Jack Knox: Come to Victoria and enter the friend zone

Florida’s Carlos Morales was driving the unfamiliar streets of Victoria on Monday when he almost collided with another man.

Did the man get mad? No, he apologized to Morales for not seeing his turn signal and giving way. Morales was impressed. “Such charming people,” he said, standing in front of the Bay Centre.

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Half a block away, Belgian visitor Ignace Dufaux offered his own observation on Canadians. When you’re on the sidewalk looking lost, people ask if they can help. “That’s not usual for us Europeans.”

Across Government Street, Switzerland’s Evelyn Daetwyler said she was taken aback, in a good way, when people here offered to take photos of her and her companions with the tourists’ cameras. “I never saw that before.”

Holland’s Jan Roos was impressed that the naturalists on his whale-watching trip went the extra mile to ensure he understood what they were saying and was having a good time. You don’t get that in some places, he said, not once they’ve got your money.

Even other Canadians approve of Victoria’s attitude. “I’ve been all across Canada and this is one of the best places to be,” said Edgar Maldonado, who was raised in Chile and lives in Vancouver. Those passing by smile at you here. “This is very important, especially when you are a newcomer. You feel welcome.”

Yes, Victoria, we really are as friendly (at least when we’re not tearing each other’s throats out over statues) as the tourism types say.

It was just revealed that the capital has placed ninth on the list of Friendliest Cities in the World as chosen by the readers of the influential Condé Nast Traveler magazine.

In June, Victoria placed 23rd on Expedia’s rankings of Friendliest Cities in Canada, trailing first-place Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., third-place Tofino, Ucluelet (15) and Courtenay (17). If 23rd doesn’t sound that great, remember there were 750 communities on the list, which was based on hotel review data.

This sort of thing wouldn’t matter in some places. In fact, in some destinations a chip on the shoulder is part of the tourist experience. Victoria travel writer Kim Westad was once at a hockey game in Madison Square Garden where, when the public address system announced the presence of a New York Mets pitcher and his infant son, a guy sitting near Kim booed. The guy’s companion objected: “Why did you boo? He’s a good pitcher.” The reply? “I’m not booing him, I’m booing the baby.” That’s the New York we love.

In other places, ill treatment might not be desired but is still not unexpected, so isn’t as offputting as it might be elsewhere. (Besides, the legendary disdain of waiters in parts of continental Europe might just be a reflection on those tourists who march into a foreign country and expect to be served in English. CHEK’s Ben O’Hara-Byrne tweeted a headline from The Scotsman newspaper Monday: “U.K. tourist to Spain complains after holiday ruined by ‘too many Spaniards.’ ”)

Victoria? We couldn’t get off with treating visitors that badly (though note that Charles Rogers, who founded Rogers’ Chocolates in 1885, did not like tourists and would shut the shop when the ferry pulled into town). Part of Victoria’s appeal is how we make people feel when they’re here.

So, it’s good to report that a quick cruise of the downtown on Monday showed that, anecdotally at least, we do in fact make visitors feel good. “Canada actually is very friendly,” Daetwyler said. Morales referred to Victoria as “calm, respectful.” Touches like Victoria’s hanging baskets make a difference, said Roos: “You feel welcome because of the flowers.”

Texans John and Lesli Dassonville and their daughter Holly had the best pizza of their life at the Cook Street Prima Strada on Sunday, but it was the “super-friendly” server who made the evening memorable.

Even Victoria’s panhandlers were seen as relatively friendly. “I would be passing more people asking me for change more aggressively where I live,” said Californian Scott Hull. The lack of social supports has left homeless people there feeling desperate, he said.

Friendliness matters. It’s not only good business (note that for many years Rogers’ Chocolates has, as a customer-service reminder to staff, left unrepaired a glass display case that a long-ago disgruntled patron smacked and cracked) but is basic human decency. On Monday, Victoria passed the test. Well done.

Friendliest cities, as ranked by Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards:

1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

2 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

3 Cork, Ireland

4 Queenstown, New Zealand

5 Galway, Ireland

6 Puebla, Mexico

7 Adelaide, Australia

8 Dublin, Ireland

9 Victoria

10 Chiang Mai, Thailand

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