Carina Clark

These boots are made for balking

In Observations on January 15, 2014 at 4:41 am

“Can I buy a story, a joke, just some words? why are you not writing?”

I laughed, and avoided the question. My friend was watching me intently. Silence fell between us. I stalled.  I have a lot of stories to tell, but I spent a whole year wondering when I should tell them….now, later or never?

Should I save the stories like gold coins in my pocket, in hopes that when I finally pull them out, they have gained value? or whoever will play the main characters in my stories will simply not care anymore? I can freely tell my stories without risking anything.

“Write about anything! shoes! just write!” my friend is not known for giving up easily. She is the one who originally pushed me to start this blog. I tend to listen to her.

Shoes….does anyone really want to hear about my experience on Boxing day at a relatively exclusive shoe shop downtown?

It started innocently enough, like most battles do. I found the absolute perfect pair of black low boots on sale, but in the wrong size. The Aggressive Sales Lady tried to convince me to still buy them.

I remembered being a child and going to the shoe store with my mother. How I used to agonize whether the shoes fit right or not. “Can you feel your toes?” my mother used to ask me. “Are you sure it is the right size? I don’t want to buy shoes for you that don’t fit when we come home.”

I remember walking around the shoe store, glancing at the shoes with heels that I really wanted, but I did not bother asking. We both still remembered the unfortunate incident when I managed to fall out of a new pair of shoes, just as we got home and twisted my ankle. The shoes were returned to the store and I was going to get flat shoes until I was old enough to buy my own shoes.

“You buy this size, it is good!” I was back in the Vancouver shoe shop with the very insistent and Aggressive Sales Lady who only cared about her commission. “Try insoles!” she said. She had no idea who she was dealing with. I can look innocent enough for a while.

067I wanted the boots, but I wanted them in the right size. They were sold out. I gave up on them. I walked around the store and found another pair of winter boots that I could see myself wearing as I was walking up a snowy hill somewhere on a romantic winter date…and then I noticed a weird circle on the front of the boot. I pointed out the circle and asked for a fresh pair.

“No, this is the last pair. They are on sale.” The Aggressive One glared at me. She said she could easily get the circle out with some shoe polish. But after her less than enthusiastic efforts the circle was still there, like somebody had stamped the front of the boot. Another Sales Lady came up to us. She looked angry. The two Sales Ladies started muttering in a foreign language and rolling their eyes at me. I headed towards the door.

“You don’t want the boots?” they hissed.

“No” I said, and opened the door.

“Wait, we will give you something!”

I stopped. Give me what? this started to look like a story to me. I turned around slowly and the Angry One came running up to me holding something. “You want chocolates?” she asked.

Chocolates? in a shoe store?

“No, I don’t want chocolates! I want boots in my size and boots without weird circles on them.”

“No one can see the circle, just you, look!”  the Angry One held the boot up under a light.

“I am leaving” I said.

“Wait, we will give you something else!”

What would they offer me now…shoe laces? all I wanted to hear was that they would give me an extra discount.

I started my haggling ways back in the old country. It was not uncommon to do some haggling in certain stores. I learned this fine craft from my mother on our frequent shopping excursions. I perfected my haggling during my trips around Greece when I was a bit older. I love haggling. It is a sport, and I need to win.

“No one haggles here” said a sales woman at Lonsdale Quay to me as I was trying to get a good price for a silver ring there a few years ago. “But I like it, it is very common in Turkey. I will give you a great deal!” she said and shook my hand. “You are good at haggling, this was fun!” she added and smiled.

I have managed to get some excellent discounts on a lot of items over the years. My Ex used to be terribly embarrassed by my shameless haggling ways, and yet, he thorough enjoyed all the deals I got. Of course.

Back to the shoe store in downtown Vancouver on Boxing day.

“I will give you shoe polish and a few dollars off the final sales price” said the Aggressive One. That was the best offer yet, although I would have preferred free insoles and a better discount.

“I never polish my shoes” I replied.

“Why not?!” said the Aggressive One and glanced at my shoes.

“We are NOT giving her shoe polish AND a discount, it is either or!” said the Angry One. And then they started arguing with each other, and I started heading for the door again.

“WAIT! you don’t want the boots?! ” they yelled after me.

Well, yes, I wanted those furry  snow boots. I could still see myself on that romantic date, wearing the snow boots and climbing up a hill somewhere. But I wanted a deal. I am not a hopeless romantic, and you can look long and hard before you see any stars in my eyes.

“This is the worst customer service I have ever seen anywhere! can I just pay for these and get out of here?” I said, my patience officially lost, and I was running late for a social engagement at a nearby hotel lounge.

“I cannot give you a discount, look at how I have to ring things in, the computer won’t let me” said the Angry One with the long bangs and the furrowed brow.

“I don’t care how you ring things in, can I pay now? and by the way, what is your name?” I replied.

“Why? I am not going to tell you my name! you don’t like my service, you don’t get my name!”

I wondered briefly if I was in a Punk’d episode and Ashton Kutcher would jump out from behind the counter all of a sudden. Luckily there were no other customers in the store. It was just the three of us embroiled in this ridiculous battle of the snow boots.

I finally got my boots. I also got my discount and my shoe polish. I rushed to the hotel lounge where I was meeting a new friend and an old friend. My hair had frizzed, I was sweating like I had just been in the ring with Tyson and I was a bit frazzled.

I managed to say hello before I fell down in the chair and asked for a stiff drink. And then I told my shoe story.

My old friend rolled his eyes at me and fished up the boots out of the bag, to make sure I had gotten the same size boots.

My new friend burst out laughing, called me a Store Gladiator and said she would love to be able to kick up a fuss for a good deal. I would not necessarily recommend anyone to try my haggling ways. It is not a good way to make friends. I will have to avoid going to that particular shoe store for a while. Until the summer sale is on perhaps…

One day I will be wearing these furry boots on a romantic winter date, climbing up a hill to a cozy Ski Lodge after a long day of cross-country skiing.  And thanks to the boots, I wrote this story. My insistent friend who offered to buy a story the other day will be pleased. This one is for you, and it is free!

Curveballs

In Observations on February 9, 2013 at 3:41 am

Rose_Champagne_BubblesAs we all know…life is full of surprises. Or let’s just call them curveballs. If we are lucky, we can duck, deal and move on. But sometimes, it takes a bit more than that.

My personal, first instinct is always to run away. I look for the first exit and I wonder how long it will take for me to get there, and when I should make a run for it.

I have wrestled with a bit of a curveball for the last couple of months. If you know me and see me on a regular basis you might have noticed that I have not been exactly my usual jovial self. My eyes always look tired and I had to resign to the fact that I need to use reading glasses sometimes. I am not sleeping well. I have been somewhat haunted. I still am, but I am learning to deal and duck a bit better as this year progresses.

As per usual, I did ponder a quick and dramatic exit from my reality. Dubai came to mind. I have been playing with the thought of moving to Dubai for years. I know quite a few people who have moved there, and they have all enjoyed amazing financial success. I am lured by the promise of economic freedom. And just by the mere distance. Could I move any further away than Dubai? well, Australia, but the time is not right for Australia yet. It will come, I am sure of it. Some day.

So I did a lot of research on Dubai. I talked to a lot of people. I pondered. I wondered. I weighed the negatives and the positives. I asked my relatives, family and friends for their opinions. As it turns out, I know a lot of passionate people. I could probably write a book about all the heated discussions, but there were also some amazing, colorful stories.

Some of my friends are completely against even the thought of Zabeel_Parkvisiting Dubai. But some friends, and relatives, are completely for it. Some of them have been there and would not mind moving there themselves. Dubai is still an option, and it always will be. Will it ever become a reality? it remains to be seen.

So what is this Curveball I am wrestling with? you might think I am speaking in riddles. I do not like opening myself too much, generally. I try to keep some cards close to my vest. I strive to keep up a good front. But sometimes that stoic front just crumbles into pieces and I have to admit to everyone, and myself, that I am only human.

My blood pressure shot up this past month. I used to have very high blood pressure, back when my life was extremely stressful. I remember one check up in particular when my Doctor looked at me and asked me how on earth I was still alive? my blood pressure was 190 / 100. “What are you doing?” she said and shook her head. “I am stressed, all the time” I said. “I can see that. Get rid off some of that stress, would you?”, she said and put me on blood pressure medication.

So I did. I got rid off pretty much everything that stressed me out. I changed everything about my life. I decided I wanted to still be in the game and I had to find myself. And I think I did, as the years went by. I got off the blood pressure medication. I moved. I quit my job. I studied. I concentrated on me.

But wouldn’t you know it…just as life was sailing along nicely some of that old stress landed on my doorstep to deal with. Once and for all.

Will I tell you what this curveball is? I think I will just let you guess, but let’s just say that life will go on, my blood pressure is back to normal and I am looking at this challenge as yet another learning experience.

I am trying to stay on that high road somehow and I have discovered that I am surrounded by some amazing, true friends. I believe in good Karma. And when all is said and done….I will have learned how to throw some beautiful curveballs.

A quirky perspective

In Observations on November 4, 2012 at 12:25 am

My quirky friend Lindbergh visited Sweden this past summer for the first time. He was quite excited over the prospect of walking the grounds of his great grandfather’s, and he tried to learn some useful phrases before leaving; “Jag har gått vilse” (I am lost), “Jag vet inte vad du säjer” (I don’t know what you are saying), “Var ligger den närmsta japanska restaurangen?” (Where is the nearest japanese restaurant?). He was not successful in learning any of those phrases, and he was a bit disillusioned when he returned to Vancouver.

I am always interested in hearing friends’ impressions of the old country, and of course, even keener to receive that customary bag of Swedish licorice that I shamelessly ask anyone and everyone I know to buy for me. Licorice is a big deal for me, and it is one of the things I really miss from the old country.

Of course, there are many things I miss from both Sweden and Finland. But no one can bring me back those things; my family, friends, memories, certain customs, the overall ways of the crusty and straight forward Scandinavians. And the sarcastic sense of humour.

People in Scandinavia say what they mean without dancing around the subject like we do in North America. This frank Scandinavian style of communicating might be interpreted as rude, but it is just so much easier than playing the “political correctness games” that we do over here. The fake politeness and the unnecessary mind games. It such an enormous waste of time.

Just say what you think! You don’t like me? fine! I’ll find another friend. You do like me? great, let’s go out for a drink! as much as I complain, I do find myself falling into that “fake trap” at times. You simply have to when you live here, or you will have no friends. I try to not trample on anyone’s feelings, but sometimes I do. I just get tired of being polite.

Anyway, back to Quirky Lindbergh and his impressions of all things Swedish. He felt quite at home with the blunt and sometimes crusty Swedes, but he did struggle a bit with the lack of customer service and the surprising answers you can get at times.

Lindbergh and his travel companion asked the Concierge at his hotel in downtown Stockholm how to get to Bromma airport (a smaller airport, not the main one which is called Arlanda). The Concierge shrugged his shoulders and said “How should I know?”

I grew up with the bad customer service all around in Scandinavia so that type of answer would not surprise me in the least, but for a typical polite Canadian traveller it must seem outrageous.

The problem seems to be that no one really wants to work in customer service in Sweden and they have not figured out that one should perhaps not show that. But who really enjoys dealing with annoying customers of any kind?

I worked in the travel industry for a few years in my younger years and I used to frequently feel like the exasperated Basil, owner of Fawlty Towers Hotel. Remember this wonderful British TV show from the 70′s? John Cleese played Basil.

It was a massive challenge to keep a smile on my face while dealing with the utterly mindless questions and silly tourist demands.

I managed to not lose it as much as Basil, but I came close. Many times.

If you have not seen the TV show I am referring to you have missed out on a life altering experience, and some good belly laughs. But back to the main character of this story. Quirky Lindbergh.

When I first got to know Lindbergh he used to repeatedly tell me that he is strange. I wondered what that meant? we met in a writing class and as most writers are a bit odd in one way or another I did not take the “I am strange” comment too seriously, but I did google him a few times and could not find him on any Wanted lists.

I decided Lindbergh is simply a bit quirky, in a typical Scandinavian way. I like socializing with people who are comfortable speaking their mind. One never has to wonder where one stands with Lindbergh. And you will always receive an uncalled for analysis of some sort, accompanied with a great dose of wit.

While in Sweden, Lindbergh discovered that there is no word for Please in Swedish. We just say what we want; “Give me the map”, “Give me the sugar”, “Get out of my way”. I found it very annoying, and hard to remember, to add an extra word to almost every sentence when I first moved to Canada. My then “roommate” kept reminding me for years to say please. Please this and please that. Can I please just stop saying please?

No one says please in Sweden, or excuse me for that matter. No one holds up the door for you and you are pretty lucky if you hear a thank you, or get a smile.

“No one talks to you on transit! no one smiles at you! no one notices you!” said Lindbergh, who travelled on subways, trains and buses around Stockholm and was a bit disappointed that he did not meet the love of his life during his Swedish travels.

“My host told me to just mind my own business because if you start talking to a stranger in Stockholm they will think that you are a lunatic, or you are trying to mug them.”

That is very good advice indeed. I lived in a suburb to Stockholm for a few years, and I used to take transit all over town. I never chatted up strangers during my daily travels. Well, I did make a few exceptions but all attempts went sideways and I have tried to erase them from my memory banks.

Swedes are a bit suspicious, or perhaps I should say Stockholmians. I have heard that folks from smaller Swedish cities are a bit friendlier.

I still remember a very attractive man who was watching me out of the corner of his eye on the train into Stockholm one morning. He really made an impression because it is about 20 years ago. Or perhaps I have not been able to forget how I behaved myself. It was very unfortunate indeed.

I was reading a magazine and wondered why this man was watching me so intently. Did I know him? what did he want? was he crazy? out on a day pass? was he lost? I wondered if I should call for security or try to handle this situation myself.

So eventually I confronted him. Sadly. I cannot remember the exact extent of our conversation, but I had decided he was crazy and I asked him what he was up to, only to realize that he was just working up a nerve to chat me up and ask me out. Needless to say, he never sat close to me on the train again and there was no hot date.

Quirky Lindbergh is a wise man and he did not even attempt to chat anyone up in Stockholm. He hung around with his travel companions and his host. He saw all the important sights and he decided he liked Stockholm, overall, but he was not fond of the food. “I could not find a Japanese restaurant anywhere!”

And why would he? you eat meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries in Sweden. And pizza. Swedes love pizza and you can find pizzerias in every street corner. Swedes are not that fond of sushi even though we enjoy herring and all types of other fish dishes.

Lindbergh was surprised to find out that creamy sauces are popular with just about everything. He did not think Swedish food was as healthy as he had heard. We argued a bit about that.

What about the North American diet? cheese with everything? I still remember seeing cheese melted over vegetables for the first time over here. Why would one eat melted cheese over veggies? in Sweden you have a slice of cheese with hard bread.

Lindbergh noticed that plaid is popular and brought back a cheery Swedish colored shirt that he proudly wore when we met up for Swedish stories. “But $90 for a shirt at Åhlens! outrageous!”. Clothes are expensive in Sweden, but it depends where you shop. I find it just as expensive over here these days, and I usually find some excellent bargains when I go back to Sweden.

The comments continued; “There is graffiti everywhere! why is that?” asked Lindbergh and showed me some photos he had taken with some very explicit wordings in happy colours. Well, as introverted as Swedes can be, they do like to express themselves at times. Graffiti is a big problem in Sweden.

To summarize, Lindbergh sort of liked the architecture, and the overall beauty of Stockholm. The customer service really has to improve. He is thinking of writing to someone about that. He might go back one day for further Swedish explorations, and to continue his search for that Right Person who just might be waiting for him in a friendly small Swedish town, far away from Stockholm.

On a closing note, Lindbergh had one last comment about Stockholm:”What’s with the strange sculpture at Sergels Torg (Sergel’s Square)?”

I think that 37-metre tall glass obelisk which is called Kristall (Crystal) and has been a landmark at Sergel’s Square since the 70′s, makes quite the statement. The Crystal is sometimes lit up in different colors, and it is the first thing you see when you drive into Stockholm.

As I will be heading back home for Christmas this year, I cannot wait to stroll the streets of Stockholm. I will start off at Sergel’s Square and continue on down the cobbled streets of the Old Town. The snow will lightly fall, the Christmas lights will be twinkling and all the windows will be lit up by beautiful Swedish candle holders.

However wordlessly my fellow wanderers might pass by, I will still feel almost welcome. The Vikings may not flash me any smiles, but I know there is a special warmth of spirit hidden deep in the Nordic stoic souls. I will be very pleased that I do not have to be polite, or say please and thank you to anyone for a while. And you can bet I will be revelling in my Swedish licorice, and downing those creamy sauces with everything.

Lindbergh took all the fabulous photos in this blog post, and a few hundred more, while in Stockholm. If you would like to purchase one of his fabulous pics, or perhaps launch his career as a great photographer by hosting a show, I will gladly connect you. Lindbergh would be pleased to give you a free quirky personality analysis while showing you his photos.

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