A few weeks ago I went to a jewellery store because one of my rings needed to be looked at. Just before me a young couple came in. She seemed excited, he seemed nervous. One of the assistants came over right away and asked, “How can I help you?” She probably already new what was coming next. At least I did. “We are looking for an engagement ring,” the young woman said enthusiastically.
Since all the other assistants were busy, I knew I had to wait for a bit and decided to watch what was going on in the engagement ring section. As soon as the woman put the first ring on her finger, her soon to be fiancé shouted out loud, “This is really happening!” He was walking up on down in the jewellery store and almost chewing on his hat, until the assistant asked him if he wanted to sit down next to his girlfriend. He didn’t.
Originally I wanted to post a Christmas story on December 24. I also intended to name the post differently – “My first Canadian Christmas”. But last Thursday I met a woman and was so touched by what she said, that I changed my mind. I felt like I had to talk about Christmas now and not in a week.
I wanted to get Christmas cards for our family and friends, and went to the Eaton Centre last Thursday, one of Toronto’s iconic malls. I was Immediately overwhelmed by the sparkly Christmas decorations, the giant sale signs in every store and the enormous amount of people running around equipped with three, four, sometimes even seven shopping bags. My plan was to escape this situation as soon as possible, so I walked into the first store that looked like it would carry a variety of cards I could choose from.
The first time I smelled a skunk was when I was driving along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), the highway linking Toronto with Buffalo, New York. I didn’t even know what it was. I just knew I had never smelled anything like this before, and it almost made me feel sick. “How awful!” I thought while I was turning up the air conditioning in the car hoping the smell would go away soon.
The same week, on my way home I passed a dead animal lying on the side of the highway. Its fur was black and white, and it seemed like it had been hit by a car. Before I could even think about what kind of animal this could have been, the same penetrating smell I had experienced a few days earlier came through the car’s ventilation system.
When I was a kid, I put my boots outside the door before I went to bed on December 5. Sometimes I also put an empty plate on my desk. When I woke up the next morning, the plate and boots were filled with tangerines, peanuts and chocolate. I knew Saint Nicholas (in German: Nikolaus) had visited.
Does this sound familiar to Americans and Canadians? But the date is wrong, isn’t it? Why would there be a Saint Nicholas bringing gifts the night before December 6 when Santa Claus shows up the night before December 25 doing the same thing? Are they the same person?
I don’t like shopping. I like having nice clothes, shoes and purses, but the process of getting them, not so much. With the temperatures just starting to be below zero, I knew I would have to stock up my closet with new sweaters, scarves, gloves and hats. When you live in a country where winter is the dominant season, having a variety of scarves, gloves and hats is justified. At least that is what I tell myself.
Since I needed new clothes anyway, I thought I might as well get them on Black Friday when pretty much everything is on sale. For those not so familiar with this “tradition”, Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving in the United Stated and marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Stores open very early, close very late and offer special promotional sales. The Canadians seem to have adopted this a while ago.
I opened the door to the restaurant and was stopped by a huge sign that said, “Please wait to be seated”. Next to sign was some sort of registration desk that looked like a podium for keynote speakers. Attached to the podium was a reading light where you would usually expect a microphone. Behind the podium was a young woman dressed in black. She was staring at a seating chart before she realized that I had come in. As soon as she saw me, she smiled and asked, “For how many?” “Just for me,” I replied. This was the first time I entered a restaurant in Canada.
I knew that, compared to Europe, it would be more about cars than about public transit. It also makes sense. Canada is the second largest country in the world, and to get to most of the places you have to drive. Sometimes you have to fly, but usually you have to drive.
With so many people on the road you can expect delays. I thought I was prepared for this, but apparently I was not prepared for driving in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). For those not so familiar with this area, it is defined as the City of Toronto and the four regional municipalities that surround it, and it makes a lot of traffic news.