As it turns out, asking someone if they have been to The Stampede yet is now Calgarian for “I want to beat you senseless, take your money and kick your dog!”
Various news sources have latched onto a letter to the editor sent into The Calgary Herald by Walt Wawra, a Kalamazoo, Michigan police officer, who was visiting Calgary with his wife during the aforementioned rodeo. The letter tells of the man’s terrifying experience while going for a walk with his wife in Nose Hill Park. Apparently a couple of men stopped Wawra and his wife to ask them if they had been to the Stampede and Wawra found this to be a very threatening inquiry. He concludes his letter by writing “Would we not expect a uniformed officer to pull his or her weapon to intercede in a life-or-death encounter to protect self, or another? Why then should the expectation be lower for a citizen of Canada or a visitor? Wait, I know - it's because in Canada, only the criminals and the police carry handguns.”
Now, as someone who doesn’t live in Calgary, I admit I am not completely up on all the intricacies of the city’s social customs. It has, however, been brought to my attention that it is not wholly unusual for people to ask each other during the Stampede if they have gone to see it. Nor is it particularly strange for there to be offers of free tickets, which is probably closer to what these two men were packing than an actual weapon. I am very much in the category of people who read this letter and seriously questioned the validity of it. It just seems like a huge joke. But then I am not in the habit of assuming someone asking me a question about an event that happens to be going on at that time.
I would be suspicious of free ticket offers (only because I would wonder if the person offering was trying to pawn off counterfeits on me.) But I cannot imagine the mental gymnastics required to make the leap from “have you been to the Stampede yet?” to “I’m just going to shoot you, ok?” I also have a hard time believing that crime is so prolific in the United States that one must consider pulling a gun because a stranger decided to make small talk.