Are you old enough to have played with Tektronix analogue oscilloscopes at high school?
You haven’t lived…
Are you old enough to have played with Tektronix analogue oscilloscopes at high school?
You haven’t lived…
So we went to get a pile of groceries today. We went to Langley because we like the food selection available in Real Canadian Superstore (Loblaw). (To my knowledge there isn’t a Pretend Canadian Superstore, before you ask.) It’s been a while, and they’ve changed things up a bit. The pricing is a bit – how shall I put it? – sneaky!
There’s now often two prices on the shelf for an item, so you need your wits about you. It may have price A in a large font, then below it there is price B in a smaller font. Alongside this higher price B is one of two statements. (i) If you buy the item individually instead in sets of perhaps 3 or 6, then you pay the higher price per item. (ii) if you buy more than a maximum number of the item, perhaps 2 or 4, then you pay the higher price.
For some reason I was overcome with the urge to try tinned chilli. Not quite sure what came over me. There was a bewildering array of options, brands and prices. And you guessed it – they all had these weird two-tier prices. Should I buy a single tin? Was it worth taking a chance that I’d really like it and buy 6 tins to get the lower price? That tin is more expensive but only needs 2 others to trigger the lower price. Ah… my brain hurts!
It was whilst contemplating these decidedly first world problems that my mental calculations were disturbed by a most un-Canadian event. I missed the trigger. Perhaps someone rudly barging past a fellow shopper. Perhaps some impolite glance. Whatever the initial cause, I heard very loud and close behind me a woman saying “What did you say? I’m not from Surrey you fucking racist. Say it to my face!”
For those of you not resident in the Lower Mainland of BC, Surrey is the second largest city, sprawling out to the East of Vancouver. It has a cosmopolitan make-up, but undeniably has one of the regions larger concentrations of Punjabi Indians. This makes for an amazing selection of restaurants, and some bizarrely large houses. I myself live at the southern end of Surrey where it meets White Rock. Despite its diverse cultures and many successful businesses, it is not without its problem areas and drug crime (primarily Marijuana grow-ops). These things have led to such unfair stigmas as “Better safe than Surrey” and “Brown Town” to name a few. As an ex-pat from the UK, I have to say that it is still way safer than pretty much any European city I have visited. Racism is real, to be sure, but it’s nothing compared to the skin-head days I witnessed as a youth in the UK’s 70s.
So anyway, I turned to see a young woman of Indian extraction (with a very Canadian accent) wearing typical weekend “daggy” clothes – hoody jacket and black leggings. She was with a middle aged Indian lady whom I took to be her mother. Facing off with her was a white guy in his 30s wearing a lumberjack shirt and accompanied by a pretty Philippino lady of similar age – better dressed than the rest of us put together.
Obviously unable to “let it lie”, the guy took umbrage at being called a racist, and said so. This presumably was accompanied with gesticulations towards his Philippino companion. I say presumably, because my English genes kicked back in, and I had entered my little bubble containing myself and the pricing dilemma of tinned chilli. My back was therefore once more turned on the scene in the hopes that it would simply dissolve and go away. But no. What we had here was “young lady with massive chip on shoulder” vs. “hurt male ego in front of girlfriend”.
The guy said he had assumed she was from Surrey not because of her ethnic origin but because of her “ghetto clothes”. She seemed well-versed in Anglo-Saxon profanity, questioned his education, and generally showed a most unladylike handling of the situation. Her poor mother, whom I felt completely sorry for, was struggling to keep her in check, and to let things go.
Eventually I settled on 2 tins of Campbell’s steak chilli, though I’m not convinced I’d made the right choice. As the air cleared, I saw a group of around 5 youngish Indian guys wearing turbans and carefully watching the lumberjack shirt retreating to continue his shopping. This could have turned very ugly indeed, it seemed. A minute or two later, I encountered the guy talking to what appeared to be his father – similarly dressed in checked padded shirt. He seemed proud of his “argument with that lady”. His use of “lady” did not imply any inherent distaste for the woman.
I found the whole thing fascinating. Presumably the young lady had slighted the guy in some way – perhaps by barging past or something equally innocent. He had made some comment about her “going back to Surrey”. He’d intended this as a comment on her clothing. She’d jumped to the assumption it was a racist attack and verbally lashed out. The guy felt the need to defend himself against the accusation of being racist. Both seemed to agree that coming from Surrey was a bad thing.
I’m an immigrant. I live in Surrey. On reflection, perhaps they were both attacking me!
Funny how we like to draw opposites – real or imaginary – isn’t it? Us and them. It’s become quite an artistic device.
Of Mice and Men. A book I had to read at school. A classic. So great, we studied it for weeks… and I can’t remember anything about it, except some guy dies at the end. I don’t actually remember whether mice played any part, but I strongly suspect not. :) So… perhaps not so great after all? At least not if you’re 12 and consider the prime value of English literature to be in guiding you towards the correct construction of your Airfix model.
Of Monsters and Men. Great indie band out of Iceland. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir has an amazing voice I think. You know, the Icelandic music scene has produced some wonderful talent over the years. Well, OK, so really there was just Björk… but she was in the Sugarcubes first, so that’s almost three you’ve potentially heard of!
So, of saints and sinners then. The saints in this piece are the good folks at Marks & Spencer.
For those not familiar, Marks and Sparks is the good old, solid, “go to” chain in the UK. They apparently had stores here in Canada until just before we immigrated here, so we just missed them. For about a year or so after we arrived you could get M&S biscuits, jam and the like at one or two supermarket chains, but I suspect that was just the logistic chain draining itself out to the general market. Obviously I’ve been out of touch for a decade and a half now, but it certainly used to be the place to get “sensible” clothes. Underwear that would outlast the wearer. Indestructible elastic. Reliable shoes. School trousers, work jumpers, that sort of thing. Nothing flash, just solid, high quality basics.
They also built their success partly on their no nonsense high quality customer service. Never an argument about returns, exchanges, etc. Well known amongst shop-lifters for accepting items for refund with no receipt. Outstanding, well respected customer service. Second to none.
From 1928 onwards, they used St. Michael as their in-house brand, to honour one of the founders, Michael Marks (who was actually Jewish, but then so was Jesus I suppose). More saintliness.
So, in amongst all this, my dear mother – still resident in Blighty – calls us up and offers to send us some M&S goodies for Christmas, since they’re offering free shipping worldwide during the imported US Thanksgiving sales. Being from Yorkshire, free anything is a definite attraction, and suggestions for presents from the M&S website were duly made. Since the shipping was free, my mum decided to order and send the presents separately so that we could each open our own package, rather than getting a single consolidated shipment. Free shipping – why not? [By the way… there are five of us.]
M&S used the Royal Mail for shipping last year. Items duly showed up in the post via Canada Post at this end, or if they were too large and nobody was in, you popped up to the local post office and collected it at your convenience. No fuss or nonsense, and – you guessed it – it was free shipping last year too!
So – enter the sinners.
For this part in the epic Christmas pantomime, we shall use DHL, as these are the people M&S have chosen to provide their free shipping this year.
So anyway, a couple of days after the free shipping is invoked by my saintly mother the first two parcels arrive! Amazing service, one might think, and so it seemed. Great Teutonic efficiency, even if sub-contracted. Unfortunately, as can sometimes be the case, there was nobody in. They dutifully left a little pre-printed note apologising for missing us, and assuring us they’d try again next day. The problem was though, there would be fees of $37 and $43 for the parcels.
Now, though the kindly Canadian customs organisation are quite good at turning a blind eye for a few tens of dollars here and there crossing over from the US as part of a day’s sightseeing trip, they draw the line at tobacco goods, alcohol, and excessive piss-taking in the form of wide screen TVs and other expensive items. The fact that these two parcels had import duty to pay was half-expected and not in and of itself a surprise. The fact it was almost $80 for the pair though seemed to imply that my mother had been unusually generous. (Don’t forget that she’d also already paid the UK government a VAT of 20% on these goods.) Anyway, we were excited now, so my wife stayed in the next afternoon. Unfortunately the dog was crossing her legs desperate to go for a walk and in the 15 minutes they were out of the house, we missed the second attempt. Attempt 3 happened before my wife was even back home from work the next day, so in desperation she went online to find out where we could pick it up, instead. And here things take a twist…
Online we discover two things. (i) we can offer an alternative delivery location. Great! We entered my work address where someone is ALWAYS available to accept deliveries. There’s even various options including the one we selected: “please leave at reception.” Discovery (ii) was less pleasant, but explained my mother’s apparent generosity. There was indeed import duty to pay on the items. Oh well, that’s the way it is. But the duty was only a fraction of the amount to pay…
One item, valued at ~CAD$70 incurred import duty of $12.71. Not outrageous, all things considered.
However, then the provincial and federal taxes are added. A total of 12% on the value (already including UK paid taxes of 20%) plus the import duty. This comes to an additional $10.
Not satisfied with this, there is then an additional $10 flat rate fee from the courier for “processing”.
Then, just to add insult to injury, there is a fee of $4.25 because it’s “cash on delivery”. Free shipping, but still cash on delivery. Again – straight into the pocket of the local courier on behalf of DHL. $4.25, though annoying is reasonable for an agency to be inconvenienced for having to collect and verify payment on behalf of the government I suppose. The thing is… it’s not waived when the recipient goes to the trouble – as we did – to pay online and therefore avoid the inconvenience on behalf of the courier.
Oh well, at least we’d paid the fees now, and we’re safe in the knowledge that no matter what time the parcels are delivered, they’ll be signed for at work, and handed over.
Except they’re not.
Nope. We get home and find they’ve just been left on the front step for anyone to take. So much for using the online system to change the delivery address and explicitly select “leave at reception”. I guess now the government fees are collected and the courier on behalf of DHL has gouged us an additional $14.25, they no longer care whether we actually receive the items or not!
Now fuming that DHL and the local agent on their behalf have been totally cavalier with the parcels and gouged deeply for the pleasure of undergoing the risk of having some local oik steal them before we even get to open them, my wife emails the service operation of the hitherto blameless M&S. After a very laudibly short delay, the reply comes back.
Of course, much more wordy (and in arguably less grammatically correct English), but essentially – that’s the way it is.
Seems things really have slid in the bastion of great service hitherto known as Marks and Spencer. The UK-resident shopper is blissfully unaware that by accepting the offer of free shipping on their Christmas presents to ex-pat friends and family, they’re actually surprising the recipient with a gift of paying over 50% of the original price, just to receive it! (The other parcel was slightly less at 48% – $43.68 on a gift of $89.35.)
Remember – the gifts were sent separately because it was free shipping. That small act of genuine thoughtfulness cost us an additional $14.25.
So Air Canada are not what you’d call that innovative. A bit like Microsoft, they are good at following the leaders, but doing a good job at it since the leaders have learnt the mistakes to avoid.
[Edit: I forgot Zappos/Jet Blue]
Now this is a brilliant bit of double-think.
Every year, the small town of Wunsiedel in Germany is over-run by neo-Nazi marchers. This year, the town fought back in a respectful, clever way. They basically organised a sponsored walk to raise funds for “EXIT-Deutschland” – an organisation to help neo-Nazis safely leave the far right. The thing was… they didn’t tell the marchers.
As the march progressed, road markings thanked their efforts, told them how much money they’d raised, and generally encouraged their progress. The town even offered them bananas to encourage them on to the final fund-raising total at the marches finish. €10000 in total.
A similar clever idea was when EXIT-Deutschland handed out “Trojan horse” T-shirts at the Rock Für Deutschland festival run by Germany’s right wing NPD party. They handed out what appeared to be hardcore T-shirts (message: Hardcore Rebels. National and Free.) Members of Exit Deutschland dressed up as Nazis and passed 250 of their shirts to festival visitors. Once the guys came home after the Festival and washed their shirts the shirt revealed a different message: “Was dein t-shirt, kan kannst du auch” (If your T-shirt can do it, so can you.), and the message “We’ll help you break with right-wing extremism”, and a contact number for Exit Deutschland. Now THAT is clever…
What on Earth can I do? You do? One person, alone.
Well… you’re not alone, so that helps.
And remember: don’t fuck with the bees!
Well, it’s VIFF time of year again, and Vancouver is hosting films from around the world once more. Tonight I saw “Just Eat It!” and was stunned.
It’s a quirky Vancouver-made film with a serious message. The film-making couple use humour to bring home some uncomfortable facts. 40% of the food we grow… goes to the land fill. For 6 months they live off “waste” food… and live very well with Grant putting on 10lb! They spend only $200 in 6 months on food, and yet eat their fill of top quality chocolate, organic food and fruit and vegetables. They even end up giving food away, they have accumulated so much.
At one point we learn that in order to produce a single hamburger, enough water to have a 90 minute shower is required. Meat is one of the most energy and resource consuming foods we grow… and we throw 40% of it away!
If you can – watch this film! Now… go and eat your vegetables. You’re not leaving the table until you clean your plate…