I’m looking for a job.

by Yule Heibel on May 1, 2009

I’m nearly ready to throw in the towel, asking myself why I bother writing locally, given that letters such as this one get mailed to the editor …and are published, without any opportunity for me to rebut them. The letter is in response to my April 2009 article, It’s the people, stupid. I bolded a particularly risible bit:

Yule Heibel looks to Europe (as does Aaren Madden’s story re VPD’s Bill Naughton) for better ways of doing things here. Good idea. I was born in Europe and have travelled and lived there many times. However, promoting businesses to encourage an active nightlife after the government workers go home is the opposite of what Europeans are generally about.

During dinner one night in a restaurant on the Champs-Elysees, the waiter descended on our table unexpectedly and whisked everything away. Only then did we notice the restaurant emptying out quickly. (It was only 5:40pm.) The explanation: they had made their quota. Apparently, most French restaurants, as well as other businesses, operate on quota systems; once they make their daily financial goal, they go home. Granted, some days it takes longer, but if they reach the quota even as early as noon, they take the rest of the day off.

Begrudgingly, as this was overtime, the waiter put our unfinished meals into poodlebags and off we went to eat in a rather deserted Bois de Boulogne. The Parisian evening was fabulous; not a single unsavoury character in sight.

Life is different in Europe. It’s richer precisely because businesses shut down. While some governments have caved in to pressure from certain sectors to be more competitive, the populace is trying to hold onto that which gives fulfilment to life: time off. In Italy, they siesta. In the Czech Republic, all stores close before noon on Saturdays and there’s no Sunday shopping. The French and Germans have no intention of giving up their annual four-to-six-week vacations. Paris and Prague are devoid of locals all summer.

After-hours or 24-hour businesses are not the answer to any vagrancy woes. No one really needs to be downtown at all hours of the night, on any day of the week. No one really needs to eat at 3am or shop on Sundays. Such activities (read: distractions) promote neither community nor social wellbeing. It’s not the people, stupid. It’s the family, and that’s exactly what the Europeans are about.

I withheld the letter writer’s name, basically to protect her from herself.

The missive is full of misinformation – her generalization about the alleged “quotas” (based on one incident at what sounds like a dodgy restaurant) is laughable; nightlife is thriving in Europe; 4 to 6 week vacations have nothing to do with my article; Sunday “blue laws” are fought (and abolished) in Germany and elsewhere in Europe; the “siesta” is a climate necessity, and it means people keep their shops and restaurants open later at night. As for Paris and Prague being “devoid of locals all summer,” what does this have to do with Victoria? The French and the Czech are much more apt to have “synchronized” vacation patterns, and the tradition of taking off for the month of August is a habit of those who can afford it – and not everyone (or every family) can.

I’m especially annoyed by the restrictions of my mandate – I’m obliged to stick very very closely to Victoria-only issues, and am not allowed to stray into anything of universal value, or with a non-“Victoria” angle (which seems to include issues around social media or technology, too – even though they are hugely influential in transforming Victoria at this very moment). Meanwhile, letters by armchair critics who blather on at length about issues unrelated to Victoria (or to the article at hand) get printed, clearly communicating to me that the magazine isn’t on board with what I write either. That’s the bit that’s really wearing me down.

I ask myself more and more frequently these days why I bother writing for and about Victoria at all.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue May 10, 2009 at 1:00 am

Perhaps you are not frustrated so much in writing about Victoria as much as you are pissed off that someone would convey guidelines to you in how you can convey your opinion and this has left a sour taste in your mouth? Regardless, I think it lacks class and maturity to throw a temper tantrum like a teenager and patronize another just because you are limited in how you may write. One would expect better from someone of your stature. Then again. You are only human.

Yule May 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Wow, Sue, do you always go around judging people you’ve never even met (“lacks class and maturity” etc.)?
My frustration stems not from the guideline to write about Victoria (which I believe I adhere to and fulfill), it stems from the response by this letter-writer, who blathers on about everything except Victoria, in the process missing the points I was making in that article about Victoria (re. my guideline). That the magazine format does not permit a conversation – and that I’m not given an opportunity to respond in any way – exacerbates it (my frustration) and makes me wonder whether I should continue, or whether my ideas are even wanted. I am very depressed and increasingly saddened by Victoria lately. People like you add to my despondency.
You know, your comment is so off-the-wall I really shouldn’t bother responding at all, but let me just add that your finger-wagging attempt to put me in the prison-house of shame (“someone of your stature” etc.) almost made me laugh.
Almost, but not really.

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