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The Land of “OMG-So-Much-Awesomeness”

Ottawa, October 2014
Ottawa, October 2014

“Thank you so much, and have an awesome day!”

No, I didn’t just perform sexual favours. I emailed my monthly invoice to one of my clients, and I received this enthusiastic reply. I’m asking for money; she thanks me for that.

I’m not even surprised anymore—welcome to the land of “OMG-so-much-awesomeness.”

If Chinese are overly polite, North Americans tend to be overly cheerful and easily excited. Sometime, they remind me of Mark when he spots the big “M” of a McDonald’s on the side of the road. He doesn’t even want to eat fries or Chicken McNuggets—he is just excited because he saw a McDonald’s, that’s all. And oh boy, he lets us know… “McDonald’s, McDonald’s, McDonald’s!” he will chant from the backseat for the next kilometre or so (or until he spots a church, whichever comes first).

I grew up as a grumpy and cynical French, so it felt very strange at first to be swaddled by so much eagerness and earnest niceness.

I will always remember taking my mum to Starbucks, here, in Ottawa. I ordered for both of us and we moved to the drinks counter. “Did you work with her, is she a friend?” my mum asked, pointing to the (probably caffeinated) barista who had taken our orders. “No, why?” I asked. “Well, she did ask you how you were doing,” my mum explained. “And she seemed… happy to see you. She called you ‘honey’!”

I shrugged. Yes, mum. It’s called “customer service” in North America. I had never seen the barista before, she had probably been working since 6 a.m. and taken hundreds of unnecessary complicated fancy drink orders, yet she had acted as if my black-coffee-no-room and latte request had been the highlight of her day, and as if we were best friends. For the duration of the thirty-second transaction, of course.

North Americans are natural actors. I can’t even imagine how good they are at customer service in LA.

Even the way to celebrate the end of the week sounds more upbeat in North America. French may acknowledge it whining “oh putain, heureusement qu’on est vendredi”, while here, the acronym “TGIF’ sums up the perspective of an happy and hopefully work-free weekend.

If you invite a French for dinner and prepare your best dish, you will be rewarded by a “c’est vraiment pas mauvais, hein. Non, franchement, c’est pas mal!” between two bites and two sips of wine. Now invite (and feed) a North American and you are suddenly best friends. At least for the evening…

It’s called positive thinking, and it’s actually a skill people work on and value in North America. Just take a look at the non-fiction section in any bookstore: the shelves are usually packed with self-help books, life improvements manuals and biographies of people who overcame amazing odds to be… yeah, you guessed it—awesome.

From a European perspective, it’s sometime hard to say whether people are sincere—much like it’s hard to say whether Mark really wants Mcdonald’s. It’s also hard to criticize anything or anyone because people take it very seriously and are easily offended. We are used to political correctness here. You can’t tell someone he screwed up—you’d rather acknowledge he didn’t achieve his full potential.

I still find this exaggerated cheerfulness somewhat cheesy, but because people are so sincere I learned to accept it.

Isn’t it awesome?

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