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Fall is upon us, and before the summer’s over several neighbourhoods in Montréal hold bi-annual sidewalk sales. The city has these outdoor street sales to promote retail clearance events and snacks from food vendors, which is the perfect time to get reacquainted with what is happening on the main streets. These sales mean that the roads get shut down, the people come out, and you get a reason to stroll around your block to see what’s going on.

My neighbourhood in the Plateau recently held its end of summer sale, Vente Trottoir l’Avenue Mont-Royal (Sidewalk Sale of Mont Royal Avenue), along the main street of Avenue Mont-Royal and the streets were packed with vendors, shoppers, and curious onlookers. Avenue Mont-Royal is known for being dotted with funky and independent fashion stores, trendy bars and restaurants, and cute bakeries. The Plateau is kind of the francophone equivalent to the adjacent anglophone neighbourhood of the artsy Mile End, home of Arcade Fire, Stars and other musicians. I am on a budget so no purchases were made, but it is always fun to see the people come out of their row houses to grab some snacks and stroll around the streets in the last days of summer.

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As an exclusive user of virtual calendars, contact lists, and notes, I have come back to the fold of paper-based agendas. How did this happen?

Two years ago, I went to Indigo Bookstore here in Montréal in search of a proper, physical agenda — paper ones that you can actually write with a pen. A sales associate showed me their current collection which was a measly three or four hard cover books that did not meet my size and content specifications. Since then, I have relied entirely on my Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Google Contacts, and Apple Notes. I used to have both a paper agenda and my virtual organization platforms that I would access with my laptop. But once I got a smartphone, I transitioned entirely to the virtual agenda. I thought to myself, “How on earth did I live without a smartphone?!”

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The “I Love Lisa” episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons

How is everyone’s Valentine’s Day? Or I guess I should also ask how Single’s Awareness Day is going for everyone else. Remember, overdosing on chocolate is an equal opportunity for all of us.

Personally, I eschew Valentine’s Day. I mean, I have trouble “getting” it. I know there was a Saint Valentine in there and then somehow some winged cupids manhandling bows and arrows got mixed in there too. But along with such icons as leprechauns and witches, I am not a fan of Hallmark Holidays. After passing through primary school and collecting cut-out Valentines from my classmates — did anyone else experience one their first socially insecure moments like I did back then? — I stopped paying attention to this date. Even as a person happily coupled in a relationship, I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day.

I apologize if this sounds like vitriol I am spewing, as I recognize that I may sound like the Valentine Grinch. I think that one of the reasons why I felt ambivalent about Valentine’s Day was that I always worked on this date. While I was doing my undergraduate studies, I waited tables part-time and of course Valentine’s Day is a huge day in the restaurant business. The restaurant layout would need to be revised so that all tables can seat two, and then romantic props like flower petals, pink ribbons and mandatory candles would be arranged in the space. I was always a very polite and competent server so there was never too much of a difference in the way I dealt with customers, though it was an odd feeling being entrapped in a room surrounded by lovey dovey couples.

PDA, as long as it is not explicit (!), is not something that I frown upon at all. That is, until I moved to Montréal. I know they say that Paris is for lovers, but Montréal? Well, let us say it is also for touchy feely types.

In one of my first memories of when I initially moved to the city, I was sitting at a diner with a friend for a lazy weekend breakfast in the francophone dominated neighbourhood of the Plateau. There was a couple sitting in a booth across from us, with their hands intertwined on the table between each other, their bedroom eyes locked together. Each of them would take turns and stand up and reach across the table to lay very passionate kisses. Eventually, they moved to sit on the same side of the booth and continued a full-on makeout session while my friend I am uncomfortably tried to eat our toast and eggs.

It was during the summer that I moved to Montréal, and as I love exploring a new area by walking all over the city, I of course made regular visits to the mountain, Mont Royal, and the encompassing park. Montréal is a hilly island, and Montréalers like to sit on grassy hills to picnic, play games, or just relax. But, as I said, the city is for touchy feely types and when you look at the people sitting on the grassy hills on a beautiful day in summer, I would say about a quarter of those people in the park are sucking face. I swear, I am not kidding; try visiting la belle province, especially during the warmer months.

Montréalers just love to engage in PDA all around the city. On the mountain, by the canal, on a sidewalk bench spotlighted by a street lamp. My first visit to La Petite Italie (Little Italy) involved my friends and I dropping in to a popular pizzeria late at night while a sixty-something couple were mindlessly engaged in a hot and heavy embrace outside the restaurant. This never happens in Toronto.

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[Image Credits: @tomoko]

Hilary might not enjoy Starbucks, but I sure do. Yup, I know they are a monopoly on the verge of taking over the world (Number 2, the character in the movie Austin Powers, is the sole shareholder) and their roasts are way to dark for the palate. But I am a sucker for any good study spots where I can camp out with WiFi for hours, and Starbucks is one of them. I actually jumped in glee when a new location opened up in my neighbourhood and loved that they played The xx’s Stars in the background. For sure I support the other cafés in my neighbourhood, but I definitely do not discount Starbucks as an option.

Well, for Tokyo-based Tomoko Shintani, she visits Starbucks for the purpose of being at Starbucks. That is, she does not go there to study or work like I do, but her Starbucks visit is for the purpose of creating illustrations using Starbucks paraphernalia. Her black and white drawings are unapologetically cutesy and girly, and Tomoko uses her Staedtler pens to incorporate her mugs and paper cups into her drawings. You can follow her on Instagram @tomoko. More of her illustrations follow below.

 

 
Via Fast Company

This is John Lewis’s 2012 Christmas TV advert. Their 2011 enjoyed much success, and this year they have kept within the theme of tugging at consumers’ heartstrings. If you find the song as beautiful as I do — a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love — you can find the full track here.

[Iced Starbucks Green Tea Lattes. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons]

I have a profound distaste for Starbucks coffee, and I know many others feel the same way. I find most of their coffee-based products thoroughly revolting, and I broadcast this opinion to as many people as possible, or commiserate with them, depending on my audience. I have even taken it upon myself to devise creative tweets about the company. Indeed, a friend and I collectively decided that a new Starbucks coffee slogan could be “Starbucks coffee: tastes like ashes, roasting on a fire, in the deepest pits of a Dantean hell”, and that the Internet deserves, and needs to know this.

My disdain for Starbucks isn’t noble — it has less to do with the fact that they have sucked the soul out of neighborhoods by putting mom and pop cafes out of business and turning consumers into robots, and everything to do with their crummy coffee. I do not consider myself a “coffee snob”. I have heard people proudly declaring themselves as coffee snobs, whatever that means. I am not one. In fact, I don’t drink it all that often, and am more of a tea drinker myself. I suppose then that it may seem bizarre that I harbour such strong and negative feelings towards the company. I think it stems from a naive belief that if you’re that big, with such a devoted client base, you should be delivering, at the very least, a satisfactory product, which I believe Starbucks fails to do for the most part.

This brings me to the green tea latte. I first discovered this beverage some time ago as a student in Montreal.  I am of the loud, blaring music, crowds of people, school of studying – I have always tried my best to avoid libraries.  I therefore often found myself in downtown cafes, and while the city centre is populated by a fair variety of coffee chains, Starbucks is by far the most prominent of them in terms of numbers and popularity (at least amongst my friends and classmates). I’ve spent hours and hours at Starbucks in various parts of town, and finding a tolerable beverage has always been a challenge.  It was my friend who introduced me to the green tea latte, and while I strongly object to the current trend of food glamourisation/veneration, I have to say that this drink brings me a special joy.  I usually order it with soy milk, and it’s frothy, creamy, flavourful yet comfortingly mild. Indeed, everything one looks for in a hot beverage.

It therefore saddens me that the one drink I can stomach at Starbucks is unavailable in the United Kingdom. Other novelty beverages seem to have enjoyed success in the UK – I noticed this fall, to my horror, that pumpkin spice lattes have made it to London. I mistakenly thought that the pumpkin-flavoured product craze was reserved to North America. Starbucks’s seasonally-themed drinks aren’t the only non-coffee based items to have successfully made it onto the UK menu. Frappuccinno, in their many varieties are on offer, and from my unscientific observations, seem to enjoy good sales. So why is it that the green tea latte has not made it over? Is it too wild and unconventional for the UK consumer? I wonder whether Starbucks has made a conscious decision to exclude it from the British product mix, or whether it has been altogether neglected across EMEA, which I expect it is, given that the UK is the most US-like in consumer tastes as compared to the rest of Europe.

To get to the bottom of this I did a bit of investigating over the Internet. My research led me to the “Green Tea Latte for U.K. Starbucks” community on Facebook, which consists of a small but powerful group of 22 Likes. A member wrote in to Starbucks to inquire about the absence of the GTL on their British menu. Jessica, a Customer Care Specialist, thanked “Alec” for his feedback, and reassured him that the company regularly reviews its range to ensure a varied selection. She also pledged to share his comments with the development team.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand the absence of this drink in the UK, but I find Starbucks’s response to Alec inadequate, much like their espresso. Despite Starbucks’s unclear and mysterious motivations to exclude GTLs from the UK, other chains have seen its appeal. EAT now includes the GTL on their menu, and I have even noticed small local coffee shops, like the Missing Bean in Oxford, serving it.  Hopefully, Starbucks, as a global chain that has all but monopolized consumers’ coffee and hot beverage consumption, will eventually deliver a menu that is up-to-date with changing habits and tastes.  In the mean time, I have discovered a few handy Youtube videos, and may try my hand at making a latte myself one of these days.

We are already half way through November, or for the boys, Movember. I imagine many moustaches are on their way to prime condition.

November means another month and another cancer awareness campaign after October’s Pink Ribbon Campaign. However, since the major controversies surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation in the past year, these cancer charity marketing initiatives have been under the microscope and subject to much backlash.

Last month, Margaret Wente’s commentary in The Globe and Mail regarding Breast Cancer Awareness Month carried the exasperated title, “Can We Just Relax About our Breasts?” Ms. Wente posits that the problem with breast cancer awareness is due to the “fear, hysteria and paranoia that people have whipped up around breasts.” She cites “chemophobia” as fuelling “imaginary risks” surrounding breast cancer, and points to Florence Williams’ book Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History as an example of this hysteria.

A few days after Ms. Wente’s article came another submission in The Globe and Mail, this time regarding Movember. Author Amberly McAteer wrote, “[Does] asking people to do something as silly as grow hair trivialize the real, scary issues the Movember movement is trying to elevate?” She also mentioned knowing a few men in the past year who grew Movember moustaches but did not participate in raising any funds for the charity.

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