Fredericton — The capital city is updating its tourism materials to include Fredericton’s biggest claim to fame: being the best, hands down, at avoiding people.
“If there’s someone we’d rather not talk to, there’s literally no one more skilled than a Fredericton native at ensuring that a conversation — or even a nod of acknowledgment — does not occur,” said Tourism official Beth Healy. “It’s a real talent. We’re adding our ability to brochures, pamphlets and our website: a graphic of two people looking down at their phones and pretending they don’t see each other, along with a list of the best places to avoid being seen.”
We hit the streets of Fredericton to attempt to get someone to speak with us. A few reluctantly gave in to the pressure.
“I’ve had grocery trips that take four hours because there are people I went to high school with lingering in certain aisles,” said Dave Smith, 32. “Superstore is always a risky spot, but you can’t really skip it altogether if you need to eat.”
Smith said that it’s reflexive at this point to pivot away from someone standing in the shortest path to his destination.
“It’s like it’s involuntary. I see some idiot I did group work with back in university, and I turn the other way in a split second, and speed up. I end up kilometres from where I intended to go. But, it’s worth it.”
“The worst is when you run into a co-worker right after your shift and you’re walking in the same direction, so you have to have this forced conversation for like five city blocks,” said Shara McGee, 41. “Not that I would ever allow that to happen again. Once was more than enough!”
McGee gave us a couple tips for avoiding people while at work.
“If you’re about to pass someone in the hallway, you can carry some kind of document — it can be blank, doesn’t matter — and look at it as if you’re totally engrossed. You can also make sure you’ve got caller ID on, and screen your phone calls that way. Just let it go to voicemail and then email them back later. They’ll take the hint.”
Healy said Fredericton is special in this regard for a few reasons.
“It’s not a proper small town, where it would be actually impossible to avoid acquaintances. But, it’s not a big city, either, so it takes some skill and practice to manage any kind of anonymity. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. People say we’re snooty or cold, but really, we just have a talent that goes unappreciated.”
One reason for designating this as the official pastime, Healy said, is to justify it and remove the stigma associated with pretending not to see someone when you obviously do.
“If I catch a glimpse of you in my peripheral vision in a restaurant, and I don’t make a move to talk to you, that should be a signal. It should be okay, and you should know to return the favour. Unfortunately, there are some people who still haven’t gotten the memo about this.
“Like, move to St. Stephen if you want to wave at everyone you’ve ever met.”