It is lovely and the one time someone was randomly rude to me in a parking lot, I turned to him and said, “Are you not feeling well”? That is how lovely it is.
Even teenagers talk to me, sometimes laughingly apologizing for their language, (can’t be worse than me on a bad day) and I have even seen teenagers upbraid each other for rudeness or littering.
The division between the very rich and the very poor is not overly painful in the east because we seem to have a large middle class that encompasses everyone. Most people can afford to buy their own house, which evens the field considerably.
So for the most part there is not much snobbery, people are pretty straight forward and down to earth. I think the Scottish/English blood was much improved by a liberal mixing with the local First Nations and the French Acadian people.
We have a lovely university town a mere twenty minutes from where I live that offers all that you want in a small town, a thrift store or two, little cafes, an independent cinema, an artist run art gallery and all the offerings of the local university. And in this delightful town are some of the most snobbish and unfriendly people in the Maritimes.
There are people in this town who carefully avoid eye contact so that they do not have to say hello. While this may be common in big cities it is ridiculous in a small town. I refer to them as the ‘bourgeoisie’ because that seems to identify their aspirations and general social pretensions.
Some are college professors and some just think they are better than other people. When we first moved to the area I was eager to meet people and have parties. Those parties did not quite materialize, although I do have a bunch of artists that I like to have over.
This conversation will give you a clear picture of the social dynamic of this little town. I wanted to get to know a local professor, known to be ‘shy’ (give me a break). I thought that since I was great at parties and for coffee meetings, we could be friends.
For a few years she avoided eye contact, then one day we were stuck in a small entry room waiting for a theater production to let us in. We were approximately 2 inches apart. I said,” Hi, I’m Meg Edwards”. She said, “Oh hello, oh yes, Joe speaks very well of you”. I said, “Yes, well, he has to he is my husband”. And that was the last conversation we had.
You would think this elite collection of people would have approved of me and my husband Joe. Joe’s got a PhD in British History for god’s sake. But we are not snobs, and this may have affected our life choices and job possibilities all along. We come across as sort of ordinary.
And we have done all sorts of jobs. When we first moved to New Brunswick 12 years ago we had no money, a student loan, a freshly minted PhD (him), an article recently published in Homemaker’s magazine (me), two cats and two kids. We moved in with my beloved brother and took his advice, take any job you can get and then move up.
We had to take any job, we were desperate, and we are not bilingual. He worked in a packing factory at first and then got a sessional job teaching at the local university. I worked at Zellers, I kid you not, and then at a call center.
I learnt a lot at the call center. First of all, the only reprehensible call center jobs are the ones in which you make outgoing calls.
I tried it once; I called a lonely old lady at dinner time and could not make another call. But I ended up working the night shift at a package delivery company in the brokerage department.
It was an odd environment; every worker is tethered to their pod by their head sets, and often they get up and stretch or pace as they talk to the customer. The workplace is a busy droning beehive full of women working at night to hold their families together. That was also when I learnt how to have a conversation with your eyes while speaking to someone completely different on the phone.
Here is some invaluable information. If you don’t like the representative you first spoke to, call again and try someone else. You might get me. I forgave brokerage charges all the time just as long as the person was not rude. The ruder the person was the more I sat back in my chair and thought, fuck you then. For nice people I would give elaborate explanations and create files and call them back with resolutions.
Meanwhile, I have vivid memories of those phone calls and I was entertained. I can hear you opening the cat food, and I can hear you going to the bathroom. Those ear phones are stuck to our heads for our shift. The most excruciating for me were people who had to eat and talk. I have a weakness in that department and had to hold the phones away from my ear.
As a curious person I would allow the conversations to wander. I met many IT people starting new entrepreneurial careers in exporting and importing. I was in people’s homes every night, hearing their dinners and their problems. I loved it. I talked to shocked Americans on the very day that New York City had been attacked.
But the very fact that I have worked at a call center is going to embarrass the cold fish elite in that small town. But never mind, as Kurt Cobain would say, after ten years I have found the gold in the muck and have a few wonderful friends.
Quite possibly the muck is only there because the university town imports people who think they could do better. And in this part of the world, we are content to let them go.
Bye Bye, now. Have nice day!