Thursday, September 21, 2006 

457 Channels and Nothing On

For the past month, I've been quickly readjusting to life back in Canada. I'm no longer surprised when people say "thanks" when I open doors for them and I'm getting used to chatty neighbours who just "pop in for a visit". But that's just life in the Maritimes. People really are friendly. My husband even has his favourite toll booth employee on the bridges and he's now on a first name basis with the employees at the local Home Hardware store.

My son's adjusting well to school even though there's a lot more expected of him, he finds it interesting. He's even impressed that his school has a PA system where the principal can talk to all the classrooms at once or just one at a time. The things I always took for granted like school busses being on time and teachers showing up 99.9% of the time are nothing short of miraculous for my son.

So with nothing really to complain about, I find it difficult to blog when things are going along too smoothly. I can't just blog about boring things and that's why, dear readers, it takes so long for me to post.

The one thing that puzzles me though is the number of totally mindless shows there are on TV. For a continent with some of the most educated people in the world, there seems to be no shortage of pseudo self-help and reality shows and gossip mavens who try to pass off their shows as something more than the advertising shills they really are.

24 hours a day, you can watch people divulge their most shameful secrets in front of millions while others clog up an hour of tv just to talk to you about absolutely nothing of importance or even remotely interesting. Today, I turned on the TV to see if I could find a good documentary or just some news but all I found were dancing dogs on one channel, religious ex-cult members on another and at least a dozen soap operas. Even BBC Canada didn't offer me a reprieve...just another do-it-yourselfer telling me how I can spend a whole day painting fake tiles on a wooden wall.

Out of 400 TV channels I get with my satellite cable company, I watch a grand total of 3. The History, Discovery and A&E channels. The rest of them are witless drivel aimed to feed the egos of their over-hyped hosts or to serve as vehicles for the legions of advertisers paying top dollar to get their products into your homes.

What's the point of having an education, the freedom of speech and thought and decent wages when all people seem to want is to be spoon fed a daily diet of junk information? We don't use the internet to become more informed about the world around us. No, the majority of people use it to download porn or play games. So why should I expect TV to be any different?

The real question is who dictates the programming? Like good little couch potatoes, do we just watch what's thrown in front of us or because we really don't want to be intellectually stimulated or challenged anyway, the TV execs just cater to our innate and proven predilection for nonsense?

I'm inclined to believe it's the latter and that disturbs me even more. Bruce Springsteen was almost right when he sang "57 Channels and Nothing On". Had he written it today, it would be 457 Channels and Nothing On.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 

Take a Pill

So pretty. So colourful. So available.

All of my home medication fits in one small basket on top of my microwave. If you were to look inside today, you'd find some headache pills, indigestion tablets, allergy medicationvitamins, anti-bacterial creams, cough syrup, some anti-itch spray and, of course...Band-Aids. This list of supplies has remained relatively unchanged for the past 8 years and it's served my family well. Every now and again, I had prescriptions filled for some antibiotics for the more persistant viruses.

I believed I had a well-stocked home pharmacy until I started watching TV here in Canada. Instead of being bombarded with car and weight loss commercials during prime time viewing, I am now subjected to countless advertisements for prescription drugs.

I am told to consult my doctor for medications to help me sleep at night, to improve my sex life, to help my loved ones battle urinary incontinence, psoriasis, high blood pressure and a host of other medical problems. There seems to be a drug for everything and all I need to do is choose which ailment I have and get him to prescribe the specific drug for it. Even better, I can play doctor and pick a drug for my loved one as well and cure them too.

This can't be good.

I do not feel reassured knowing that pharmaceutical companies are no longer content directly influencing doctors to prescribe their drugs, but they are hell bent on influencing people with absolutely no medical background to demand medication they know nothing about except their mistaken belief that they'll be able to live happily ever after if they consume it.

Promoting healthy eating and exercising have taken a back seat to the quick-fix remedies of taking pills for all that ails you. It's doubtful that people would even be affected by stronger heathy lifestyle advertising campaigns anyway since it's so much more time consuming. Why bother going through the trouble of cutting down on fatty foods or stress when you can just take a pill to control it? The pharma companies rely on our own failure to regulate our lives and we're more than happy to let them do it...even if the side-effects outweigh the benefits of their medications.

The only upside to a drugged-up nation is that PETA won't have to protest animal testing at drug labs anymore. The drug companies have millions of willing human guinea pigs instead.

With all the advertising pressure drug companies use to push their products, how can I be sure if I actually NEED the drug I'm prescribed let alone whether it's any good for me? When profits and money are the motivating factors behind my health and well-being, I worry. I know it won't concern them since they have a drug for that too.

Thursday, August 10, 2006 


The Universal Currency: Beer

Has it really been 3 weeks since I wrote my last post? I ought to be ashamed of myself. In fact, I would be if I didn't have a really good reason for my absenteeism from the blogosphere. Well, at least I think I have a good reason...moving into my new house.

Moving is difficult enough when you stay in the same country but when you change countries, especially from Europe to North America, there's a lot more work to do. The biggest thing being our appliances. We took most of them with us and since they all work on 220 volts, we had to source and buy adaptors and transformers to ensure they work in Canada. It wasn't cheap but I'm happy to report that my frappe maker works along with the 'inconsequential' things like my husbands home cinema.

I also wasted alot of time just shopping for routine household products like cleaning supplies and food. When there seem to be a hundred different brand names and prices for everything, it takes me forever to choose just one. I'm still thinking in euros and doing the conversions back to Canadian dollars to see if I'm getting a good deal on something. And manufacturers don't make it any easier by selling their products in odd volumes and weights. Instead of buying 1 kilo of rice, it's now a 900g box for one brand and 850g for another or 975mL of liquid soap instead of a litre. It gives me a headache.

Then there's the metric system. In Canada, we converted to the metric system years ago but you'd never know it since produce is still advertised in imperial units on the shelves (with the metric equivalent in microscopic print on the bottom of the signage) and at the cashier, it's back to metric when you pay for it. My husband has a really hard time with it when he's buying hardware which is still sold predominantly in inches and yards.

One good thing about living here is that the cost of a worker's tip is still a beer. When a neighbour offered to mow our lawn for us, I asked how much it would cost and he replied, "a cold beer". When the movers brought in our last box, my husband offered them a cash tip and they all said "thanks, but do you have a beer?" My own father solved our leaky laundry room pipes last night at midnight and all he wanted was a beer for his efforts.

Now, if only there were a 'beer' option when paying for a restaurant bill tip through direct debit, I'd have it made.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 

Doers and Dreamers

Since I'm still in 'vacation mode', I haven't been paying much attention to the current events of the past few weeks and therefore my blog has reflected my complete lack of interest. Instead, I've been enjoying the tourist's life and visiting as many attractions the Doers and Dreamers Guide of Nova Scotia has to offer...such as Monday's trip to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park.

I took my son and my nephew to see some of Canada's indigenous animals (except the peacock and emu) and although they weren't so happy to see us, we were more than happy to spend an afternoon watching them laze about in the sun.

Here's a few photos of some of them...

Canada's showpiece...the moose. Although they can be found in the middle of the Trans Canada Highway, this one found its way instead to the Park.

Dall's sheep.

I don't think there's ever been a time that I've visited the park and seen any of the Black Bears doing anything but sleep. This visit was no different.

The peacocks roam free in the park and there isn't a child who has seen one and not tried to touch it. As easy as it looks, the peacocks aren't that naive and never let the kids closer than 2 or 3 steps from it. This guy led my son on a 20 minute chase through the pheasant exhibits and successfully dodged all his contact attempts.

My hero. The raccoon. Why? Doesn't this pic make it obvious? At least I know what they do when they're not into our garbage.

Off season for the Easter bunnies.

Monday, July 10, 2006 

Postcard from the Great White North

It's now been exactly a month that I've been in Canada and one of the things I just love the most about being back here is the scenery and wildlife.
Since I'm living 30km outside the city, I get to enjoy the drive in every day. Nothing but green forests, lakes so calm they look like mirrors and the odd porcupine and rabbit on the edges of the tree lines. After 8 years of honking horns, noisy motorbikes, and noisy neighbours, it's just so relaxing to appreciate the tranquility that country life has to offer. The noisiest neighbours I have right now are the bullfrogs in the pond at the end of the lane.

Even domesticated dogs seem to have it better here. Almost everyone seems to have one and they all sit in the front seat of their owner's cars if they can get away with it. My own dog is enjoying all the attention every time she's on her daily walks and she's making friends fast with all the four-legged critters on her street except my sister's black lab, Jackson. I guess she's finally met her match when it comes to begging for scraps from the table and she doesn't like it one bit. Once we get settled in our own house next month, she'll resume her place next to my chair without any begging competition and maybe the two of them might be able to make amends.

By the end of this week, I hope to have some photos to share with you of my corner of the Great White North--if I can only remember where I put my digital camera.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006 

Proud to Be a Disloyal Shopper

Swiping Away Your Privacy with Loyalty Cards

Shopping is easy here.

Stores, product selection and (thankfully) parking spaces are plentiful. I can always find what I want, when I want, and usually all in one place at the hypermarkets. But my fun ends at the checkout counters.

Every time I walk into just about any store, I'm hounded by the cashiers asking me if I want one of their loyalty cards.

I try to brush off their requests by telling them that I'm the most disloyal customer anyway and a loyalty card wouldn't make me any more loyal. Every single cashier has, so far, ignored this response and they continue to hound me to fill out a form so I can get one by extolling the supposed benefits they offer. Again, I will tell them that I don't want to give out my personal information to strangers just so I can get Air Miles or a $20 rebate on every $500 I spend there let alone have my mailbox filled up with junk mail when they sell my personal details to other companies.

But on and on they go until I become angry and demand they tell me how much I owe so I can please go home.

It's so aggravating.

Whatever happened to coupons and just plain good old-fashioned in-store sale prices? I would become a loyal consumer at any store which consistently offered me good quality products at reasonable prices without having to divulge details that I wouldn't even give to Revenue Canada.

On second thought, maybe I will actually apply for these cards and use the personal details of the store's marketing personnel who adopted this useless ploy to get consumers to cough up their personal information. Let them shovel their way out of an endless barrage of junk mail and telemarketing phone calls on Sunday nights. I'm sure if I asked them to give me their Social Insurance and home phone numbers, they wouldn't be so forthcoming as they expect their consumers to be.

Friday, June 30, 2006 

Sick to Death

The attack of the Killer Peanuts

I've come to the conclusion that Canada must be a disease factory.

So many people seem to be suffering from diseases which, up until now, I'd only read about in the back pages of obscure medical journals. If they're not already on disability insurance for it, they're doing their best to convince the government that they should be, or, failing that...persuading anyone and everyone around them to change their lifestyles to accommodate their wide range of (what I previously thought were) rare symptoms.

Canadians (myself included) seem to be obsessed with our health and I'm not sure if it's a result of government advertising campaigns to promote a healthier lifestyle or if it's because corporations use our already innate fear of death to manipulate us into buying their products. Either way, it's getting on my nerves already.

Let's start with peanuts. They seem innocent enough. But not in Canada. Here, they're a surefire way to kill people. In drive-through windows at fast food outlets, there are signs assuring customers that their food is not cooked with peanut oil. Attached to my son's summer day camp registration form was a reminder not to give him peanuts or any food which could include any peanut derivative (like peanut oil) in it. On restaurant menus, diners are reassured that their food does not include nuts.

The reason behind all the notices is that some people suffer a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis which can be life threatening. According to Anaphylaxis Canada, about 1-2% of the population suffers from it but from all the warnings I'm seeing, you'd think 100% of the population is midst of an anaphylactic epidemic.

I'm almost 40 years old and throughout my whole life, I only know one person who is allergic to peanuts. I grew up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with the rest of my childhood friends. Because I am a vegetarian, my nutritionist told my mother that she should include peanuts in my diet since I wasn't eating meat to ensure a good dose of protein to keep my immune system working properly. I feel badly for people who suffer from this allergic reaction but does it really warrant so much fear mongering?

And then there are all these people walking around wearing masks suffering from environmental illness. While I recognize that some people do feel sick from smelling too much perfume or detergent, but in the eight years I've been absent from Canada, has our environment deteriorated so much that it justifies the sudden increase in people claiming to have environmental illness? Am I that naive or insensitive to the horrors of such illnesses? Or are people just taking things too far?

We could tell the sufferers of such diseases to stay home but apparently they're not even safe there since the advertisers for bug repellant are telling us that if we don't buy their brand, then we might very well be bitten by the deadly West Nile virus carrying mosquitoes.

And I thought terrorism was our biggest threat on our lives. Coming back to all these peanut, perfume and mosquito warnings, you'd never even know there was a War on Terrorism.