Jack Knox: Forget COVID crackpots. When chips are down, we remain Canadian

“Did you ever notice that with the exception of salt and vinegar, potato chips don’t taste anything like the flavours they’re named for?”

Buck, having chewed through what was left of the garden, was now rummaging through our kitchen cupboards with his hooves, looking for a snack.

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“Sour cream and onion. Bacon and cheddar. Ketchup. Barbecue. Why not just call them Chemical Aftertaste?”

I tried to ignore him.

“The Brits used to have hedgehog-flavoured chips, except they call them crisps,” he continued, a stray bag of candied ginger dangling from one antler. “How would anyone know what a hedgehog tastes like? Still, it beats their cooking.”

As someone raised on traditional Scots-English fare (sample recipe: cook until perfect, then boil till grey) I couldn’t let this last comment pass. I wheeled on Buck: “What do you know about flavour, you car-licking freak?”

He winced. “That wasn’t very Canadian of you.”

I hung my head, chastened. Buck was right, no need to be mean. Glancing in the mirror, I saw a B.C. Ferries wear-a-mask poster staring back.

I was right about ungulates and automobiles, though. This week, both CNN and the New York Times ran stories after discovering that officials in Jasper National Park had erected roadside signs reading “Do not let moose lick your car.”

It seems ol’ Bullwinkle finds caked-on road salt irresistible and has taken to tonguing the vehicles of those who pull over to take his picture. U.S. media thought the signage hilarious, in a quaintly Canadian kind of way.

That’s how a lot of Americans see us: Quaint. Or polite. ­Sensible. Decent if a bit dull, like a northern Ned Flanders.

“You are the kindest country in the world,” Robin Williams once said. “You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab.” Another U.S. comedian called Canada the designated driver of North America. Some Americans idealize Canadians in the same way that cycling advocates elevate Copenhagen or Amsterdam. It’s not the worst stereotype to have.

But is it accurate? Not always, though we’re approaching the time of year when, traditionally, Canadians actually live up to their image. At Christmas, we all turn into a Jimmy Stewart movie, holding doors, smiling at strangers and shovelling ­neighbours’ driveways (even when it doesn’t snow, just to make a point). The driver who usually won’t let you merge, who grimly hangs onto the back bumper of the car in front like it’s the last chopper out of ­Saigon, graciously makes way.

“Everyone’s being so nice,” we say. “Why can’t it be like this all the time?”

Except even the seasonal surge seems in doubt this year — or, at least, that’s what some high-profile incidents would lead us to believe. There was an ugly scene in Dawson Creek where a 30-year-old man assaulted a Walmart employee who asked him to wear a mask. In ­Penticton, a woman was filmed spitting on a liquor store clerk and throwing his phone on the floor after being asked to do the same.

Here in Victoria, police arrested a guy for getting aggressive in the Market on Yates on Friday after he was asked to wear a mask. That came four days after VicPD ticketed a man who not only threatened staff at a Yates Street restaurant for trying to enforce COVID restrictions, but was part of a group that attempted to do a dine-and-dash. That echoed an August incident in which a group of diners, after being asked to abide by B.C.’s six-to-a-table limit, were abusive to young female servers at the Langford Mr. Mike’s.

This reveals another problem: It’s not just that these people balk at pandemic protocols, but that they think it’s OK to behave like thugs in doing so. Irrational people tend not to react ­rationally. It’s like racism: People who are unhinged enough to spew venom in public are also unhinged enough to pop you in the mouth when you call them on it.

And here’s yet another ­problem: When you string all these incidents together, it leaves the impression that such crackpottery is commonplace, that it has become the norm. It hasn’t. As pandemic-weary as we might be, most Canadians at least try to live up to what we like to think of as our image — good-hearted, reasonable, considerate, kind.

It can take a deliberate effort to do so. I have a friend who, whenever confronted with ­tragedy in the world, goes out of her way to do something good for someone, her small way of ­balancing the equation. Note that after the Mr. Mike’s incident, Premier John Horgan dropped by the Langford restaurant while on his way home (on his own birthday no less) to ­comfort the rattled staff.

Here at the Times Colonist, we’ve been stunned by the way donations to this year’s ­Christmas Fund have taken off.

COVID, Christmas, whatever. Can’t lick being Canadian.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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