"Holy Cow!" remarked the guy as he passed by. It confirmed for me that the North Americans can be rather extro-verted and uninhibited about expressing something when they see something different, namely me, a monk.
I've been called "Love Guru", "Grasshopper" (a martial arts character) and numerous other things by passersby, mostly compliments, from people on the street. It's mostly young people who volunteer names. When travelling the world you find most people to be reserved although it doesn't mean there isn't judgemental thoughts milling through people's minds.
Opinions have changed over the years with subsequent remarks so I've seen since I was a young brahmacari who joined the order in the spring of '73. We, the Hare Krishnas, were a curiosity at that time, a residual spill-over from the liberal sixties. By the mid-seventies we were viewed with suspicion by the public, mainly hyped by the media. The Ontario government commissioned an inquiry in the early eighties into surging faiths, (cults as we were called then) and with the Dan Nill Report groups like us became more or less liberated from sinister opinion. With so many immigrants coming into Canada, a feel for multi-culturalism and a firm alliance with the Hindu community we succeeded in gaining acceptance from the public.
It was no longer "cool" to call someone a cult member just because he/she belonged to a minority. The world was shaping into a mosaic form and we, the Hare Krishnas, were part of it. I recall battles involving the Human Rights. We were perceived as antagonists, but those were truly just not well informed people.
As of late people have become more cautions about what they say and if they speak spontaneously it is with enhanced respect. Malicious remarks have been on the decline since I've hit the streets. It's a kind of victory over unhealthy prejudices.
In Markham a community which epitomizes multi-culturalism, I attended a home program, a sat-sang, where everyone feels more or less in a safe environment. Of course the highlight feature was the kirtan, chanting.