I had way too much to eat, feasting from the multicultural smorgasbord that is the highlight of the Saskatoon Folkfest Gala. My excuse was that the food was so good, and the event only happens once a year. In an effort to work off some of this food, I decided to stand at the back of the banquet hall for the rest of the show which included speeches from Folkfest committee members, scholarship awards, and cultural dances.
I hate to admit it, but my attention started to wane during the show. I felt bad because I knew better. The volunteers had put great effort into providing an entertaining cultural showcase, and they deserved my attention. These performers weren’t professionals. They were computer science students, housewives, or store owners. Some of them probably had never performed publicly—and definitely not in front of hundreds of people. So kudos to them for having the fortitude to get up there and present their culture. I know me and most of the audience wouldn’t have done it.
So even though I knew better, my attention veered from the stage towards the audience. I was curious to see how many others felt the same waning attention. As I scanned the audience (most of whom were politely looking at the stage) observing their demeanour, I saw something particularly Canadian.
Let me describe the scene for you here. Generally, each table was reserved for representatives from one country. The Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Pakistani, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and other delegates mostly stayed within their groups with their tables separated by a space that was governed by politeness: a smile with a head nod and an easygoing, “Hi.” A common enough scene that I have seen repeated throughout our country when our multicultural citizens gather for events from Canada Day to Riders games.
Do you see the Canadian-ism? It’s so subtle, so common, so obvious that its easy to miss. It’s our stereotype. Arguably, it’s a myth, but we hold onto it as a national identity: Canadians are polite.
Leading up to this year’s Folkfest, I’ve read multiple articles praising and criticizing Canada’s multiculturalism. A common critic is ‘fragmentation.’ By not promoting the assimilation of cultures, as the argument goes, multiculturalism fragments society into pockets of cultures that inevitable will clash.
Observing the audience at Prairieland Park banquet hall, I did see fragments of people designated to specific tables; however, it’s the shared spaces where Canadian multiculturalism exists. Polite exchanges that embody respect, stability, consideration, and acceptance. We must be careful not to underestimate what politeness means. It is the solution to the puzzling topic of immigration. It allows the different pieces of our society to fit together into a unified image of Canada. This year as you go out to visit the various pavilions of Folkfest, I encourage you to be aware of the politeness you freely give and receive. Have a great Folkfest everyone.