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We really love to spit in public in B.C. and other truths about Canadian manners

This month, Research Co. decided to ask Canadians about manners. The results outline a society where citizens are reporting some undesirable actions, with some intriguing differences according to gender, age and region.

The notion of Canadians being extremely polite has been around for decades. It is often based on a comparison with other cultures, most notably our neighbours to the south, as well as the expectation that the way people interact in our country is less formal and more jovial.

This month, Research Co. asked Canadians about manners. The results outline a society where citizens are reporting some undesirable actions, with some intriguing differences according to gender, age and region.

 Man spitting/ShutterstockMan spitting/Shutterstock

By far, the biggest difficulty identified in the survey is related to language. Over the past few decades, certain words that once were bleeped or edited out on television have become far less frequently censored. This is happening on both sides of the 49th Parallel and may be playing a role in the fact that some terms that once were not used commonly are making their way into our daily conversations.

Almost two-thirds of Canadians say they witnessed a person swearing in public over the course of the past month. Women (68%) are more likely than men (60%) to recall off-colour words being uttered in public.

Albertans are definitely more likely to report that they witnessed someone swearing (71%) than residents of any other region of Canada. Atlantic Canadians come close (67%), but, perhaps unexpectedly, Quebecers are the least likely to say they noticed (51%).

This finding raises an important issue. Maybe swears are so much different in Quebec that they have become part of the regular language. Or maybe Quebecers are actually paying close attention what they say and hear.

In addition, one third of Canadians (33%) witnessed a person making an obscene gesture over the past month, including 43% of Albertans. The survey would suggest that Alberta is the place where you are more likely to be insulted by mouth or hand, or at least to remember that either happened.

More than half of Canadians (56%) say they witnessed children behaving badly in public while their parents looked the other way. It is no surprise to see a huge gender gap on this particular behaviour, with 50% of men saying they noticed it compared to 62% of women.

There is also a generational divide, with a large majority of Canadians aged 55 and over (63%) saying they saw children misbehave over the past month as their parents looked on. The proportion is lower among those aged 18 to 34 (49%) and those aged 35-to-54 (51%). This may be a case of baby boomers noticing this behaviour more, or generation X and millennials having different concepts of child rearing.

Another item on the list is littering. Half of Canadians (49%) say they saw someone leaving trash behind in a public place – a proportion that regrettably jumps to 54% in British Columbia.

Many discussions on social media have focused on what municipalities should do about litter. Still, many of us have driven into parking lots where bags with the remnants of fast-food meals are carelessly left on the ground. The problem begins and ends with us, not with endless studies about the correct placement of bins.

There are other issues that, while not as prevalent as swearing, unruly children or trash, were still reported by sizable proportions of Canadians. More than two in five respondents to the survey saw someone checking their phone or texting during a meeting or social event (45%), experienced rude customer service at a store (43%) or saw someone spitting in public (also 43%).

British Columbia’s retailers can take solace in the fact that the province did better than the national average on experiencing rude customer service (“only” 36%). However, B.C. was the worst performer on spitting in public (50%).

Other behaviours that Canadians reported witnessing over the past month included someone cutting in to the line at a store or counter (39%, with women more likely than men to remember), someone chewing with their mouth open (also 39%) and someone using a cellphone during a performance or movie (34%).

Regardless of what kind of bad manners they see, many Canadians who appear to regret that these practices are still present in our daily lives. Still, in this sea of bad behaviour, we also see some good deeds.

More than three in five Canadians (63%) said they saw someone holding a door open for a stranger, and 27% witnessed a person giving their seat for someone who was disabled, pregnant or elderly – including 32% in British Columbia, the highest in the country.

These findings are the silver lining of the survey. We usually are quicker to remember the things that bothered us, but there are still some moments where our fellow citizens made us feel better.

Results are based on an online study conducted from March 22–24, 2019, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.