Monday, December 27, 2010

What I Learned at Starbucks? Or How a 21 year-old JAP Taught Me a Life-Lesson…

In the olden days, during the period I consider my Faux Hillarian Era (2004-2006), I wrote a blog entitled: Confessions of a Faux Hiller. The tagline summed it up fairly succinctly: “So if you're like me you've graduated McGill and you've moved back into your parents' house and you're unemployed and sit in the Forest Hill Village Starbucks every day wondering why so many people wear Lululemon? Welcome to the Village, bitch. This is how it’s done in Forest Hill.” Why such anger? Well… I was 22, I lived at home, I was unemployed, and the OC was vaguely au currant. Obviously what else would I do with my life but sit in the Forest Hill Village Starbucks and sanguinely reflect over past decisions?

After a couple of years of the “live blog” I stopped habituating said Village Starbucks and was quickly dethroned as the Fresh Prince of Faux Hill. Why? I became employed and sadly working is to Faux Hill royalty as Wallace Simpson was to King Edward, abdication much.

Anyway - I happened to recently revisit my old haunt and as Bruce Willis will tell you: old habits Die Hard. As soon as I stepped foot into the old Starbucks I fell back into my old milieu of mocking the Village.

This past Tuesday I was lucky enough to sit next to a girl (let’s call her Jessica) and her father. Jessica was looking resplendent in her UGG, bejeweled hair band combination that screamed Blair Waldorf but alas this was no coronation for Little J. This was a “home for the holidays we need to talk about your spending habits” coffee with Dad.

Because I am a bad person (I believe someone once called me a class traitor) I spent the next hour of my life listening to Jessica and her father’s conversation (I know… I’m creepy); and because Sim Sim Sima has self-styled herself after Rob Ford, which has allowed her to declare that she has too has stopped the gravy train, i.e. no Hanukkah Gifts, I consider the following transcribed conversation my Chrismukkah miracle.

Dad: I feel bad for you because your flight to Cancun is so early.

Jessice: I feel bad for myself too. And everyone is complaining about how expensive the trip is. It wasn't that much. $1,000 for a week of vacation?

Dad: Well it was actually more.

Jessica: Ya it well was what, only $2,000 everyone can afford that. Like it wasn't that bad.

Dad: Well it was closer to $3,000 because you wanted a private room.


We then moved on from Christmas vacation to her work prospects once she completed her undergraduate degree in media studies at Western.

Jessica: OMG I did not do four years of a media degree to work at Aritzia, for ten dollars an hour. I'd rather not work.


I won’t lie – at first I contemplated not ‘publishing’ this girl’s conversation; I didn’t think it was right to entirely mock a conversation I snooped on (no matter how retarded it was). Obviously there are privacy issues and I am also sure that if anyone listened to some of the conversations I’ve had at Starbucks they’d conclude that I was a man-whore who has slept with half of the Upper East Side (I totally just wanted to say that and pretend like I was Serena VanDerWoodsen).

Certainly my first reaction to Jessica was: girl, shut the fuck up. But then I thought that maybe dearest Jessica had a point. Maybe Jessica was most brilliant person I had met of late. Maybe Jessica shouldn’t be working at Aritzia; maybe Jessica should be working at the Weitzman Institute! Maybe I’m being a bit overzealous.

Jessica truly raised the salient and pressing issue of: how do real people afford real lives?

All of Jessica’s life (mind you a protected Forest Hill existence) – a $3,000 vacation has been a fact. And to give her some credit – making ten bucks an hour at Aritzia isn’t going to pay for a week in Cancun; she’d have to work at least 300 hours not taking into account any taxes. Now… not everyone gets to go on a $3,000 vacation, but let’s be honest a two-week trip to Europe will probably set you back around $2,500 (that’s if you’re staying in hostels). And because I am a left-wing latte drinking downtown snob – I think going to Europe for two weeks is something that most people should have the opportunity to do (see my new charity called Birthright Europe) once every other year. And before people accuse me of being a snob… remember that George W. Bush was accused as being a simpleton because he had never left North America. In polite society we consider the Grand European Vacance a right of passage. And as much as $2,500 is, it’s not THAT crazy an amount of money. People who have to fly home to Vancouver at Christmas probably pay a grand just to go home and see their parents…

Being an intrepid reporter I decided to do some Statistics Canada research on Canadian spending habits. According to StatsCan the average individual in Canada spends around $38,000 a year. Of total expenses $6600 is taxes. Interestingly however, a Canadian who makes $37,000 should pay $7,400 in taxes (based on tax rates posted here). This actually means that the average Canadian individual pays $6,600 in taxes and therefore earns less then $37,000. No big surprise, but kind of awkward, right?

Interestingly in Stats Canada publications on spending patterns vacation expenses aren’t accounted or mentioned. Primary expenses are, no surprise, food and shelter, which accounts for almost 50% of spending (after taxes are taken into consideration). Leaving $16,000 to pay for clothes, car expenses etc… Suddenly that $3,000 is a lot of guerno.

All of this is to say that for someone to be in a position to afford a $3,000 vacation – they’re going to have to make significantly more then your typical Canadian. And so as much as it pains me to say this Jessica is “somewhat” right; she shouldn’t really work at Aritzia. And to empathize with Jessica’s frustration after four years at university she isn’t going to immediately make enough to “keep her in the style to which she’s been accustomed”. And while we can blame her parents, her friends, her neighbourhood, and society in general for creating out of whack expectations the ability to do some travel should be some sort of Canadian middle class right, no? Heck – you can’t visit this entire country without spending a couple of grand on airfare.

If anything Jessica, in her colloquial JAP twang, has identified the same thing that University of Toronto professors have spent years and probably thousands of dollars researching. Jessica’s Starbucks conclusion: Whither the middle class

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