As one stranger to another in Toronto, here's how to do it without being offensive.
"Where are you from?"
If you ask me that, I'll tell you right out.* But I know that some take umbrage when asked that, whether they are Canadian or not Canadian.
I moved to this metropolis of five million (you know that means Toronto) 10 years ago. I didn't know a soul here. All my friends in the other Capital had died except two: my pharmacist and my barber.
Toronto has this reputation for being friendly. Oh? Five million strangers all intent on personal survival, 24/7?
One week after I moved here I gave up driving. Don't ask why! Sold my car. I became totally dependent on the TTC ( Toronto's public transportation system of buses, trains and streetcars; none of which seemed to have a coordinated schedule). Missing a bus, or waiting interminably for the next one, was a daily commonplace.
Persons of all ages and all types would gradually accumulate at the bus stop. None ever looked, to me, familiar. All seemed to be glum; some were glued to their cellphones, other looked anxious. Torontonians, I soon decided, were indifferent, if not outright unfriendly.
So I was challenged: How do I break the ice?
As I looked around, I would surreptitiously catch the eye of one who happened to glance up. I would gently smile (not grin), raise my eyebrows, and shrug with palms up, as if to say, non-verbally " We're in this together!" Holding her (usually a "her") gaze, after a few non-verbals; I would venture a word, say about the sky, or the long wait. Aha! A verbal response forth came.
Assuming an innocent look, I would ask an innocuous question, say, " Do you live nearby?"
If "Yes," then, " So do I. Have you lived here long?"
Say,"Yes." Then, "How long?"
Say, "Five years," Aha! I think. I speak, "Where did you live before?"
Say, " Costa Rica." "Oh, I've been there. Hoblas tu español?"
Now there's just the two of us, oblivious of the bystanders. Instant relationship.
Or if she says, "Iran," I answer " Est-ce que vous parlez français?" Some of my friends took French as a second language in school in Iran. Maybe she emigrated to Montreal ( French) then to Toronto ( opportunity). And so on. Instant relationship.
These 10 years, friendly, not indifferent. That's my Toronto. Now, the bus is coming. Later, we " well-wish" and part forever.
* Ask me? Sure. Canada. Canadian. Seventh Generation. Quebec. Quebec City. Do I speak French? Of course. But that's a whole other story.
This piece was written by David Mackell, who is a member at the ALC. David is 90 years young and is a lifetime ALC member. He is a writer, cartoonist and volunteer. He has rabbit ears for his TV and no internet, and loves it that way.