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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 8:13 AM
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The convenience question

This was originally meant to be a response to the discussion started by rousseau about consumer conveniences. I am starting a new thread so as to avoid burdening the skylines thread with further Europe/North America angst, but in my view, although there are broad differences between those regions (and Asia), a lot of this is different on the country, region, and city level as well.

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Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
Now that I'm older and set in my ways, I've come to realize that I take a lot of things in North American life* for granted, convenience and perceived generosity (material and of spirit) being two critical ones that would make me think twice about the prospect of long-term residence in Europe.

I'll never forget walking out to the taxi rank at Stansted and being told by a driver in no uncertain terms that we needed to purchase a voucher in the airport stating our destination before we could set foot in a taxi. I've never been in Europe in the summer, but I've heard numerous stories about how the North American ice free-for-all is totally foreign there, and...gulp...I'm not sure how I would cope with that. Between May and October (well, not this fargin' October) I need ice all the time. On longer car trips my wife and I often request and receive a separate cup of ice at drive-thrus to put into our water bottle, to go along with whatever iced coffee drinks we're getting. On long bike rides in the summer heat I've stopped in at 7-Elevens to fill my water bottles with ice. Is that going to happen in Italy?

I'm also pretty dependent upon late night shopping and various 24-hour services. And paying to use public washrooms? I would find that difficult. Not to mention the sterner engagement with the public in the shops. I can't count the number of times I've gotten free samples and extra little things in local shops like bakeries or whatever here. How much generosity of spirit emanates from behind the counter in a bakery in Germany? Or Spain (the dourest Latin country going)? Never mind getting into long, cheery conversations with proprietors. The friendliness of strangers is not a thing in Stuttgart.

That's my paean to Canadian life right there.


*Funnily enough, East Asia, the only other place I've lived in and travelled in a lot, takes North American convenience and generosity to a whole other level.
Copenhagen is a pretty good city on this level. Where you really feel the absence of North American-styled retail hours is in the evenings; a lot of places close at 6 when their equivalents in Toronto would close at 9 or 10.

That said, there are some niceties here that I didn't have in Montreal: the metro runs 24 hours, spirits are sold 24 hours/day (that's only good if you are misbehaving, admittedly), and there is a pretty solid spread of 24-hour pubs and restaurants (no better than Montreal's, but this is a smaller city).

There are 24-hour pharmacies available in the central areas, with basic items (Tylenol, cough syrup etc.) commonly available at 24-hour depanneurs.

Most bakeries and coffee shops offer free samples of cakes and the like, as well, although I had never really noticed this before rousseau mentioned it.

When you go to the neighbouring Stockholm, however, this falls flat, and the 'inconvenient Europe' thing is more apparent. The same is true with Germany, although Berlin can be a bit of an exception. Paris is a public ghost-town by 11 p.m., although a million things go on behind anonymous blue doors. But getting a burger at midnight is nightmarish.

A lot of these things come down to labour legislation and the like; others come down to expectations. In general, Europeans are more used to the idea that certain times of the day are for certain things, which is probably down to less individualist societies. Denmark's libertarian streak is likely what's responsible for Copenhagen's relative goodness here.

One interesting place to note here is Spain, where there is a late-night culture that has little to do with bars, clubs, and partying, and a lot to do with siesta-type norms. It's not really a New York-style consumer freedom thing, but more a version of the European 'different times of day mean different things' mentality in which late-night is considered a proper venue for ordinary life. In Madrid, you can find families hanging out at cafes while the kids play in the square or playground at midnight, and even things like bookstores are open as well. By 2 a.m., however, this is gone. Midday in summer can be deader than midnight in that city.

I think this could be a good discussion if we focus on the places we live, what they're like, and why they're like that.
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Last edited by kool maudit; Oct 22, 2018 at 10:28 AM.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 8:49 AM
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Note: I am not sure what the ice situation is here, but my gut tells me that it's shitty.

I have never sought it out but I'm still 99% sure that asking for a cup of ice would get you weird looks even if they had plentiful ice available. I think rousseau is right and Europeans are just not generous with ice and don't view it as central to anything. I think they all collectively feel that you shouldn't need it and that you shouldn't go around requesting it.

This is of course bad what with climate change and all.

If we have another hot summer I am going to test the ice situation and try and shift norms to a more pro-ice stance.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 12:08 PM
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I've never had to ask for ice, but my mother brings her own teabags when dining out and has rarely had an issue getting a free cup or even pot of boiling water.

The public realm in St. John's revolves around music and/or drinking. It can be impressive - George Street at 3 a.m. on a typical summer Friday is certainly a lot of fun, comparable to a large city or party vacation destination - but there's no real, deep variety. Sure you can get families with babies in the bar drinking moderately and watching the game, middle-aged friends blowing off office steam at karaoke, well-dressed folks coming from an album launch at the Ship or Black Cat, glitter-clad gay boys coming from drag shows at Valhalla or Velvet, and on and on. But it's always music or drinking.

It's easy to get anything you need here at any time - were very sprawly and car-dependent outside the core. Had to buy a new surge protector at 4 a.m. just a few days ago. 15 minutes, two stops. Done.

I don't miss that stuff, though. I may even enjoy the inconvenience. Being literally unable to purchase a Coke anywhere in St-Pierre after 6 p.m. is nice to me. It pressures you to get organized, which is something I lack - and it just feels more human.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 12:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SignalHillHiker View Post
Had to buy a new surge protector at 4 a.m. just a few days ago. 15 minutes, two stops. Done.

I strongly doubt I could do that. I am 99.9% sure, even after some cursory Googling, that this could not be done in the Copenhagen area outside of some outlier situation involving your dodgy dep happening to have a beiged-out old one from the 90s in like their battery section. This is a very North American situation.

EDIT: OK, there are a handful of 24-hour Netto markets that would be reasonably likely to have these, but the fact remains that nobody here would assume they could do this even if it technically could be done. It's just a very North American thing.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 3:26 PM
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I am not sure if this is still the case, but about 18 years ago I was caught off guard in Japan when I arrived assuming I would be able to use my debit and credit cards.

Admittingly, it was my own fault for being unprepared, however I came to Japan from Australia, where I was able to use debit/CC just the same as in Canada.

I assumed that Japan was at least on the same footing as Canada/Aus for electronic banking, but was I ever wrong. I had pre-purchaed my train/bus tickets out of Tokyo, so after being unable to get money at the airport, I was well on my way up north, with zero ability to purchase anything.

It took some panicked hand gesturing, my passport and credit card at a bank in a small (by Japan standards) town just before closing time before I could get some cash.

Of course I didn't get enough, and my friend who I was visiting had do lend me some money. Beyond mailing him cash, I wasn't able to pay him back until he got back to Canada (because Japan banking). I sent his parents the money, and he got paid back a year or so later.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 4:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kool maudit View Post

EDIT: OK, there are a handful of 24-hour Netto markets that would be reasonably likely to have these, but the fact remains that nobody here would assume they could do this even if it technically could be done. It's just a very North American thing.
I've always thought of this even more specifically as an American thing that spilled over into Canada under corporate expansion. Stemming from the concept that the customer is always right and should be able to consume whatever they desire whenever they desire. Capitalism dictates that if you don't offer that convenience and there's a demand for it, someone else will. Consolidation of numerous retail industries into massive conglomerates gives them the economies of scale to make 24 hour operations viable.

I was under the impression Canada wasn't really like this until maybe the late 80's. When the Shopper's Drug Mart replaced the mom and pop drug store on a scale that you wouldn't see most places in Europe.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 4:29 PM
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I spent a semester in Sweden earlier in the century. You needed a prescription for Listerine, the university administration was only open a few hours a day and stores always seemed to be closed. Maybe it is better now.

Italy pretty much locks down at 6 or 7. Almost everything requires some sort of specialized store, usually with limited hours.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 4:41 PM
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Tourist Europe and "regular" Europe struck me as two different things to some extent, though.

As visitors, we are familiar with the charming and historic city centres of Europe where it is quite often smaller shops with short hours. The first European country I set foot in as an adult was Germany and I was shocked by how early everything closed. But once you venture out to the suburbs, it starts to resemble North America a bit more with hypermarkets, big malls, and the like. They stay open late, they have free parking, and they accept every card known to man.

For better or for worse, this sort of North American convenience is reality for a good many, if not most Europeans.

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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 6:10 PM
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Vancouver is actually not great convenience-wise. Despite having an automated train system they stop running around 1 am. A lot of malls around the city have days when they close around 6 pm. You can find gas stations that are closed down at 10. There are not many grocery stores or pharmacies open 24 hours or even past 11 pm.

The least convenient place I have ever been to is Cuba. It took me several hours in central Havana to make a phone call to get my bank to re-enable my credit card and the lady who graciously let me use her phone took down my information in case she received a follow-up from the authorities. The ATMs had the equivalent of $20 limits and the stores that did exist were often out of stock. One famous spot in Havana is a big 1950's style ice cream place. They have 3 flavours on their menu and usually only 1-2 available for sale. There are depressing government restaurants that are famous for having a 5:1 waiter to customer ratio, 30 page menus, and not much actual food beyond rice and beans.

Cuba was also relatively friendly and high trust though. I handed somebody at a desk $700 or so for travel arrangements and she gave me a piece of paper back with a name and time scribbled on it. It all worked out.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 6:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by someone123 View Post
Vancouver is actually not great convenience-wise. Despite having an automated train system they stop running around 1 am. A lot of malls around the city have days when they close around 6 pm. You can find gas stations that are closed down at 10. There are not many grocery stores or pharmacies open 24 hours or even past 11 pm.
1 am is actually not that bad... many Asian megacities end subway service around midnight which I find koo-koo bananas considering how they are 24 hours metropolises in many ways. I'm not a night owl but I don't recall any North American subways/LRTs going past 1 am except NYC. I suspect there are good reasons for that... the number of incidents per 1000 riders must skyrocket once you get past midnight.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 6:26 PM
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Our public transit buses are off the roads early, by supper time, on holidays like NYE. In apparently unrelated news, we have one of the highest drunk driving rates in Canada.

I too was a little surprised to find a surge protector at that hour. Second gas station had one.

Most inconvenient place I've ever been is Bermuda. You could starve to death if you don't pay attention to business hours.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 6:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by someone123 View Post
Vancouver is actually not great convenience-wise. Despite having an automated train system they stop running around 1 am. A lot of malls around the city have days when they close around 6 pm. You can find gas stations that are closed down at 10. There are not many grocery stores or pharmacies open 24 hours or even past 11 pm.
People think Vancouver shuts down early, but I was surprised living in Sydney, Australia that practically EVERYTHING outside of bars/restaurants close at 6pm. Everyone was going on about "late night shopping" on get this - Thursdays until 9PM. At least in Vancouver retail stores regularly stay open till 9pm 3 or 4 days a week (Wed-Sat).

I believe it is the high Australian Minimum wage and strict overtime laws which is responsible for this.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 7:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by esquire View Post
1 am is actually not that bad... many Asian megacities end subway service around midnight which I find koo-koo bananas considering how they are 24 hours metropolises in many ways. I'm not a night owl but I don't recall any North American subways/LRTs going past 1 am except NYC. I suspect there are good reasons for that... the number of incidents per 1000 riders must skyrocket once you get past midnight.
The Toronto subway runs trains until 1:55 am on lines 1 & 2 and until 2:25 am on line 4, which is actually pretty good -- they can't run 24 hours because unlike NYC, the Toronto subway lacks redundant tracks and they have to shut down for overnight maintenance.

In addition to the many bus routes, The Blue Night network includes several overnight streetcar routes and is the largest and most frequent overnight transit service in North America.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 8:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by someone123 View Post
Vancouver is actually not great convenience-wise. Despite having an automated train system they stop running around 1 am. A lot of malls around the city have days when they close around 6 pm. You can find gas stations that are closed down at 10. There are not many grocery stores or pharmacies open 24 hours or even past 11 pm.

The least convenient place I have ever been to is Cuba. It took me several hours in central Havana to make a phone call to get my bank to re-enable my credit card and the lady who graciously let me use her phone took down my information in case she received a follow-up from the authorities. The ATMs had the equivalent of $20 limits and the stores that did exist were often out of stock. One famous spot in Havana is a big 1950's style ice cream place. They have 3 flavours on their menu and usually only 1-2 available for sale. There are depressing government restaurants that are famous for having a 5:1 waiter to customer ratio, 30 page menus, and not much actual food beyond rice and beans.

Cuba was also relatively friendly and high trust though. I handed somebody at a desk $700 or so for travel arrangements and she gave me a piece of paper back with a name and time scribbled on it. It all worked out.
In fairness, after Skytrain shutdown in Vancouver there is the Night Bus service that runs until it starts up again in the mornning

https://www.translink.ca/-/media/Doc...7CB2088F73828C
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 9:04 PM
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1 am is actually not that bad... many Asian megacities end subway service around midnight which I find koo-koo bananas considering how they are 24 hours metropolises in many ways. I'm not a night owl but I don't recall any North American subways/LRTs going past 1 am except NYC. I suspect there are good reasons for that... the number of incidents per 1000 riders must skyrocket once you get past midnight.
I had to walk 5 miles one night in Chengdu because the last train runs at 11! I was blown away, and then really tired. I don't know how early they start in the morning but it's probably like 8:30.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 9:56 PM
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I lived in an A frame chalet on a ski hill for several years in my 20's. It was a really interesting experience as I love the outdoors, and in the winter it was nice to be able to hit the hill for half a day before heading to work. In the summer it was pretty quiet, the hill was still open but not nearly as busy and none of the bars and only one restaurant was open (this was before mountain biking became a big thing on ski hills in the summer). There was not a lot up there for amenities, especially in summer and it was a half hour drive to town. You had to plan your trip into town to ensure you got everything you needed because it was not a quick jaunt to the convenience store.

Overall though I loved it. I don't mind being out of town and our next place will be semi-rural as well. Just takes extra planning.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 10:45 PM
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I don't care too much about the opening hours of stores, as long as stuff opens until 9pm on certain weekdays. I don't have an issue with the opening hours of anything in Toronto except the LCBO. In Vancouver, I never understood when 'last call' was supposed to happen. Sometimes a waiter would come by at 10PM to let us know that it was "last call" and it was time to order a final round. The other thing that I found bizarre was how patios had to close in Vancouver at 10:30. On a nice early summer night, there would still be some twilight on the horizon when you were told you had to pack it in and go inside because it would disturb residents in the neighbourhood.

In Europe, the thing that I always have trouble adjusting to is the pace of a restaurant meal. In North America my expectation is that, after being seated, you wait less than a minute for somebody to come by with the menu, about 5 minutes for your order to be taken, and then about 10-20 minutes for your food. When you ask for the bill, it comes out in about two minutes. In Northern Europe you double these numbers and in Southern Europe you often have to triple them. Also, I like the idea of having free tap water and the option of taking food home with you. I think these things are worth having a tipping culture for.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 11:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by plrh View Post
I had to walk 5 miles one night in Chengdu because the last train runs at 11! I was blown away, and then really tired. I don't know how early they start in the morning but it's probably like 8:30.
Yes, Chinese metros do close too early. They've started running trains until 12:30am or so on Friday/Saturday nights on some lines here in Shanghai, but that's still not very good. Most lines open at around 5:30/6am in the morning.

But with plentiful taxis, Didi, and if nothing else dockless bikes, being out past 11pm is no longer as bad as it used to be.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 11:46 PM
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Restrictive labor laws and barriers to competition definitely harm the consumer. One of the things I miss most about living in the US was the ability to chose a product or service almost entirely based on my preference, mostly unimpeded by government choices on who could function as a provider where and when. In the winter when I didn't cycle, for example, I would often hit Home Depot on the way to work at 5 AM as it was on the way and I couldn't waste scarce personal time on the mundane. I have friends and family on the west coast who can almost entirely avoid errands through online services snd exploiting in workplace services. I know of a service in Seattle that will match people up in a specfic area at specific times for dental and medical services. The provider will use office meeting rooms or even hotel rooms. Only the US provides this freedom to innovate.
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Old Posted Oct 22, 2018, 11:50 PM
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I don't care too much about the opening hours of stores, as long as stuff opens until 9pm on certain weekdays. I don't have an issue with the opening hours of anything in Toronto except the LCBO. In Vancouver, I never understood when 'last call' was supposed to happen. Sometimes a waiter would come by at 10PM to let us know that it was "last call" and it was time to order a final round. The other thing that I found bizarre was how patios had to close in Vancouver at 10:30. On a nice early summer night, there would still be some twilight on the horizon when you were told you had to pack it in and go inside because it would disturb residents in the neighbourhood.

In Europe, the thing that I always have trouble adjusting to is the pace of a restaurant meal. In North America my expectation is that, after being seated, you wait less than a minute for somebody to come by with the menu, about 5 minutes for your order to be taken, and then about 10-20 minutes for your food. When you ask for the bill, it comes out in about two minutes. In Northern Europe you double these numbers and in Southern Europe you often have to triple them. Also, I like the idea of having free tap water and the option of taking food home with you. I think these things are worth having a tipping culture for.
Once you've experienced American service levels, the alternatives seem retrograde. I rarely bother with restaurants in Australia as the process is too frustrating. I was at a conference in Europe a few months back and we visited some friends in Switzerland. Simply going out to dinner was too much of production to justify the effort.
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