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Last night while waiting for our table at a fantastic sushi restaurant on Broadway and Arbutus in Vancouver I read an article about the mounting frustrations between Americans and Canadian shoppers now that the limit for spending and importing goods has been raised. The article referenced Costco in Bellingham and how some people from the area are disgusted and frustrated not only with the lines of Canadian shoppers taking up space in our stores but also the sense of entitlement and rude manner in which they approach shopping in our fair city. One comment printed in defense, or more likely in defiance, of the American sentiment stated that “the American was just experiencing sour grapes.” and “that they (Americans) should be happy that we’re (Canadians) spending money down here to boost the American economy.”

These comments may be true. We are appreciative for the Canadian money flowing into our coffers, and we may be bitter that our economy tanked. However, the comments regarding the rudeness are also true. Frankly the two have nothing to do with each other except that they are both choices that Canadian shoppers are making, and both choices impact Americans either positively or negatively.

Ordinarily I would consider this exchange as another example of ridiculous banter between idiots who have nothing better to do, except on a recent trip to the Costco parking lot I encountered some of the same rudeness as was described in the article.

Approaching  the ramp onto the interstate an old man held a sign asking for spare change. He did not approach anyones car. He did not express any sentiment,verbally or otherwise, other than holding a sign and looking particularly downtrodden and feeble. Waiting for the light to change I watched as the car in front of me with a green N sticker in the rear window and BC plates rolled down their window and hurled what appeared to be a handful of change at the elderly man.  From all appearances small change.. Pennies, nickels and dimes.

Threw it at him!

Like a dog!

Yelling “Here! Take this you bum.”

Laughter erupted from the car as they sped away. The man was stunned and stood there as the coins struck his body like projectiles of utter contempt, like rocks or stones meant to inflict bodily harm and mental anguish.

I was disgusted and instantly enraged at the behavior, at the sheer callousness of these apparent teenagers and their joy at humiliating another human being. I wanted to chase down the car and make them apologize. I wanted to call the police and report an assault. I wanted to punish them for their lack of humanity.

I did….. nothing!

I watched the whole thing and I drove on past the old man with a heavy heart secure in the knowledge that I’d somehow failed him, but couldn’t puzzle out just how.

An hour later as I shopped at Haggens in Ferndale I was approached by a silent middle-aged woman holding a card, the size and shape of an ordinary business card.

On the card printed clearly in black ink were these words.

 I have a permanent disability. I am deaf & mute. I cannot hear or speak. 

I have not been able to get a job and my only way of making money is selling these cards.

Will you help me?

Anything you may be able to spare would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time. God Bless you.

I didn’t have any spare change to give and I explained this to the card holder, then making eye contact and shaking her hand I politely wished her a good day and good luck. A few seconds later the card holder approached another customer. This next customer was a well dressed woman who  clutched her purse like she expected to be maimed and robbed in broad daylight. She quickly dismissed the card holder with the statement ” no. I have no money” although that clearly was not the truth. Once she was out of earshot of the card holder she said to me in disgust “people like that shouldn’t be allowed in public shopping areas to bother paying customers.” I looked at her in disbelief. Stunned, I shook my head and walked away not sure how to respond or what to say.

Twice in one day, in a matter of less than a single hour, I’d seen two people treated as inferior beings not worthy of kindness or consideration.

Both times it was a Canadian shopping in America. Both times I did nothing to stop it.

I’m not completely sure where the guilt lies, but there is guilt and shame associated with these acts.

Does it lie with the people who perpetrated the humiliating acts? Or does it lie with me for seeing it, knowing better, and not stopping the actions of oppression and discourtesy.

I was taught to keep my head down and not to make waves so that I may be safe. I was taught by my parents that a lady does not bring undue attention to herself, or make a scene in public. I was taught by my father that it’s better to be seen than heard. I was taught by the bureaucracy to lie down and watch injustice and live to fight another day. I was taught to be a coward.

If you see an offensive act and do nothing, aren’t you are as guilty as the ones committing the deed?

On the two occasions related in this blog, I plead guilty, although no one stands ready to charge me and hold me accountable for my actions.