I’m not a good Canadian. I don’t care about hockey, have never lined up for a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee and, above all, I’m not “nice,” at least not in the Canadian sense of the word. I’m not in the habit of striking up genial conversations with strangers on airplanes, in convenience store lineups or while waiting for the ATM, all regular occurrences in some of our nicer cities. The attitude is even more pronounced in small towns where people are downright friendly.
Fortunately, I live in Toronto which, like other full-sized cities around the world, prizes a certain amount of public reticence. Even here, though, people are quick to offer a “sorry” for seemingly no discernible reason and it’s not uncommon for cashiers to inquire, “how are things going with you,” as if it’s any of their business.
Canada’s least “nice” city, and for that reason alone one of my favorites, is Montreal. It’s not that Montreal is not filled with smiling, helpful citizens, it’s just that, compared to the rest of the country, they tend to be a little less eager to try and forge an intense personal bond with each person they come across. Maybe it’s a result of the city’s French heritage. The European French, as we know, are notoriously rude and surly – bless them – and some of that heritage still lingers in Montreal.
That’s why it was such a shock to the sensibilities of the good people of Vancouver when they were recently confronted with the specter of an honest to goodness French waiter.
Guillaume Rey was fired from his job at Milestones Bar + Grill, a local chain restaurant known for friendly service and mediocre food, after accusations that he was “aggressive, rude and disrespectful.” (The chef did not tip the apple cart — the food is still mediocre.)
Despite acknowledging that Rey received “great feedback from guests” and was “very friendly and professional with his tables,” he apparently said something to a co-worker that left the fellow server “borderline in tears.” Borderline. In. Tears. The mind reels at what this monster might be capable of.
If Rey was Canadian, a notoriously non-litigious group, he would simply have apologized to everyone involved and moved on to his next position, but as a Frenchman he’s taken the distinctly non-Canadian approach of suing his former employer through the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. (Human Rights Tribunals, incidentally, are the most Canadian of all administrative judicial bodies.)
Rey, who trained in France, insists that his firing is a discrimination against his entire culture which, he claims, “tends to be more direct and expressive.”
Milestones, through its parent company, Cara Foods, attempted to have the case thrown out, but tribunal member, Devyn Cousineau, has denied that request, stating in her decision, “Mr. Rey will have to explain what it is about his French heritage that would result in behavior that people misinterpret as a violation of workplace standards of acceptable conduct.”
The country, poised on the precipice, but still making sure everybody’s got room and is comfortable, now waits.