I developed a new theory.
Canada is a capitalist developed country, with plenty of goods available, a reasonably efficient and non-corrupt administration and businesses are quite customers-oriented. However, all this change the minute you step foot on the university campus. Suddenly, you enter another world.
A French exchange student I met in my class asked me recently if Canada was suffering from penury. I assured her that indeed, we were doing okay. I know it does get cold in the winter, but thanks to our neighbors in the South, we don’t want for anything. She went on explaining that she often noticed empty shelves at the supermarket and that she never seemed to find what she needed.
I would have dismissed her claim if I hadn’t felt the same on the campus. Indeed, things seem to work differently on these few square kilometers.
The other day, I had an hour break before my class. I decided to get a coffee at Starbucks, conveniently on campus, and sit there for a little while reading my course materials. I stepped in and joined the queue. There were about ten people in front of me, nothing out of ordinary for a rainy and cold day: we all need our fix of coffee on those ones.
After five minutes, the queue hadn’t moved. I opened my book and started reading. Another ten minutes went by and there were still eight people in front of me. Another ten minutes. Finally, one of the barista (is that how we are supposed to call Starbucks employees?) moved from behind the counter to the queue:
— Alright people, just to let you know, we are out of coffee and tea! So I repeat, if you want any coffee or tea, well, we don’t have any. Thanks!
I frowned. Er… Running out of coffee in a Starbucks is a problem.
Since I didn’t want what they had to offer — according to my understanding, that would have been plain hot water I guess — I left. Great. Queuing for almost thirty minutes for nothing.
I crossed the street and went to the Second Cup. The queue went much faster (still a good twenty minutes though) but this time, they had ran out of disposable cups. Er… okay. I sat there with my China mug, drinking my latte as fast as I could since everybody wanted a seat to do the same and left.
I also needed to buy a textbook. I did exactly what the teacher told us to do: I went to the student-owned bookstore. I first climbed the stairs to the second hand books section of the store. A woman my age informed me that: “like, if (I) wanted used books it was totally cool but that (they) had kinda ran out of my textbook, ya know“.
I was directed downstairs, to the new books section. I started queuing in the tiny store. After ten minutes, I realized the queue was all around the stores, and was therefore about four times longer than I had expected. Never mind. After twenty minutes, I was given a little piece of paper and a miniature pen, and I was told to write my class number on it and hand it to one of the employee. When my turn came, I did just that. Eventually, the employee came back from the shelves and handed me a biology textbook. I’m mentioned that I was studying political science. He replied that biology was a different subject. We both agreed on that but couldn’t figure out why my textbook, supposedly ordered by the teacher, was missing. I left empty-handed.
I went to the university bookstore. I first attempted to walk though the door, like most people would have done. But as I was stepping in, a security guard called me and told me to go through the other entrance — the one I hadn’t seen because it was blocked by yes, you guessed it, a huge queue. And why were people queuing for enter the bookstore? Because all bags had to be left at the counter. Seriously. My wallet in my hand, I browsed the store and found my book. Nearly $100 and a twenty minute queue later, it was mine. I then queued again to reach the counter where I had checked in my hang bag — I was almost surprised I wasn’t searched, I mean, it’s very easy to steal a bunch of ten inches thick books you know.
I could go on and on, but all the stories are similar. Attempt to do something simple, something you do in every day’s life, and it won’t work easily on campus. Photocopying a few pages at the library? First, you must find change (and more difficult, change that the machine accept since it seems to favor some 25 cents coins over others) to buy a photocopy card. Then you have to load it. Then you have to figure out how it works, because for some reason, the machines don’t seem to follow any logical international photocopying standards.
The most annoying side of my campus theory? So far, I haven’t been able to find a bathroom that actually had some toilet paper. I have been carrying a few sheets of my own paper for a few weeks now, like I used to do when we were traveling in Central America.