Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Black Friday: Canada style

It’s pretty near impossible to live in Northern America and not hear about Black Friday.

Coming from New Zealand, I was intrigued by the day; where did it come from? How did it start? And why weren’t those people lining up outside Best Buy at work?

It turns out,  Black Friday is one of the most hallowed of America’s made-up holidays, a day where folks get to shoot, taser and fight each other over $2 waffle irons.

It started at some point in the middle of the last century. Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, and the day after it is typically a holiday for most non-retail-employees. By this stage, having endured enough of their families to last them until Christmas, and with no football game on the TV to distract them, folks took to heading to the mall to begin their Christmas shopping.

It didn’t take long for the stores to cotton on to this fact, and they soon started offering specials for that Friday, officially kicking off the holiday shopping season.

The name comes from Philadelphia, where it began as a nickname by officials to refer to how much they did not enjoy the traffic disruption by shoppers. Recently retailers have tried to re-spin it as the day when they start to make a profit in the year, “the day their books turn from red to black”.

Whatever the reason for the name, these days Black Friday has become synonymous with incredible, one-day-only sales, people camping out for days in front of Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and random acts of violence.

Cause that’s what the holiday season is all about; pulling a gun on someone for cutting in line.

What’s not so commonly reported is that every year, thousands of Canucks head south of the border to join their US counterparts in the time-honoured tradition of spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need.

The Canadian stores, not too impressed at missing out on those much-loved Canadian dollars, recently decided to fight back. In an effort to keep Canadian money in Canada, they are attempting to bring in Black Friday here.

Except…

It’s Canada.

They don’t really have that same blood-thirsty consumerist approach to sales that the Americans have.

For example: a Black Friday cell phone deal in the US:

And then the Canadian version:

Black Friday phone deals in Canada

Lines outside a store in the US:

While outside a store here in Canada:

A scene in a US mall:

And then the same thing here up north:

It’s just not the same carnage and mayhem we’ve come to expect from Black Friday news reports south of the border.

But, you know, good on ’em for trying.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a sale on at my local sports store – 50% off snowboarding jackets. I plan to suckerpunch anyone that gets between me & cheap gortex.

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The theory of umbrellas

I’ve always been told Canadians are a polite, friendly people.

I was willing to revisit this idea after my decidedly impolite, unfriendly encounter with the border officials, but then, having made my way to my apartment, dumped my luggage and realised I still had 6 hours to go before I could justify passing out, I decided to go for a walk around my neighbourhood. I was tired, jet lagged and in need of somewhere to buy the essentials in life (i.e. coffee), when I came across this:

Long lines of people politely queuing up at a bus stop. They weren’t even lining up for an approaching bus, they were just very quietly and politely standing in line for whenever the next bus happened to come by.

Even the English – world-renowned for their queuing – don’t line up until the bus gets there. And while NZ is a fairly polite country, we tend to take more of a passive aggressive approach to getting on the bus; we loiter in the general vicinity of the bus stop until we see the bus approaching, then we very casually loiter our way to where we think the bus doors will be, politely trying to get there before anyone else in the hopes of being the first in line.

But not Canada. Canada puts both England and New Zealand to shame when it comes to polite queuing.

But the politeness it doesn’t stop there; here, cars give way to pedestrians, cyclists make their morning commute unmolested, and everywhere, complete strangers hold doors open for each other (although this can backfire if two people are trying to go through the door from opposite sides. One day I watched two people stand there for a good five minutes politely exchanging “oh no, after you”s before I finally snapped and barged past both of them).

It turns out Canada really is an incredibly polite country*.

The other day I looked the wrong way before stepping out into on-coming traffic. In other countries, it’s a great way to learn the local swear words. Here, the driver just smiled, waved, and indicated that I should finish crossing the street.

I bumped into someone today. He turned to me and apologised. I once bumped into someone in Sydney and they spat on me.

Yeah, Canadians are polite.

There are a lot of theories as to why. Some put it down to their shared border with the United States; if you have a heavily armed, somewhat paranoid military super-power just south of you, you probably want to be on your best behaviour. You don’t want to give them any reason to start looking at satellite footage and wondering “what’s in that building? Lets find out. With tanks.”

Others think it’s due to their English heritage; after all the English are known for their polite and reserved manners. If you annoy someone in England, they don’t get mad at you. That wouldn’t be polite. Instead they just quietly spend the rest of their days treating you as though you have a horrible contagious disease, and hoping you go away.

Me? I put it down to umbrellas.

It rains here. A lot. I’m told this miserable, drizzly weather starts in October, and continues unabated until April**. Adding to this, it gets dark in winter by about 1pm (after getting light at about 12.30pm), and even when the sun is up, most days are grey and overcast.

But unlike Wellington, where, thanks to our winds, most umbrellas have a life expectancy of about three seconds before they either turn inside out, or lift you, Mary Poppins style, into oncoming traffic, here the rain is vertical, and so umbrellas are a Vancouver staple.

This means that the average Vancouverite spends about half their life walking down cold, dark, miserable wet streets, where everyone around them is carrying a radial of spikes pointing directly at eye level.

It’s probably not a good time to be pushy or inconsiderate. Not if you like the little things in life, like vision.

I’m guessing that people here learn to be polite, to give way, and to be thoughtful and considerate of those around them simply because, if they don’t, they end up with an umbrella sticking out of their eyeball.

It’s a pretty good incentive to learn manners.

Or the politeness could be due to the legalised medical marijuana. I guess that’s another possibility.

But I’m sticking with umbrellas.

*Admittedly, I’ve only been here for two weeks, and only in Vancouver, but I’m not about to let a silly little thing like lack of facts get in the way of making sweeping generalisations about an entire nation.

**Anyone want to guess my contract duration? I’ll give you a hint: It’s October to April.

Canadian ghosts

This is the first time I’ve experienced Fall.

I don’t mean it’s the first time I’ve ever been somewhere when it’s autumn; no, we have those in Wellington.

Unfortunately however, even summertime there comes with horizontal rain and freezing temperatures, so autumn doesn’t really mark the changing of the seasons, as much as it… Hmm. Actually I don’t know autumn is for in Wellington. The trees do lose their leaves, but we have 100kph winds, so I think the leaves mostly end up in Auckland.

There’s also autumn in Australia, where I’ve lived off and on for the past few years. But there, summers are hot and parched, while wintertime is cool, and brings drought-breaking rain. This means that the foliage – in typical Australian fashion – does everything backwards; there the trees are lush and green in winter, while in summer everything dries up, and the trees shed not only their leaves, but also their bark. And occasionally even their branches.

This doesn’t exactly make for a very attractive picture – especially if you happen to be standing under the tree at the time.

So this was my first time experiencing a true North American Fall. I’d seen it on TV and read about it in books, but I’d never really understood it, not until now.

Now, so many things make sense.

I understand why people would go on holiday to Vermont just to watch some leaves change colour and fall off a tree.

I understand why raking the yard is a big deal.

I even understand why it’s called “Fall”. I’d always thought that was just the American habit of changing the spelling of words; “colour” becoming “color”, “customise” becoming “customize”, “pants” becoming “trousers” and “autumn” becoming “fall”.

Now, I get it.

And it is astonishingly beautiful.

The leaves turn delicate yellows, violent fiery reds, and every clichéd colour you can imagine in between. Cars and streets are buried under piles of leaves, leaves catch the breeze and float down in a gentle rain of red and gold, and everywhere there are mounds of leaves for me to kick about, to jump in, and to enjoy crunching under my shoes.

I feel like a kid again, lost in wonderment at the world around me.

And I have loved every breathtaking second of it.

However, there is one aspect to Fall here that I’ve never come across before; not in TV shows, not in books, not even on the internet. Maybe it’s something unique to Canada, maybe even just to Vancouver. Maybe it’s that wonderful confluence of several factors all coming together in the same time and space, to create something haunting and magical.

Here, for several days after the leaves have fallen from the trees, as they lie on the footpaths gradually disappearing, something from the leaf gently seeps into the concrete.

It stains the pavement with the outline of the leaf, creating an afterimage that lingers on, long after the trees are bare and all the leaves are gone.

It remains, the slowly fading dream of autumn.

I think of them as the ghosts of leaves.

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