming and brandishing weapons, right? Since they started out pretty polite, I’ll assume there was no actual exchange of gunfire, but surely you can’t have a traffic accident without the screaming etc. Why, in California…

    enough said.

    - Zeno — 4/13/2006 @ 6:50 pm

  3. Lauren - heh, and in that case you may be interested in the apartment I’m about to vacate - which comes with my landlady, who asked me if it was okay with me if she “cleaned up a bit, because you don’t have the big vaccuum cleaner” while I was away on business. Hell yes, it’s okay with me, I answered, not in so many words, and I had expected some light sweeping and dusting - not the full-blown scrubbing/waxing/polishing job she did on the entire place. When I sheepishly thanked her - sheepishly, because she’d transformed my place from biological hazard to pleasure to live in - you guessed it - she apologized. “I hope you didn’t mind! I’m sorry!” she said.

    “Are you kidding me?” I replied. “You can clean this place anytime.”

    And my landlady - who isn’t a native English speaker, so perhaps she wasn’t familiar with the expression - replied, in all seriousness, “How about Wednesdays?”

    I generally find stereotypes of Canadians humourous, but the one about us apologizing when someone steps on our feet is spot-on. I’ve done it myself. Many times. This week.

    Zeno - Heh. Nope, no screaming; however, I did once witness a beautiful instance of pedestrian rage - pedestrian bawling out a cowering truck driver at a busy intesection downtown. Which, in its own way, I suppose, was rather Canadian itself.

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/13/2006 @ 7:17 pm

  4. The apologising bit is Canadian, but cars *slowing down* to let a pedestrian cross (even when they’re legally obliged to)? That’s less widespread, let’s say.

    - wolfa — 4/13/2006 @ 7:58 pm

  5. The slowing down for pedestrians is, as I understand it, more of a Western thing. My sister claims that most Edmonton drivers will slow to a stop is a pedestrian even looks like they might be considering crossing the street in the middle of a block.

    - Dr. Matt — 4/13/2006 @ 9:30 pm

  6. I live in So Cal, have to cross a crosswalk every day to get to work, and can get the majority of cars to stop for me by being aggressive about stepping into the street. If you hang back, they’ll usually just blow past, but some will stop anyway even at hazard of their rear bumper. So that part of the story doesn’t sound so unfamiliar. But I find it hard to imagine such polite selflessless after a minor accident here.

    - D. Eppstein — 4/13/2006 @ 9:46 pm

  7. Although the apologizing is definitely Canadian (and any person-to-person contact like being stepped on or being bumped into or some such), at least in Montreal as soon as you involve a vehicle it’s all gone.

    As a pedestrian, I use the S&S method: Stay & Stare (OK, I suck at making up acronyms; sue me). I stay at the curb and stare a car down until it stops; when (not if) it doesn’t work (like yesterday–the driver sped up as she approached the stop sign, and in Westmount, of all places) I’ll usually do a combination of flipping the driver off, yelling/swearing at the driver and kicking the car in the wheels. Yes, I’m an asshole, but I don’t have a few tons of steel protecting me. (The main rule is to only walk to places in which even if the drivers speed up, you can still get out of the way in time.)

    Usually they stop though, and usually cars are pretty good towards bicycles and they usually understand what I’m doing when I jaywalk (at a red light or in the middle of a block) and don’t stop for me (I hate it when cars stop for me when they have right of way and I always apologize, which I guess is why I get annoyed when they don’t stop when I have right of way). (It’s also horrible when I go elsewhere (not just Canada: latest example is Lowell, MA) because I can’t jaywalk without people stopping for me!)

    However, even though I don’t drive (or possibly because I don’t), I’d have to say pedestrians are the worst among the three. They think they always have the right of way and if they’re crossing on a red and a car is approaching the intersection trying to make the light and can’t get through and honks to try to get through, the pedestrians usually ignore them or flip them off. I’d hate to drive in this city; maybe that’s why I don’t.

    - Nicholas — 4/13/2006 @ 11:39 pm

  8. Dr. Matt - I’m not quite sure what part of Edmonton your sister is from, but speaking from experience that isn’t quite the case. Sure, they’ll stop, but it usually takes at least a foot or three out into the street before you get much of a response.

    In that respect, Vancouver seems quite a bit better. Not even including the fact that Edmonton police will ticket you for Jaywalking, where I get the impression that such a thing is mostly unheardof in Vancouver.

    - Simon Rose — 4/14/2006 @ 12:22 am

  9. Nicholas, I find the S&S method totally useless — I do the rush out and don’t look method (well, I look before I rush out so nothing’s on the way, but then I stop looking), on the (usually correct) assumption that cars don’t want to run you over, and if you clearly don’t see them, they’ll avoid you.

    I think it’s pretty much a vicious circle. Pedestrians jaywalk and cut off cars when the cars have the right of way, cars rush through intersections even when pedestrians have the right of way.

    But I love walking around downtown Mtl in early Sept and watching the new out of town students trying to cross the streets anywhere.

    - wolfa — 4/14/2006 @ 8:20 am

  10. Re: slowing down for pedestrians - I take it none of you have ever been to Nova Scotia, where drivers will slow down if you so much as give them the impression that you are the sort of person who might one day be interested in crossing a street. Once, in Yarmouth, I hesitated at a curb, and when I looked up, every single car visible to me had stopped, and every driver was waiting for me to cross the street. Eerie.

    Re: S&S - I do that while biking. Apparently the most common type of driver/cyclist accident occurs at right turns, with the cyclist in the special designated bike lane, and the driver in the next lane over. Consequently, if I am ever stopped in such a situation, I will try to make eye contact with the driver next to me. If I fail to do so, I’ll pull out so that I am directly in front of the driver. This sometimes gets me nasty looks, but the way I see it, it’s better than no look.

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/14/2006 @ 8:36 am

  11. Canada is weird.

    - Vito Prosciutto — 4/14/2006 @ 8:44 am

  12. I learned long ago that if you don’t want a car to stop for you when you’re walking, you _avoid_ eye contact. Works like a dream. It’s the only way to get across the idea that, no, dammit, I’m not crossing the street right now.

    - Moses — 4/14/2006 @ 11:58 am

  13. Nicholas - S&S is not merely a lousy acronym, its not even an acronym. An acronym is, “A word formed from the initial letters of a name or by combining initial letters or parts of a series of words” (definition from dictionary.com) So unless you know any words that have “&” in them S&S is not a word and hence not an acronym. And no, I’m not bored or anything.

    - Rachel — 4/14/2006 @ 12:09 pm

  14. MS, though I didn’t have that experience in Halifax — close, but not quite that extre,e — I find that small towns across New England do the same thing. I always feel like I’m about to enter some sort of horror movie when cars stop.

    - wolfa — 4/14/2006 @ 1:03 pm

  15. Yes, the Maritimes are really good for stopping for people. The proprietor of a B&B that I stayed at pointed out that this was a poor survival strategy when Maritimers then leave the Maritimes and get run over…

    Oh, also I was trying to teach my girlfriend how to drive a manual. People didn’t honk or anything when she stalled and bumped into the next car down the slope! How polite!

    On tickets for jaywalking in Calgary, from the Globe and Mail:

    In the 2004 playoff bid, policing costs hit $1-million. The street celebrations were marred by vandalism, jaywalking and incidents of public urination and nudity. One police officer was assaulted.

    - plam — 4/16/2006 @ 2:29 pm

  16. > I’ll usually do a combination of flipping the driver off,
    > yelling/swearing at the driver and kicking the car in the wheels.

    Have you tried spitting on the windshield?

    - commenter — 4/17/2006 @ 9:01 am

  17. Or defacing their bumper stickers with little mustaches?

    - Noumenon — 4/19/2006 @ 5:43 am

  18. Whoa, now, commenter and Noumenon, that’s just unCanadian. I usually just ask nicely, and if they don’t obey, I ask nicely again. And they sure don’t want to make me ask a third time!

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/20/2006 @ 10:22 pm

  19. Goodness!  It’s a certainty that the automobile was not invented in Canada, or else we’d never have this definition:

    Automobile, n:  A four-wheeled vehicle which runs up hills and down pedestrians.

    - Engineer-Poet — 4/23/2006 @ 11:08 pm

  20. Wow. How— civilized!

    - Ms Cornelius — 4/29/2006 @ 8:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.