Just a thought… Life is short and the world is wide; the sooner you start exploring it, the better. [Simon Raven]
Now that summer has just moments left, I’ve been reflecting on this past sweet season. One of the gifts of Covid – and yes, sometimes we have to dig deeply to find them – has been discovering our own province.
Unfortunately, it was in my travels with my Ontario friend Lisa that we found two instances where we were not welcome, not even as fellow Canadians who were putting on our masks, putting aside our fears, and experiencing new places.
The first came on Salt Spring Island. We were standing in a store that sold hunting goods, some antiques and a few clothes. As Lisa lined up to pay for a shirt she had chosen, I heard an exchange between a customer and the man behind the counter. “Well, soon they’ll all be gone, thank goodness,” he said.
The clerk replied, “Oh yeah, the tourists?”
And the man said yes. I guess it was the streets being full, the stores being busy, the influx of people “from away” as they say in Newfoundland. Although I doubt that on the rock, we’d overhear a conversation like this one.
I told Lisa about it when we got to the car and we were both disappointed. My inside voice told me to tell him that his words were hurtful, as we’d chosen to spend our money and our time in their beautiful town. But I thought I should mind my own business, so I did.
Two days later, it happened again in Qualicum Beach, further north on our home Vancouver Island.
We were hungry and a little lost and saw a golf club that served food. A helpful man in the parking lot told us that the kitchen didn’t open ’til later, but told us we could get a nice lunch at the local grocery store. And he was right.
Off to Quality Foods we went and upstairs there was a lovely cafe. But what sparked our hearts were the items they had for sale: home accessories of all kinds, most of them straight out of a design magazine.
After we ordered our coffees and pastries, and shared a compassionate exchange with a cashier who, upon hearing that Lisa was from Ontario, told us that she was heading there soon for her mom’s funeral. Then we sat in comfortable armchairs at a coffee table near a window overlooking the grocery store below.
Just behind us, another woman, who worked in the upstairs gift store and coffee shop, talked to a man who was sitting enjoying his beverage. “I’ll be glad when they’ve gone home,” she said.
I didn’t think I’d heard right. Okay, maybe she meant the current shift workers, I thought. And then she kept talking and I knew she meant us. Tourists. Shoppers. Like us: the two women who were having just the best time in this store.
When we finished our coffees, I followed Lisa to the part of the store where she was browsing. I quietly said to her, “It’s happened again. They don’t want us here.”
Lisa, as she will tell you, has some difficulty hearing, so had not witnessed the conversation behind us between the woman clearing cups and the customer who was obviously a local. I ran their words through my head and thought: Have we done something wrong? And the answer was a resounding No.
Using the thought-flipping magic of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I considered that maybe she was afraid of Covid and that people like us were bringing it in. Maybe she was having a really bad day and just wanted it to end. I can’t know, but I do know it wasn’t about us.
Maybe I shouldn’t have told Lisa what I heard, because like mine, her joy soured in that exact moment and we decided to leave. I could have bought all kinds of pretty things in the turquoise that I love in my home. Instead, I felt unwanted.
It crossed our minds to tell a manager or someone on our way out, but then we would only have reinforced her dislike of “people like us.” Whining? Entitled? Unwelcome.
Two poor privileged white women, feeling unwanted in a chic little store on a nice day out. I see how this looks! But it was also a learning experience. It gave me a window onto how some people have to live every day: feeling unwanted, unwelcome, disliked for no reason except that they’re there.
It was disheartening and I hope her day got better. I also hope she wasn’t working on commission…while I DO hope that the woman in the clothing store up further in Campbell River was. Because she made Lisa and me feel like family.
And we are.
Thank you for sharing this today and I hope you’ve taken the time to vote. Mine won’t mean a thing because our riding is greener than the landscape of Ireland, but I did it because I can and because I watch the news where some American states are trying to make voting more difficult, if not impossible, for people they don’t want to. We all belong and we all get a say.