Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Small Change, Part 2--An Inconvenient Booze

A couple of weeks ago, I spent my first “Victoria Day” in Canada, a holiday known here as May 2-4 for various reasons. This was my third such civic holiday since I’ve been in Canada.

The first weekend I lived in Canada after moving all my stuff also happened to be Labor Day, also known as Labour Day to Canadians. (If you haven’t noticed my sensitivity to the nuances of Canadian spelling, I’ll explain that in a future post.) I was very excited because after a Saturday and Sunday of unpacking, I’d be able to go shopping, check out local restaurants, etc. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Looking back, it was very apt that my first real weekend in Canada also introduced me to one of the big differences between Canadian and American life—the level of convenience. In the United States, everything is about convenience—24-hour gas stations, 24-hour grocery stores, restaurants and bars open late, all-night drive-thrus at restaurants. And while Canada has its small share of these types of conveniences, in general, my life as a consumer got a bit more complicated here.

Around noon on Labour Day, Sarah and I got in the car and drove to the mall. It was closed. I was pretty surprised. So, we drove to some nearby outlet stores. All closed. We tried a drug store. Closed. Back home we went, and we spent the day taking the dogs for a nice walk, which was probably better for us physically and financially.

I also remember my first post-10 pm trip to The Beer Store. Closed. On Saturday night. I wondered if there had been a power outage or a fire in the store. I checked the posted hours. Nope, just closed, as usual. The following Saturday, I went to the LCBO (liquor store) and made sure I was there before 9. While checking out, I commented to the clerk that they should be open later. The clerk responded, clearly offended, with a loud “OH?? And how late do YOU think we should be open???” I grabbed my bag and scurried out of the store with my tail between my legs muttering something about 11 pm.

I have had to start planning my liquor purchases. This was something I was a bit used to in the Bible Belt of Michigan where no liquor was sold on Sunday in my home county. But, at least I could go to any grocery store at 1 am when I ran out of beer on a Friday night/Saturday morning and get more.

I could also add beer to my grocery list and just pick that up while doing my regular shopping at most any time during the week. Not so here. The first time I went to a grocery store in Canada (this was actually a couple of years before I moved here on an occasion when I was just visiting) I learned about beer sales in Ontario. While checking out with a few food items, I said to the clerk, “I’ve looked everywhere—where’s the beer?” From her response, you would have thought I asked her what color oranges are as she said matter-of-factly, “At the beer store.” The “duh” at the end was just implied. I thought she was playing a joke on me. I was just about to ask her if milk was at the milk store and if sugar was at the sugar store, but the look on her face said that she thought I was an idiot. I eventually discovered that she was talking about THE Beer Store.

Trying to remember to make a special trip to buy beer in the afternoon or early evening when I’m not even thinking about late-evening activities yet has been a challenge.

What I did always remember to do on Saturday afternoons when I first moved to Canada was to check the mail at my house. Every Saturday I’d go to my mailbox, open it, find nothing, and remark to Sarah, the dogs, or just to myself what an odd coincidence it was that we got mail almost every day of the week but never on Saturdays. After about three months of observing this amazing coincidence, I finally asked one of my work colleagues and learned that Canada Post does not deliver on Saturdays.

Going back to the issue of businesses being open on holidays, I will never forget my first Canadian New Year. I came down with some sort of Canadian flu bug that my body had apparently never encountered before because I was sick with digestive system issues for over a week. I was in bed by 9 pm on New Year’s Eve, and when I finally did get up on New Year’s Day, I was desperate to eat something as I hadn’t eaten in days. I really just wanted Gatorade and saltine crackers. So, off to the store went Sarah. I thought she’d be back in ten minutes. Then I remembered it was a holiday in Canada. About an hour later she returned with some Gatorade and some expired crackers she’d managed to find at a small convenience store across town. It was the only place she could find open.

January 2 fell on a Friday, and I was still very ill. Because I had never been this sick with a stomach bug for over a week before where I literally couldn’t eat anything and continually experienced all other symptoms you can imagine, I thought I had better get to the doctor. Of course, I didn’t have a “family doctor,” so on Friday morning, I dragged myself out of bed and somehow made my way across town to the urgent care clinic. Sure enough, it was closed. How convenient.

This past Victoria Day was one of the most relaxing civic holiday’s I’d ever experienced. I made sure I went to The Beer Store on the Saturday before and stocked up. I made sure I hit the grocery store on Saturday also to get some food for grilling. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do any shopping on the Monday holiday, so we took the dogs for a long walk along the river and then grilled burgers on the deck while having a few beers. It was actually wonderful not to have even the thought of running errands or going shopping in my head, and therefore I was able to really rest and enjoy the day. I wondered how much stress all of the “conveniences” in the US had actually caused me during my previous life.

Apparently Canadians feel that civic holidays should be holidays for everyone, even retail employees (who never get those days off in the US). If I worked in retail in Canada, I’d be thrilled with the time off. And, if people tried to argue that all the businesses should be open during holidays for their convenience, I’d probably be just as offended and alarmed as the LCBO clerk who didn’t like my suggestion that their store stay open late.


Adam said...

Very well said. And true. Isn't it nice now that you are used to it? It may seem simple, but, if there is a "holiday" - shouldn't it be for everyone?

How about taking your shoes off when entering someone's home? When you wear shoes in your own home does it feel "wrong"? When you forget to take them off when entering another's house, are you mortified?

Welcome to Canada!

Niagara Anglophile said...


If you had gone Quebec, liquor laws are much different and relaxed. You can buy beer in a "dépanneur", a convenience store. Canada has different laws in different provinces.