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Canadians | Are We a Little Dumb?

The average Canadian negotiates three things: the cost of a vehicle, house and possibly bank service rates. So when I got to your developing economy and didn’t see a single listed price, I was basically predisposed to negotiating miserably.

Did you know that while Canadians are world renown for being nice and polite, there is an impression that we are a little dumb? Truth. I’ve heard this circulating a few times now. How could anyone be so mean

Thinking on this issue a little deeper (deep thinking because I am ‘a little dumb’), I can’t help but think this is a classic example of cultural misinterpretation. We must consider what instances occur while abroad to drive the perception that we’re ‘a little dumb.’ I have to think that this is a combination of learned courtesy, inability to negotiate (a propensity to be honest and straight forward), gratitude stemming from being a citizen of a highly developed country and context.

Learned Courtesy

I truly do shuffle about awkwardly to maintain my personal space bubble and I don’t cut in line (except that one time at the Vatican). These are learned social behaviours relating to courtesy. I constantly have to remind myself that I do not have to say, “Sorry” when it’s not warranted. Which is just about all the time. I have consciously brought this back to Canada with me. This is not to say that I’m bent on being rude but I’m no longer going to make senseless concessions to appease how others feel about themselves. I’ll give you two examples:

Example One | The Job Fair

I woke up early on a Saturday morning to go to a job fair. I missed my bus because my smartphone apparently wasn’t aware of the time. Right, not my fault at all. I caught the next bus (30 minutes later), missed the Seabus connection and finally made it down town an hour later than anticipated. I changed into my heels and walked confidently up to the fair attendant. She gave me some paperwork to complete and I did so. When I returned it to her she inquired further about my availability. Her superior interjected and said that they would not be accepting part-time availability. The attendant apologized profusely and here’s the shocking part, I did not tell her it was okay. I was not feeling ‘okay’ about this. I had gotten up early, suffered a plight of public transportation and entirely wasted my morning and the posting advertised for part-time employment. I simply told her, “I understand and I’ll have to withdraw my application then.” This seems petty and insignificant but I’m no longer championing the I’m-a-Sorry-Canadian gig! The buck looney stops here!

Example Two | Library Seating

This is ridiculous. I went to the library today and as per usual, it was packed. Study space was few and far between. After fifteen minutes the fire alarm went off. I looked around. Is this for real? I figured I would certainly look like a Dumb Canadian if I elected not to evacuate and was consequently burned alive. People fled the building and took shelter from the rain. When the alarm stopped a half hour later I took the opportunity to resettle myself at a vacant desk.  Vacant because the fire alarm had forced everyone out of the building. Good for me! It’s like I just got upgraded to business class seating. I hustled up those stairs!  I set up camp and a man approached the desk next to me. Pointedly he asks, “Was that where you were sitting before?”

Me: “No it wasn’t. Would you like to sit here?”

Him: “No…this table will do.”

How unattractively passive aggressive. You know, people actually budge into line in 90% of the world. Including civilized Europe. I’m not apologizing for it any more!

Inability to Negotiate | Propensity to be Honest and Straight Forward

Where I’m from there is strict legislation regulating price fixing, advertised pricing and for Christ’s sake there’s even a Competition Bureau to ensure that everyone operates fairly! I have essentially been legally protected from deceptive retailers my entire life. The average Canadian negotiates three things: the cost of a vehicle, house and possibly bank service rates. So when I got to your developing economy and didn’t see a single listed price, I was basically predisposed to negotiate miserably.

This is how it happens. You will laugh at me. I will probably interpret your laugh as, “Oh…did I low-ball you badly and offend you? You look a little offended. I apologize! Here, I’ll pay more.” An equally probable scenario is that I have a pretty good idea of what I want to pay for the item and I will actually tell you my bottom line. This of course becomes the basis  of our negotiation. Low and behold, I’ll end up meeting you somewhere in the middle and that middle will be 30-50% more than my bottom line. Also,  it’s pretty much inconceivable that my emotions won’t play a part in the transaction. “Oh, I’m sorry. Is it because are you poor? Here let me discredit the fact that you are a professional negotiator and do this forty times a day.” Wake up people! You’re being judged as dumb, not compassionate!

Gratitude |Being a Citizen of a Highly Developed Country

It’s true, in Thailand you can get a $6 haircut and a $2.50 beer. In Vietnam you can buy a $0.80 imported beer. You quickly become accustom to cheap goods. In fact, it’s a cold reality when you get home and pay $6-7 for a bottle of beer. Yes…it’s all cheap in relation to ‘home prices.’ So you’re asking where the typical Canadian is considered ‘a little dumb’ in all this, I know. Well since everything appears so affordable, we farangs tourists often succumb to, “It’s okay, all things relative, I make so much more money that it’s okay to overpay here. Especially when they make so little.” That’s a perfectly decent attitude to have, especially because it refrains you from hard line negotiating over what really amounts to a dollar. Consider it the ‘tourist price.’ That being said, it all contributes to you ultimately overpaying for something and the seller knowing it…and thinking you’re ridiculous. A little dumb if you will. This is where we’re trapped in the Dumb Corner. Don’t bicker over a dollar, just concede that you will be considered ‘a little dumb,’ go about with your (holi)day and proudly wear your $5 tank top. This is the dumb that we can’t much mitigate.


It’s a new country where you can’t read signs and processes are not learned nor intuitive. Translation: ‘Hi, I’m just new here, not necessarily dumb.’ You just want to scream out in the street, “This is culture shock and it’s natural!”

Greg and I were paying for two fares for the Beijing metro. The attendant said ‘Two please.” Yes, two tickets. How much? “Two each.” No, not two each, just two tickets. It was inconceivable that our fare totalled 4 Juan. That’s $0.60 CAD for the both of us. We ended up just giving him a 100 Juan note, figuring it should cover the fare. He looked at us with frustration and made a really big deal about making change. In retrospect, who could blame him? He had to make a whole lot of change…96 Juan. In that situation, yes ‘a little dumb.’ Other learning curves that contribute to us/ me looking dumb: 

  • Squat toilets. How do I ‘do’ this? I’m out of toilet paper...oh wait. BYO-TP. 
  • Is this smoothie made with safe ice?” If there are holes in the cubes it generally means yes.
  • “120 Baht? Okay…I’ll buy two for 250.”
  • Your currency is all the same colour and has numerals in both Lao and English. And your ‘1’ looks like ‘8.’ So don’t blame me for my simple addition errors. Oh? I look like I can’t do simple math?
  • I just learned to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank-you’ in Laos and I crossed the border three days ago…and I am still ignorantly greeting you in Thai. ‘A little dumb.’ 
  • I’m new to Germany and frankly, biking has always been a recreational activity   (not functional). This whole ‘bike garage’ is really tripping me up. And your bicycle-specific stop lights. And all of the persistent bell ringing. 
  • “Oh, the exterior handle doesn’t turn? Appears that I’ve locked myself out.” (Germany)
  • “The windows open at the TOP?! Just mind blowing.” (Europe)


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