How Polite Are We?
We ranked the world. Out of 36 cities, Toronto placed third, Montreal 21st.
Inside the Toronto Tally
BY BONNIE MUNDAY
Toronto ranked third for courtesy out of 36 major cities around the world, with 70 percent of people tested taking a moment to do the courteous thing. Reader’s Digest had two reporters go to central residential neighbourhoods, downtown shopping areas and the financial district. They “tested” Bay Street bond traders, part-time cashiers, lawyers, students and artists. Here’s a snapshot of what they found:
Service With a Smile
Customer service is alive and well in Toronto: 16 out of 20 cashiers passed the courtesy test by saying a pronounced thank you when we made a small purchase. At a bulk food store on Danforth Avenue, Sean Thomson, a tall 30-year-old with shaved head and pierced ears, smiled and thanked our researcher twice before wishing her a nice day. He did the same for everyone else in line. Why? “It’s what my boss wants, and what my parents taught me. It’s about respect.” Jessica, 24, a cashier at a chocolate shop, echoed Sean. “You don’t just take the customer’s money and say, ‘See you later.’” She added, “The staff here, we talk about how we expect the same courtesy when we’re the customer, but we don’t always get it, and that’s disappointing.”
Jessica wouldn’t have been happy with the service at a women’s clothing store in the Eaton Centre mall downtown, where a fashionably dressed young woman with thick black eyeliner barely said a word to our researcher throughout the transaction. When asked about it afterwards, she said sheepishly, “We’re supposed to say, ‘Thank you for shopping here,’ but sometimes I forget.”
That was the exception, as we found that male and female cashiers in stores large and small were quite courteous, thank you very much. At a newsstand, our reporter bought a packet of gum and was thanked by Zeny Ruiz, 44. “I like to set an example for my staff,” she told us, “but it’s also the right thing to do.” In an electronics store on Queen Street West, Daniel Hines, in baseball cap and army pants, said, “I thank every customer, even the ones who tick me off. Ultimately, it makes your own day go a little smoother.”
Would you take a minute to stop and help a stranger gather up some papers they’d dropped on the sidewalk or in a shopping centre? In Toronto, 11 out of 20 people we tested did.
That’s the lowest score of our three tests—and, interestingly, of the nine who “failed” the test, five were in their 60s and up. The oldest, Sergio Balmont, 79, told us after he and his wife walked past our female researcher, who was crouched down gathering papers, “I knew I should have helped, but I’m too old to bend down.” Most of the other elderly people who didn’t help told us politely that they didn’t want to get involved with someone else’s personal documents.
Of course, a couple of young people passed by without helping, too. “He looked like he had everything under control,” was the excuse of a shoe buyer from Montreal who saw our researcher picking up scattered papers from the wet sidewalk. But most did stop to assist—teens in particular. “Of course I helped,” said William Lee, 16. “I’d hope someone would do that for me.” Keilani Etzkorn and her friend Manuela, both high-school students, also stopped to help. Said Keilani: “It’s what my parents taught me to do.”
Our third test showed that three out of four Torontonians hold the door for a stranger—male or female—walking behind them. Most were pleased to stop and talk to us when we revealed we had set them up. “I do it all the time,” explained Meredith McLellan, 25, a fair-haired law student who held the door for our female reporter on her way out of the busy subway stop at Yonge and Eglinton. “I guess I was raised that way.”
It was a common theme. Faisal Bhiwandiwala, a 30-year-old tech-support worker who held the door for our male researcher during a Wednesday morning rush hour, told us courtesy is an instinct. “I was brought up that way. It’s the normal thing to do.”
Fifty-year-old Eric McGarry said, “As a teacher, I think it’s important to show that you’re thinking of others and not just yourself.”
In the St. Lawrence Market, two 14-year-old ponytailed girls could have used that lesson, but when asked why they didn’t hold the door, they claimed not to have seen anyone coming behind them. Similarly, a 41-year-old operations manager listening to her iPod said, “Normally, I’d have held it open, but I’m in a hurry to get back from lunch and I had my headphones on.”
Some who helped did so for practical reasons. In the Bay Street financial district, Brian Galley, a crisply dressed 38-year-old portfolio manager, pointedly held the door for our male researcher. “I always do,” he told us afterwards. “These doors are heavy, and you don’t want to let them slam on people.”
Ramona Taharally, also 38, offered a simple explanation for her courteous act. “People do it for me,” she said, “so I’m going to pass it on.”