Have Canadian Manners Gone to Hell?

Have Canadian manners gone to hell?

The nation’s polite reputation in jeopardy, say experts

At The Petite Syrah café in Nice, posted prices for coffee vary based on a patron’s manners.
At The Petite Syrah café in Nice, posted prices for coffee vary based on a patron’s manners. PHOTO: FABRICE PEPINO

If the reputational cost of bad manners isn’t enough to encourage decorum, how about having to pay an extra $8  for a coffee?

A café in France recently made headlines for issuing a price scale based on patron etiquette: “Hello, one coffee, please” was listed at the usual price, while the more blunt “One coffee” was advertised at a premium. Though the sign was designed to make a point, people’s enthusiastic reaction to it is sparking renewed debate about the decline of civility.

Even here in Canada, where politeness is a flywheel of national identity, surveys consistently suggest we’re becoming less courteous, more self-involved, and increasingly prone to boorish behaviour – whether in the workplace, in public spaces or on social media. The question is, can anything be done about it?

“The reality is that things have to escalate to a point of pretty significant severity before a court is going to address it,” said Garry J. Wise, a Toronto-based lawyer. “It’s very, very difficult to enforce (civility) in the absence of an ongoing pattern.”

Internationally, however, that’s not the case.

Prone to road rage? Best not drive in Germany, where disrespect is punishable by law.

Germany’s so-called “insult law” not only criminalizes hate speech but also broad conduct showing disrespect for another person – including flipping someone off in traffic. In France, the state-owned railway tasked a team of “polite police” with cracking down on rude passengers after noting a 25 per cent increase in traveller complaints. And inSingapore, a person can be fined for everything from spitting on the sidewalk to not flushing a public toilet.

The lines are greyer in Canada, said Wise, with the onus largely falling on individuals and organizations to impose decorum.

“The willingness of an employer to jump in will vary from workplace to workplace,” said Wise, pointing to issues of harassment, sexism and racial slurs. “Sometimes, they’ll do what the law requires, but not necessarily for the purpose of solving the problem; it’s for the purpose of papering their file.”

Karen Cleveland, a Canadian manners maven, said the Canuck approach tends to be one of passive aggression as opposed to legal intervention. Take, for example, the time she forgot to silence her cellphone at the symphony and was met by “well-deserved glaring looks from other patrons.”

“We shame each other in a very Canadian, quiet, judgy way,” said Cleveland, who contends that etiquette in this country is headed down a scary path.

“Internationally, we enjoy a reputation as being a very mild-mannered people. Some days, that feels like nothing further from the truth – especially if you’ve had the pleasure of cramming yourself into a Toronto Transit Commission subway during rush hour.”

A 2011 poll of more than 5,000 drivers for the Canadian Automobile Association found 73 per cent of people believed road users were exhibiting more rude habits than in the recent past. And in a 2013 survey by B.C.-based Insights West, the majority of respondents had, over the previous month, witnessed public swearing (87 per cent), a child misbehaving without parental intervention (76 per cent), public spitting (72 per cent), and the use of cellphones during a movie (53 per cent).

Poor parenting was cited as a culprit by 93 per cent of respondents, followed by the influence of technology, at 84 per cent. Among Canadians 18 to 34, 70 per cent said someone had written something rude on their Facebook page, directed a mean tweet at them, or been disrespectful to them elsewhere online.

In recent years, however, a proactive approach to manners has begun to emerge.

To combat seat-kicking, phone use and other undesirable movie going activity, Cineplex relies on a pre-show campaign reminding Canadians to – in the words of spokesperson Mike Langdon – exhibit “the behaviour that’s generally preferred in theatres.” Read: Don’t be a jerk.

Prior to the Vancouver Olympics, volunteers participated in a kind of civility bootcamp, aimed at fostering such skills as attentive listening and conflict management. And looking to the nation’s bleachers, more than 65,000 Canadians have participated in Respect in Sport’s parent program, a behavioural training initiative – made mandatory by many sport bodies – designed to prevent infightingamong overzealous moms and dads.

Still, direct punishments for poor manners remain a rarity. In fact, Christine Porath, who has studied incivility for more than a decade, said the greatest costs – at least in the workplace – are suffered by the targets of incivility.

For instance, Porath finds 80 per cent of victims lose productivity due to worrying; 66 per cent incur a decline in performance; 63 per cent lose work time to avoiding the offender; and 12 per cent seek new employment. And the frequency is only worsening: in 2011, fully half of surveyed workers reported experiencing rude treatment at least weekly, compared to just a quarter in 1998.

“We’re not used to penalizing it,” said Porath, co-author of The Cost of Bad Behavior and an associate professor at Georgetown University. “We’ve always been about granting people liberties to be themselves.”


(Originally published on Canada.com, Jan 2014)

Niagara on the Lake — 10 Things You Need to Know

Niagara-on-the-Lake: 10 Things You Need to Know About This Getaway From Toronto


Getaway From Toronto: Niagara-on-the-LakeGetaway From Toronto: Niagara-on-the-Lake (Photo: Theodore C)

If you’re going to invest 90 minutes of driving for a getaway from Toronto, fewer places net a higher return than a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The charming town is home to breathtaking views, excellent restaurants, amazing vineyards and some of Canada’s most treasured heritage sites. Whether you fall in love with Niagara-on-the-Lake for a long affair, or just a fleeting tryst, be sure to consider these 10 tips when making your getaway plan.

Brave your alarm clock or brave sitting in traffic. The 90-minute drive from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake can easily double in heavy traffic. Leave Toronto by 8 a.m. for the most efficient drive.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is walkable—sort of. The nearby wineries warrant car or bike trips, but the downtown hub is best explored on foot. Street parking is in abundance, so ditch your car and fuel up for your stroll with a coffee from Balzac. The Toronto-based café makes a fine Americano, and its Niagara-on-the-Lake outpost has more charm and less bustle than its city counterparts.

For cocktail hour, get a seat on the patio at Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf and Country Club, North America’s oldest standing golf club. The setting is unpretentious with gorgeous views of the lake and Fort Niagara, built in the 1700’s. This is the perfect place to watch the sun set while sampling a glass of local wine from the small but well-curated list of local bottles.

While there is no shortage of good restaurants in the Niagara-on-the-Lake’s core (check out the new Treadwell location), some of the best meals are served at the wineries. At Good Earth Winery—one of the area’s original farm-to-table restaurants—the setting, food and wine are all wonderful. The lobster and shrimp burger is as good, if not better, than you’d imagine.

For more than 50 years, the Shaw Theatre Festival has been its own getaway from Toronto. It’s long anchored Niagara’s art’s scene, producing plays from George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The Edwardian-style Royal George Theatre is impossibly beautiful and located on downtown Queen Street.

After #5, grab a night cap at the Olde Angel Inn , the oldest operating inn in Ontario. The pub was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815 after the War of 1812. Exposed beams and thick plank floors make for a cozy environment. Be sure to ask the warm staffers about the resident ghost and the flag they fly above the Inn.

Jackson-Triggs Winery hosts fantastic outdoor concerts at its open-air amphitheatre. Performances range from classical to folk, and often have the option of pairing a concert with dinner and wine in the stunning on-site cellar.

The bed and breakfast is Niagara-on-the-Lake’s signature accommodation type. There are dozens, and each has its own charms. We love The Darlington House, located a short stroll from the town centre and across the street from the historic Butler’s Barracks. The house is quaint, the breakfast excellent and Julie and Mark are the consummate hosts.

Grape vines pour over the benches and rich terroir that surround Niagara-on-the-Lake thanks to the region’s 27 wineries. You shouldn’t leave without touring at least a few of them, or even stopping in for lunch. We love Marynissen Winery , home to the oldest commercial plot of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Canada, and Ravine Vineyard , which has a casual-but-elegant restaurant, organic farm and canning shop.

Before jumping on the highway, take a few leisurely back country roads and you’re bound to happen upon a farmer’s market or two. Stock up on produce, preserves or fresh baked goods for the drive back. The annual Niagara Wine Festival, held in mid-September is the perfect excuse to plan a visit—not that you need one.

Karen Cleveland is a Toronto-based writer. Visit her at mannersaresexy.com or follow her on Twitter (@schoolfinishing).

(Originally published on Where.ca, August 2013)

Group Travel Tips: On Keeping the Peace

Another glorious summer long weekend has passed, perhaps you were lucky enough to jet someplace fabulous, or pile into the car for a road trip. There is nothing quite like travelling to cement a relationship. The gloves come off, so to speak. When cramped quarters, jet lag or language barriers are factored in, true colours are unabashedly revealed.

Most travel let-downs can be quelled by discussing how you see things shaking out…

Arrange a pre-departure coffee or cocktail with your travel mates to chat about the big picture stuff. Will you share a room? Is the plan to travel together the entire time, or are you hoping to break off for a few days by yourself? Now is the time, well before the trip, to discuss these particulars.

Try to really, really relax. Hours cramped into a car or on a plane, lack of sleep, and the other less sexy elements of travelling take their toll on the most positive people. Take it easy on your companions, be the first to help them out and they’ll do the same for you.

Resist the urge to over-plan a trip and keep a few things in mind that you can do alone. Throwing your running shoes into your bag can offer up a short reprieve and some time for yourself, which might be desperately needed. Inevitably, not everyone shares the same interests, and everyone relaxes in their own way.

Respect communal space. By all means settle into holiday mode, but be mindful of the spaces you share with your travel companions. The vanity isn’t your own personal primping area. Your iPod isn’t necessarily the soundtrack for the group. The teeny tiny closet isn’t just for your belongings.

Lastly, avoid quibbling over cash. Don’t fret over petty spending. A meal here, or a taxi ride there, isn’t worth fretting over and will only put a damper on your trip. In fact, you might want to establish a convivial vibe from the start by picking up the first round of celebratory drinks.

(First published on The Huffington Post Canada, July 2012)

traveling with others

presse agent Karen Cleveland

there’s nothing quite like traveling together to accelerate a relationship. as the gloves can come off, so to speak, via jet lag, nick-of-time connecting flights, language barriers, and currency jumbles… true colours can reveal themselves in unabashed ways. particularly when traveling with a new boyfriend, girlfriend, or multiple mates. so i suggest some navel gazing on your travel etiquette, as well as taking an assessment on those of your trip companion(s), to ensure you all land on common ground.

set expectations in advance …most letdowns can be quelled with some discussions on how you see things shaking out. go for a pre-departure coffee or cocktail with your travel buddies to chat about the big picture stuff. will you be sharing sleeping quarters? if so, what is the set up, and who is fronting the deposit on their credit card? will you travel together the entire time, or are you hoping to break off for a few days by yourself? this is the time, well before the trip, to discuss these particulars.

be the most relaxed version of yourself …hours on a plane, lack of sleep, and the other less sexy elements of traveling, can deplete even the most chipper chaps and chicas. don’t take things too personally, and remember that the trip has an end date. take it easy on your companions. be the first to help them out and they’ll do the same for you.

do not overschedule …if there are places to visit, sites to see, or restaurants to eat at – that the group is collectively interested in hitting – plan to pepper them throughout the trip. if you are accustomed to traveling alone, leave some time for solo exploring. that way you can check out the things that your friends aren’t keen on doing, and simply meet up afterwards over lunch or dinner. inevitably, not everyone will share the same interests, and breaking apart for a day or two will make for some great stories over a bottle of wine when you do reconvene.

respect shared space …by all means settle into relaxed vacation mode, but be mindful of the spaces you share with your travel companions. the vanity isn’t your own personal primping area. your iPod isn’t necessarily the soundtrack for the group. the teeny tiny closet isn’t just for your belongings.

avoid quibbling over cash …don’t fret over petty spending. a coffee here, or a taxi ride there, isn’t worth quibbling over and will only put a damper on your trip. in the grand scheme of things, the cost doesn’t matter. instead, consider it a karmic deposit. in fact, you might want to establish a convivial vibe from the start by offering to pick up the first round of celebratory drinks. hopefully, your friends will pick up on this and one of them will get the next round. if not, fear not…you’ve treated some friends to a cocktail to kick off your trip. a good thing, right?

based in Toronto, Karen Cleveland tackles all things etiquette, from the traditional to the taboo. follow her on Twitter @SchoolFinishing and visit mannersaresexy.com

(First published for The Travel Press, June 2012)

How to charm a local host: the Finishing School guide to dinner parties abroad

Dinner in South Africa | Tintswalo lodge

Karen Cleveland – Smith guest blogger and Canada-based doyenne of decorum – follows up her first post on Italian etiquette (How to… fare bella figura) with another manners-minding missive, this time on dinner-party protocol for globetrotting guests…


Well done, you savvy traveller, you: your charm and witty banter has earned you a dinner invitation at a lovely local’s home. By all means, accept it. Making friends when travelling is one of life’s pleasant surprises and may very well take your trip to another level – a true glimpse into your host country.

Finishing School travel tips | flowers by Wild At HeartBefore you jump in the shower, polish yourself up and put on your Sunday best, it behooves you to give some thought to, and do some quick research on, what to bring along to dinner. Because, of course, a good guest never arrives empty-handed.

If you are lucky enough to score a dinner invitation on your travels in Asia or parts of the Middle East, don’t take it personally if your host doesn’t open up your gift in front of you: tradition is such that gifts are not opened in front of the gift-bearer (in case it is a terrible present: the gift giver is therefore spared the humiliation). Likewise, if you are presented with a gift, do not open it unless invited to.

One might think that sending flowers in advanced of dinner is a sure bet, but regional traditions covet certain blooms for special occasions. While an arrangement of white flowers is a lovely gesture to a dinner host in Mexico, a bouquet of white chrysanthemums is more appropriate for funerals in Japan and France. In Asia, odd numbers are ominous while many Europeans still follow the custom of sending an uneven number of flowers, suggesting inseparability — though please, don’t sent an inauspicious thirteen stems.

Regardless of wherever on this great wide world you are dining, take note that showing up with an armload of cut stems might actually pull your host away from their meal preparations. Best to come with flowers already arranged, or better yet, leave it to the professionals and have an arrangement sent earlier that day. In China, gifts are often presented in pairs, so if bringing along of bottle of wine, bring along a second.

Dinner in China | Homa Chateau

Some traditionalists suggest that bringing wine to dinner might imply that the host’s cellar is inadequate, particularly in countries that are proud of their local wine production. If that is of concern, a great bourbon or scotch might be more fitting. Also be mindful of larger cultural implications of a well-intentioned gift: bringing alcohol to a Muslim home is in poor form.

Whatever thoughtful gift you bring to dinner, be sure to thank your host following the meal. And reciprocate with an invitation to host them when they are on your home soil.

Based in Toronto, Karen Cleveland tackles all things etiquette, from traditional to taboo. Follow her on Twitter or drop by for a visit.

(First published on Mr & Mrs Smith, June 2012)