Over the summer I travelled through Germany. In the course of visiting Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and other cities I noticed there was no such thing as free water, unless I count what I got from the taps in hotel bathrooms. In airports, train stations and parks there were no water fountains to be seen. In restaurants, when I asked for tap water, no matter what lengths I went to, including an elaborate mimicry of filling a glass from the tap, the waiter would inevitably bring me bottled water.
Near the end of the trip I asked a Munich local about the dearth of free water in his country. His response is still stuck in my mind several months later.
“You cannot get free water here; you must pay for everything,” he said in heavily accented English.
This line jumped into my head again during a recent walk through the Eaton Centre. Days after Halloween, The Bay already has its Christmas decorations up. Someone in upper management is obviously eager to get shoppers thinking about holiday shopping. It’s like Pavlov and his dogs, except instead of being conditioned to expect food after a bell is rung, shoppers are being conditioned to buy and buy some more when they see those decorations.
In a recent Globe and Mail column Rick Salutin took a jab at news stories about how prices on many goods in Canada haven’t fallen, despite our dollar’s rise to parity with the US greenback.
“As if the only effects people understand, or that count, lie in shopping. As if all we are is consumers, not citizens, workers or producers, God forbid … Retail is all. I keep track of prices, therefore I am,” he wrote.
This frenzy to buy reaches the boiling point at Christmas, as anyone who’s ever done last-minute holiday shopping knows. Gays aren’t immune to the drive to consume. I’ve seen younger gay guys striding down Church St wearing torn designer jeans that probably cost upwards of $100 depending on where they were bought.
Of course with capitalism everyone is a consumer whether we’re buying milk and bread or the flashiest jeans on the market. It’s a matter of degree. But it seems like many social events in the city have become dependent on a steady cash flow – from your wallet to someone else’s. Want to have a good time and meet hot men (or women)? You can go to a club. That will be $10 for cover please. Want to hang out at a bar? That’ll be $5.25 for that drink. Want to call a friend? You could call from home, but why not buy a cell phone like everyone else is doing? You just buy one and you’re set to go. Oh, did I mention the monthly bill?
I’d like to think there’s a better way to live than to ‘buy-in’ to this constant cycle of spending. More cost-free or relatively cheap alternatives for socializing is worth consideration – such as book clubs or yoga groups where everyone pitches in for the cost of an instructor. Otherwise we really will be paying for everything.