No bargain shopping in Canada

October 12, 1998


Tim RowlandIn downtown Montreal the shopping malls are below ground, which in my opinion is a good place for them. A little deeper might not be a bad idea.

I wanted a suit but was delivered a lecture by a little snip of a sales boy with slicked back hair, an emaciated face and puppy dog eyes who seemed intent on destroying the wisdom of every clothing purchase I'd made over the past year.

Yes, blue is in, but not THAT shade of blue which is too bright for this year and you certainly should have selected a more muted gold but if you're going to wear it in public anyway then you DEFINITELY don't want that yellow fleck in the tie which is much too close in hue.


And he was saying all this in one of those French-English hybrids, with me answering back in kind with "Look ici Marc, vous sont starting to fromage me off. I certainment don't need vous to parlez me what to wear avec mon pantaloons."

I also tried, then abandoned, explaining to Marc the Hagerstown Fashion Paradigm, which holds that what is in style in Montreal today may not hit our locality until the orbital return of any of several outbound comets.

It wasn't really a problem for long, because the amount of English the merchants speak is generally directly proportional to the amount of money they believe an American is likely to spend, and early on Marc knew he had a sucker.

I thought I was being smart by going north of the border to shop, since the exchange rate is so favorable to the U.S. shopper. You get about $150 Canadian for every $100 U.S. that you exchange.

Canadians smoothly get around it, however, by simply charging $150 there for an item that would cost $100 here. Then they finish the sauce by adding a straight 15 percent tax on everything - probably which goes to pay for their socialized medicine, unless I miss my guess.

In theory, Americans can get this financial atrocity back by submitting a written inquiry to a branch of the Canadian Ministry of Tariffs and Taxation or, I am not kidding, a storefront in the mall called The Maple Shop.

If you go to The Maple Shop the deck is stacked against you. First, they require proof of purchase, proof of ownership, proof that you live outside Canada, proof that at some point you were born, proof that you aren't buying the items for someone else who does live in Canada, proof that you're not Elvis and proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.

Since I like to travel light, there are Haitians on rafts that carry more documentation than I do. But it didn't matter, because there were about 297 people in a 10 by 10 square foot space, not all of whom were the Ivory Soap girl if you get my drift, waiting for their own refunds. I'm convinced these were people under the employ of the Canadian Ministry of Tariffs and Taxation hired specifically to stand in line and discourage legitimate claimants.

Whatever, I decided at that moment to make a $65 contribution to the Canadian treasury and ambled off to another store where two flirtatious sales girls told me how wonderful I looked in burgundy (obviously to these women style was not a bother in the name of making a sale) so I bought the sweater they were hawking.

Their mood soured, however, when my credit card was refused. This was curious since it had worked fine for several other purchases and I didn't figure to be anywhere near my limit.

I chalked this up to some weird Canadian thing involving their credit approval hardware and thought little more about it until I arrived back home.

Here, I had two urgent messages left at home and work from the credit card company. I called them back and heard a woman on the other end say, no lie, "Do you know someone has been running around Canada using your credit card for a bunch of purchases in Montreal?"

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