Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Protest Etiquette - An Oxymoron?

Emigrating to Canada as a child is one of the best things that ever happened to me. This country is amazing in hundreds of ways. Canada is one of the most tolerant nations in the world and Toronto is the globe's most multicultural city. We're also very polite, ask questions before judging and tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Like most western countries, we support freedom of speech and the neighbourhood that is home to our provincial government buildings and a host of foreign consulates is often a site of peaceful protests. There is one happening now. The Greater Toronto Area has the largest population of Tamils outside of Sri Lanka and four days ago, thousands of them converged in front of the U.S. Consulate calling for a permanent cease fire in Sri Lanka. Since then, their numbers have dwindled but hundreds are still there and have vowed to remain until the U.S. and Canadian governments take action.

Despite its duration, the protest has been peaceful. But it has also been very inconvenient. The group has taken over a major downtown artery, forcing its closure, causing traffic chaos for three business days now and blocking access to some hospitals in the early stages. This street is such an important thoroughfare in Toronto that a parked car at any time of the day, is usually towed and ticketed within minutes.

I'm not going to comment on the cause at hand because I don't know enough about it to form an educated opinion but I have to wonder about the logic of inconveniencing thousands of ordinary people who are just trying to get to their jobs, which they probably feel lucky to have in a recession. The purpose of etiquette is to make other people feel more comfortable, and forcing commuters to leave earlier in order to drive around the blockage for three straight days is certainly not doing that. If the comments on this Toronto Star article are any indication, frustration over the traffic issues have eclipsed any empathy that citizens might have felt towards the protesters.

Does passion for a cause give any group the right to stop traffic? Is freedom of speech more important than the inconvenience of a detour? Should citizens of a city be put out because of things that are taking place on the other side of the planet?

Can etiquette and protests coexist?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Growing "list-less" with e-mail mailing lists

subscribe: v. 1 intr. (often foll by to) arrange to receive a periodical, service or a series of tickets in exchange for payment

unsubscribe: v.intr: remove oneself from a mailing list, esp. computer, etc.

I looked up these two words in the dictionary this morning because I am slowly going mad due to an upsurge in the volume of unsolicited marketing e-mails, newsletters, promotional offers, updates, etc. I receive.

This is not garden-variety SPAM. There are real people and organizations behind these online sales pitches and for some reason, they are labouring under the misconception that I am interested in their particular product or service. I could be, but the fact that they're sending it to me in bulk format with no personalization, tells me that they have not bothered to find out anything about me and are just playing the odds. Just this week I've been encouraged to redeem my frequent flier miles at an exciting new tropical destination, directed to a career website where I will find a fabulous new employee and invited to attend a marketing conference at Disneyworld.

I am a fanatical unsubscriber. If someone takes the time to send me a personal e-mail marketing their services, I will usually always respond but if I am the unwitting recipient of a bulk e-mail, I usually search for the unsubscribe button right away.

But this brings me back to my original point. In order to UN-subscribe from something, would I not need to have SUBscribed in the first place? Any time I am involved in any sort of transaction, via the Internet or snail mail, I fervently request not to receive any kind of follow-up promotional material. I scan the pages for the little box that indicates that I don't want to receive anything. I check it and then, just to be safe, I add a note reiterating my desire to be left alone. I never give personal information at a store check-out and I politely decline offers for those customer cards that entitle me to a free coffee after I buy 12 or some such thing.

But it doesn't work. Through a legal loophole in the privacy laws or flagrant disregard of them, they send me stuff anyway. I am currently receiving e-mail from some organizations from which I have unsubscribed several times. Each time I receive a pleasant follow-up e-mail telling me that while they're sad to see me go, my name will be removed from the list. Alas, no.

What's a girl to do? Any e-mail marketing experts out there who have a recommendation on how I can ebb the flow?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

First Lady's Faux Pas a breath of fresh air

Michelle Obama has done the unthinkable. In her recent meet and greet with Queen Elizabeth, she broke protocol and touched the monarch (a big no-no), not once but twice. Breach #1 happened at the start of their meeting at Buckingham Palace when, after initial introductions, the U.S. first lady gave the Queen a hug. Later, at a "get to know you" drink, they were seen with their arms around each other. According to observers, the Queen seemed awkward but unperturbed by the faux pas.

I haven't met Michelle Obama personally but I would like to know her. She is a smart, engaging woman known for her intellectual prowess as much as her fashion sense. At ease in any situation, she is the very epitome of etiquette, making those around her feel instantly comfortable.

Presumably, the Obamas received a briefing on the dos and don'ts of an audience with the queen but this wouldn't be the first time an American has generated headlines for a royal etiquette blunder. In 2007, then president Bush lasted only 14 minutes into his official meeting with the Queen before accidentally implying that she was 300 years old.

In Steven Frears amazing 2006 film The Queen, the British Monarch (played by the inimitable Helen Mirren) struggles to balance the rules of protocol that define her title with the need to appear more human after the death of Princess Diana. The devastated public needs her to share their emotional pain but she is strangled by centuries of etiquette that requires her to appear stoic and detached in the face of tragedy.

In hugging Michelle Obama, is the Queen suggesting that, after almost 60 years on the throne, it's okay to bend the rules a little? Or is the new first lady so disarming that even the most formal heads of state relax in her presence?

Either way, I think it's a good thing.