Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Are we 'Paying through the nose'?
“To pay through the nose means,” as I’m sure all of us living on Planet Shopalot know, to pay an exorbitant (from the Latin for, I kid you not, “jumped the track”) price or to be grossly overcharged. The exact logic of the phrase, which first appeared in English in the 17th century, is unknown. But it may well be rooted in likening being overcharged to being punched and given a bad nosebleed. This theory is strengthened by the use of “bleed” during the same period to mean “cheat or defraud.”
From The English Spot, a resource for learners of English
So here I sit on the bed in the motel. It's raining cats and dogs and sky seems fairly set on continuing in that mode for days. Can't complain, really, had plenty of gorgeous weather of late, and the breakdown did happen before rain began, so there's that. The lovely waitress at the Dame Tartine cafe this morning was tres sympa. I took the opportunity of dashing over there during a break in the rain and had a really lovely breakfast consisting of a poached egg, English muffin, homemade applesauce, cottage cheese, a platter full of seven different fresh, sweet fruits (three of each) , homefries and tea, all for ten bucks, followed by a bol du cafe au lait.
Oh ... thunder now. Swell.
Anyway, the waitress asked why I was here. I explained about the car, and we postulated awhile on why it may have chosen this particular moment to break down on me, rather than , say, in the middle of the Arizona desert, and she suggested that maybe my car just didn't want to leave Quebec. She may be onto something there.
Everyone I've encountered in this area (Montreal), almost without exception, has been helpful, tres sympa, offering me sincere smiles and assistance I didn't even have to ask for. I mean, the littlest things! They have anticipated my needs. In my experience, this is something only the well to do in the states experience with any regularity (and it's generally offered with a dollop of affected obsequiousness as well). Here a desire to be genuinely and thoroughly helpful seems more commonplace, more de riguer. People seem happy to be doing what they do for the most part, even in adversity. This is not to say they don't have their down times. As an 'outsider' how would I know? But there is a definite upliftedness to the general population. They seem quite happy to just be. They do seem to walk, bike, traverse on foot, hang outside a lot. (Don't get me wrong, I've seen the odd miscreants lounging bleary eyed on the sidewalk or digging through the trash at ATMs. But that's rare, and I've walked a lot of the city now.) People are 'willingly, eagerly helpful' is probably the best way I can describe it. I don't get that treatment in the states generally, at least in Maine. What I get most places in Maine is more often than not a general reluctance, truculence even, when I need more information or to be waited on.
As I sat by the window gazing out at the water enjoying my breakfast this morning, I couldn't help but wonder if it was me or them, this attitude difference. It's a chicken and egg phenomenon ... or is it? Am I more open and friendly here, thus inviting warmth from whomever I'm speaking to? That would imply a certain bias on my part which I don't really think I entertain. It's my conclusion, based on socioeconomic indicators and anecdotal evidence, that by almost any measurement, the quality of life is simply better here for the majority of people. Free health care alone could account for that - why do you think the US Medicare crowd is such a feisty bunch? – but there's more. (And don't think that as I write corporate power brokers aren't trying to undermine that quality of life in Canada in the name of a free market. In England too!) People tell me education is more affordable here. Average (even retail) jobs are plentiful and pay decent (from the horse's mouth). Such a reassuring quality of life would make anyone more open and willing when it comes to sharing what they have, information, being helpful, etc. because, unlike the average american these days, they don't feel pressed quite so hard to simply survive .
Not to mention, the average food options are just so much better here. I mean, find me an average small town (not a tourist town) in the states (I've just been through quite a few and was hard pressed to find ANY little cafes or diners to eat in, and I always ask the locals) where a decent meal (not processed food, but healthy and tasty and made with an eye to care) is available for a reasonable price normal people can afford. Generally speaking, you won't. That industry is dead. Once again: Is it the chicken or the egg? Is it because Americans demand only fast and processed formulaic food? Or has that mega-industry (second largest private employer in the US is McDonald's) simply put the diners and cafes out of business with their two dollar meals... meals of what though? Here in Canada all the McDos serve only Canadian beef. Or so they say on the telly. And bovine growth hormones, etc., are not permitted in ANY milk here.
The little choices and opportunities you're presented with on a daily basis, things most people take for granted or are unaware they lack, are the foundation on which you build your day, your outlook, the way you respond to life. If those choices suck, what do you have ? If you're aware that those choices are limited to limp compromises of the real thing or something viably better (because you know what that is), doesn't every low quality compromise you make present a challenge to your spirit to stay perky and hopeful? To maintain some standard of dignity? If not, why are we working so hard ? Have we as a nation become slaves to a downtrodden mentality?
Of course all this speculation takes place in context – the context of a US that sits on a ball of water and other land masses spinning around in space and heating up. Not sure if I were in Mali I'd cast any form of judgment on whatever coffee I was offered. Judgment would then come down to the smile (or not, and if not, why not) on the face of the person offering it. And why is that? Because here we KNOW what's good. It's just plain laziness or greed that offers us less for our money. And that riles me. And a riled me wants to either escape to gentler pastures or open another cafe so I'll have a place to eat things I like.
So maybe the waitress is right. Maybe my car just doesn't wanna go back to the land where there is no place to enjoy a nice bol du cafe au lait for the simple reason of either ignorance or sloth – or both. Anecdotally speaking, this is why we're headed down the economic ladder. Because we settle for 'inadequate' and pay for it in money and spirit through the nose.
Sorry no photos. I've taken some but left the chord to laptop in car. Will post some later.