Sunday morning in Toronto

I had a Tim Horton’s morning today. For all those of you who do not know what Tim Horton’s is, it’s the biggest coffee house chain in Canada, originally started by a famous hockey player who alas, never lived to see the results of his investment. He died in a car crash at a very young age. But the chain prospered, and was eventually sold to a big American company with other chains to its credit. In Canada, however, it has remained true to its identity, and is the quintessential place for meeting Canadians from all walks of life. Coffee and a donut is a Canadian ritual.

My morning began slowly. Daylight Saving Time. I forgot to turn the clock back, so I enjoyed an extra hour of dawdling while I reset my bedside clock and checked my Facebook messages. A lot of them this a.m.

Then I decided to get breakfast. I often go to Tim’s in the morning, especially if I don’t feel like cooking, and this morning it was raining hard, so I decided to forego my own cooking and visit the coffee house instead. When I got there, I bought a paper, the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star. I always carry my iPhone, but Tim’s has this annoying habit of logging you in to their wifi network complete with ads and other extraneous commercial info, so I usually forget it while I’m there.

Much to my surprise, the paper contained not only an edited version of the New York Times news section, but the Times Book Review section, which used to be my bible. I haven’t read it in years, but I immediately looked to see if it contained any mention of Elin Peer, Wendy Douglas, or Francesca Vance. No such luck. But I’ll keep looking.

My breakfast order was typical, but involved Tim’s unique ordering experience. I get a large dark-roast coffee, double cream and triple sweetener, a back-bacon breakfast sandwich, and an apple pie fritter. The attendant who takes my order I’ve had before. She doesn’t speak English very well, so ordering becomes a comedy of errors.

She (and even the attendants who do speak English) don’t understand the word “triple” very well, so I hold up three fingers and say loudly “three sweeteners.” I don’t know why I say it loudly–probably because I think if I say it loudly someone who doesn’t speak English very well will understand me better. As in, “Do I make myself clear?”

I always feel like a fool when I do this. I have tried to stop myself from doing it. But if I speak normally I just get blank looks, and Tim’s is always noisy in the morning. Strangely, I never have trouble with the breakfast sandwich or the apple fritter, although I sometimes have to repeat “biscuit” loudly several times because she’s so used to people saying “muffin” that it takes a while to register.

Finally my order comes, so I put it on my tray, and find the only open table in a crowded restaurant on a Sunday morning. And then I people watch surreptiously from behind my paper.

First thing I notice is that I’m the only one reading an actual paper. Everyone else is busy on their phones, tablets, or computers. Yes laptops. I swear some of the Chinese men use Tim’s as their office. The students use it as a homework haven, and the rest are either surfing or talking to relatives or bsuiness associates–yes, even on the weekend. But not everyone is iphoning.

Across from me is a table with eight Greek men I have seen here before. They talk intensely among themselves, laugh frequently, and I am sure are busy solving the problems of Greek society in Canada. There many Greeks here, probably as many as live in Athens. I don’t understand a word of their discourse, but I don’t care. They’re just Canadians of Greek origin having a fine time at Tim’s.

Next to me is a table with two women. They are an interesting pair. First, I can tell because I caught a few words from them in English before they switched to another tongue. They are Muslim.

The contrast between them is startling. One is hooded,  dressed almost entirely in black, although I could see a pair of blue jeans sticking out from the bottom of her costume. The other is as modern as The Gap. She is clothed in a red athletic outfit with grey piping and gray sneakers. The outift is the height of fashion for such clothing. She is strikingly beautiful with a neatly coifed sort of pony-style bun. Her hair is dark, but beautifully shiny.

They  appear to be close friends, but since many Muslims in Canada stick with old world costumes, the difference is remarkable. They sit as long as I read my paper, and I can’t help wondering if they represent the old and the new in Muslim culture in Canada. I sort of hope so.

I remember when the Italians first started immigrating to Canada in the 1950s. The women all wore the shapeless black garments that were the rule for women in their homeland. Then the second generation came along, and the third and now we’re into the fourth. No more black. Italian women are as chic as the runways of Paris, New York, and Milan. And many of them are very beautiful.

The same thing will happen with Muslim women, and the nonsense about banning burkhas and head scarves in Quebec will vanish. There may be a few who will still cling to religious mores, but gradually, as the generations change, so will their clothing.

My son-in-law is Iranian born. Men in Iran frequently wear large beards. In Canada in the 21st century it’s the exception to see one with as beard. Customs change with the environment and culture. When in Rome . . .  So my lesson for this Sunday morning is clear. Quit worrying about language, and clothing. It’s not worth the effort. Change is coming, and it will come as fast as the next generation. Just watch what’s happening in Tim’s. It’s the melting pot of the nation.

I remember a scene from Elin Peer’s book The Protector. In search of his wife, Magnus goes to the Motherland to find her. Does he retain his giant beard and leather clothing? No, he dresses like a Motlander. He hates it, but he knows that he must fit in if he’s to  succeed. I talked about Hadiya in a former rant. She dressed like a lawyer to fit in. When she left the law she dressed more informally and comfortably. She may not realize it, but she still fits in. Those who must dress for the law are in a cultural straight jacket. I’m glad Hadiya got out of it.

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