The night before the professor was due to leave for DC, he sent a fellow traveller an email asking if they could share a ride to the airport the next morning. ‘When is this guy going to get back to me?’ he asked, impatiently, when several hours had passed with nary a reply.
‘When they don’t reply…it means no,’ I clued him in. Feeling like I was some sort of culturally savvy wunderkind. But truthfully, I’d only recently acquired this particular tidbit of information. After nearly two years of inhabiting Canadian soil.
I noticed it first after sending some text messages to high schoolers asking if they were free to babysit. Sometimes the reply came fairly quickly. Usually in the affirmative. Other times there was no reply at all, and I was left wondering if they’d actually received the message. After all, I do have the cheapest cell phone plan available on the planet. So, in the off-chance Koodo Mobile had let me down, I followed up with a second text message. And eventually I’d get a reluctant reply that they had other plans.
I didn’t think anything about it at first. Maybe my messages had disappeared in cell phone purgatory. Maybe it was just the modern teenager’s modus operandus. After all, we’re living in an age of salutation-less emails and texts.
But then it happened with email too. And with non-teenagers. It seemed as if people preferred no reply at all to saying no, or no thank you, or that won’t work for me. Apparently ‘nothing’ was better than ‘no’.
Perplexed, I tried to imagine why. Didn’t Canadians have a reputation for being nice? Was the un-reply just an extension of their nice-ness? (As mothers and Kindergarten teachers have been saying for centuries: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?!)
The professor shared my theory with a couple of students. ‘That’s true,’ one of the students agreed. ‘I’ve never thought about it that way, but it’s true.’
Which begs the question(s) are we (Americans) offending our Canadian friends with our ‘negative’ replies? Are my seemingly polite ‘sorry, I can’t make it’ emails……actually rude?