Monday, June 02, 2008

Twisting Knickers

The new issue of Clarkesworld is out, and with it the fuel for controversial debate, in the form of a non-fiction article titled Cheer Up Emo Kid: Being Depressed (or gay) Is Not All In Your Genes.

Moving right along...

What the heck is it with Tim Hortons, anyway? It wasn't all that long ago that I vented about the firing of one employee over a 16 cent Timbit - and not only was she rehired, but it turned out she'd worked there for three years and never been written up before - but now a ten-year-old case has been dredged up again, with a legal ruling.

It may have gone in Tim Hortons' favour this time, but what stood out to me was the last paragraph of the story:

Last month a Toronto businesswoman complained she was scolded by a Tim Hortons employee at the King and Victoria Sts. franchise for buying a homeless woman breakfast.


Really, do I want someone lecturing me over my purchases? It's sort of the reverse equivalent to people who take out all their pent-up angst against a store when they get to the cashier to pay for their purchases. I was behind one of those recently. After a few minutes of verbal harassment, the cashier finally tried to defend the store by pointing a few things out. The complainer was having none of that, so the cashier just rushed to finished, and did say, "Have a nice day."

The complainer responded, "I will when I get out of this place."

I'm not going to say I've never had a thing or two to say to a cashier, but generally when there's been something specific there that's prompted it.

I'm beginning to wonder if our forum-blogging-spout-your-opinions-to-the-masses culture is having an impact, inspiring people to think that they not only can but should offer up strong opinions freely to strangers, and customers. What happened to the good ol' days, when you could go to the store and be left alone? When you could buy something without being pestered to complete ten customer satisfaction surveys? When I didn't have to give my postal - er, um zip - code every time I wanted to buy something?

It's the two sides of the coin. Free speech is a wonderful thing, and it's something I believe in, but I still think there's a time and place for it. This brings me right around to the lively dinner conversation last night. Sunday family dinners are the norm with my partner's family, and since today is my birthday we were having a bit of a party.

Which turned into a debate about the Dixie Chicks and that whole old mess.

I can defend the right to say anything, but I agree there may be consequences. If my partner goes on a forum or blog and gets in a fight with reviewers, there won't be any long-term repercussions. If I do it, a few dozen reviewers will take a pass on my next book.

It's the way it is. I know I avoid reviewing people I've had public conflict with, so that if my review isn't primarily positive I don't put my own credibility at question with people speculating that I allowed personal feelings to colour my judgment. Now, if I was a paid newspaper reviewer, I would.

But then again, if I was a paid reviewer, I wouldn't blog about reviewing at all. I'd want more personal distance than I currently have.

Like I said though, that's just me.

Now, that's a bit of a detour from the point, but one of the things last night's discussion made me think about is the fact that we're all ambassadors. People who are celebrities carry more weight in that respect, because more people are watching them, and their platform is bigger. I'm a fly on the wall by comparison, but I still think you have to be careful about dishing criticisms about your own country publicly, or about another country.

Which has me wondering why it is that a Toronto Star columnist has weighed in on the US presidential race, with a strong opinion about who would bring real change.

Seriously, I lost respect for Michael Moore when he came to Canada and lobbied against certain political parties, telling us how to vote. He doesn't live in Canada, he doesn't have to deal with the multiple issues that feed into an election and the decisions individual voters are making. And I'm not sorry to say that an election is about more than government funding for the film industry. My feeling was, "Get out of my country and shut your fucking mouth."

Kind of goes to my general feeling that if you don't vote, you don't really have the right to complain.

Which ties into why I feel more comfortable making political commentary about Canada than the US. Okay, maybe after I've lived here a while, I'll feel differently. Maybe not. All I know is, I have far more experience and understanding with what it is to live in Canada, and Canadian issues. Until you've walked a mile, don't cast stones.

The US is often picked on internationally. It's common practice to beat up on Americans. My experience living in Europe was that many Americans wore Canadian flags so that they wouldn't hear the criticisms. Canadians are always praised as being nice, while Americans are rude.

Now, go back to the stories about Tim Hortons, and consider the public relations nightmares that company has had to deal with. They aren't coming off quite as nice as the traditional image of Canadians, and as a major Canadian company, well, it doesn't reflect well on us, does it?

It's a nice thing that the response when people find out I'm Canadian is to say that Canadians are so nice, friendly. However, I'm really tired of the US-bashing. My own experience is that everywhere I go, people are so nice. When I'm outside neighbours wave. They talk to you. When I'm in the store, people chat. If people block you in an aisle, they quickly move and apologize.

In fact, my experiences here make me think that Americans are extremely nice.

I guess it's all about your point of view. But I still don't feel I have the right to weigh in the US presidential race.

Now, the question of whether or not being gay is in your genes.... Nah, I'm steering clear of that one as well.

(Oh, and the winners of free signed copies of What Burns Within have been determined - we're actually giving away five copies, so Fiona, Keith, Joshua, Bob and Daniel Hatadi can look forward to getting a signed copy in the mail.)


John McFetridge said...

Yes, I'm tired of the US-bashing as well. Here in Canada it's almost always knee-jerk, reactionary and never backed up with anything concrete.

One of the reasons, I think, America is the most criticized nation in the world (and Americans the most criticized people) is because America, for all its problems, really does have the most freedom of speech in the world.

Maybe other places have similar laws to gaurantee free speach, but no one else in the world takes advantage of those laws to critisize themselves so much. We're getting there, but when things look tough, we circle the wagons pretty quick.

At the same time, no other country's foreign policy so affects every other country in the world as much as America's. For example, no matter how many times the World Trade Organization rules in Canada's favour on softwood lumber, the US does what it wants. So, which party wins the US election has a big effect on our economy. Using the media to let the US voters know that what they do affects us doesn't seem so bad.

And I have to say, I've never understood this country's love affair with Tim Hortons.

DC said...

I agree with you that free speech should be exercised in the proper forums/ways, but I disagree on the idea that if you are not from a country you should steer clear of criticising them.

Personally, I believe that criticism is the only way to bring about change. For instance, if Israel bombs the West Bank and kills 20 Palesinian farmers, while they were trying to target Hezbollah terrorists, Israel should be criticised by not just Israelis but the world community as well.

I do agree that people that know nothing about the political system of the United States should "keep out of it," so to speak, but actions of that government that impact the rest of the world deserve to be scrutinized.

The only point I wanted to mention was the problem with generalizations (not saying that you have done that here) in people labeling ALL Americans as rude and ALL Canadians as friendly and nice. I have met rude Americans, and I have met nice Americans. I have met rude Canadians, and nice ones. Over arching generalizations that people make are the cause of most misunderstandings.

People need to stop being stuck in their perceived truths and seek out the REAL truths.

Sandra Ruttan said...

John, you're right that the US foreign policy does affect Canada, and other countries... Still, maybe it's just my reaction to asserting that McCain is the man for change.

Kind of lets my political dog out of the bag, doesn't it? ;)

And yeah, there's softwood lumber...

DC, well said. You're absolutely right, there are nice and rude people from every country on the planet. Actually, that's one of my eye-rolling beefs with the crime fiction community - this need to tout ourselves as "99% of the people are wonderful and just so nice". Uh, no. People are people, and that means that like every other group, we have our share of the nice, the supportive, the snobs and the outright assholes.

But you're also right about your other point. The Israel example is a good one. I guess I over-generalized. Really, it's the nitpicky stuff I have a problem with. Okay, I'll admit it: I disagree with the war in Iraq. I'll admit that I'm not fond of the Bush administration. However, I'm not in the same kind of position to comment on the impact the Bush administration has had on the average American as someone who's lived here all their life, or at least for the last eight years. When you live in a country, you see the way one thing impacts another. You see it on the more day-to-day, regular person scale. I can criticize the war, which is easy, but it's harder for me to put my finger on the problems contributing to hairbrained philosophies like 'No Child Left Behind'. I hate that philosophy. I have all kinds of issues with it. David Simon integrated it into The Wire in season 4 and made powerful commentary on it, though, and it's something I don't feel I could have done a year ago myself because I lacked the direct experience with it to know all the intricacies of how it works and the impact it's having.

Now, though, I get to deal with it in a real and direct way, which means that in time, I may well want to take my shots at it.

For me, I have far more direct exposure to the RCMP and to the Canadian governments and systems and so I can write about it more freely, with confidence. With the US, I'm prepared to be corrected, because I don't have the depth of history or direct experience with US policies. Hell, I'm still not even sure I understand how the primaries work, so how can I really start pointing fingers at a flawed US electoral system? Well, okay, there are chads, but that's a gimme.

Really, I just mean that your perspective changes when you have more direct exposure to something. Sometimes, things make more sense and the criticisms dissolve. And other times, your convictions are strengthened. Someone once told me that they decided to hold their junior administrative position for a year before weighing in on big decisions (which they were in a position to have a voice on) because they wanted to understand the system first, and give things a chance to work or fail before jumping to conclusions. It seems to me, in general, to be a smart philosophy. Sort of like people who've known you two minutes and start meddling in your love life. :)

DC said...

Well said Sandra. I agree with your argument that it is better to get to know the situation before you jump head on into criticism.

This, as you have stated, particularly applies to politics and specifically US politics (I don't really understand primaries either :S) Especially the way the politics affects the people within the US, I totally agree that those that live in the country are far more cognizant of the impacts, etc.

Great article by the way, really good points that you make.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Sandra. Hubbie is bringing my copy of What Burns Within home today and I'm looking forward to reading it.

And in Australia we don't need to bash America. We had a sporting time bashing the last government. With the change in government I don't have as many conversational topics to draw on. Howard-Bashing (our last Prime Minister) was kind of like Bush-Bashing. Lots of fun for the whole family.