Ottawa Culture

Over the years, I have tried explaining what it is about Ottawa that gives me a rash. I have a love hate relationship with this City. I love it, for all its warts, but I could never put into words what actual warts Ottawa has.

It all started when I was 13. We had just moved back after a posting. We were living in our old hood, what was Westboro, a cute community, 15 minutes outside of the downtown core. It was full on WASP, but not tony enough, after all, Mountain Equipment Coop hadn’t moved in yet, and made it the place to come shop and spend a day. No, it was just WASP at that time. The gentleman across the street, had decided his house, a charcoal grey, needed new trim. So he began to paint it, a beautiful shade of periwinkle blue. He managed to paint only half the trim, before the petition started to circulate in the neighbourhood. It was a polite, diplomatic, cease and desist letter, outlining that the periwinkle blue was an unsuitable colour for the neighbourhood. My parents were the only people on the block who refused to sign the petition. They thought it was ridiculous to stop someone from painting their house. As my Mother pointed out, the blue was cheerful, and looked great. It turned out, the gentleman who spent time painting his house trim that colour, was actually an architect. The neighbours weren’t thrilled with him, he lived a “life style”, they didn’t care for. I guess they didn’t appreciate that he traveled, never had children, but was married to the love of his life, who happened to be an attorney. In protest, he left the trim half painted, it stayed like that for 3 years, before they decided to move to Toronto, leaving Ottawa to never return.

The most interesting people seemed to disappear from Ottawa. For years, I couldn’t figure out why. It was safe, beautiful, clean, mostly affordable, and was almost perfect on paper.

Looks can always be deceiving.

My husband and I moved into a small walkup in good Ol Westboro, it was a steel of a price, was beautiful, and heck, did I mention it was cheep! We moved in the year before Mountain Equipment Coop built their insane new store just down the street from us. So mostly, the hood was still middle class WASP.

It was about a month into us moving in, that we noticed by-law officers circulating, leaving tickets and warnings. I sat at my living room window while sick, and watched ticket after ticket being left in mailboxes or windshield screens. It was the oddest sight, no one was out, except for the officer. The street was unnaturally quiet, we even joked that it was like living in the middle of a cemetery, you could not even hear a dog bark after 8pm with the windows wide open.

Ottawa’s flaws begin to shine through slowly, as we began to fall deeper into our careers and life. Our friends, who just bought a new house. Began to get complaints that their garbage had been put out 10 minutes before the allowed time. Their car was over the sidewalk on their driveway by, literally an inch, the colour they chose for their front door was not in compliance with the neighbourhood colour palette. It seemed like an endless list of ridiculous complaints. They quickly grew tired of the tickets, the complaints and the inhospitable environment that they were coming home to. They moved to another neighbourhood, the same things started up again, complaints would come their way, they began to get ticketed for by-law violations. It wasn’t just them, I began to notice those working in our Human Resources department sit on their phones calling in various by law violations in their own neighbourhoods. I thought I was going mental, but no, this is just Ottawa.

It came to me in a recent trip to Ottawa, that although it is a stunning city, and has so much to offer. It is 90% made up of Federal Government Employees. Many of whom will never get fired from their jobs, so they have nothing to lose, but they also have a sense of entitlement. It is that sense of entitlement that creates a really toxic undertone to Ottawa. It is what I began to feel suffocated by.  It wasn’t just that sense of entitlement, but the sense of superiority.

Let’s just get something straight, there is a sense of entitlement everywhere, but in Ottawa, it becomes cumbersome and rather tiresome because that one person in the neighbourhood ends up leading the rest down the wrong path. It is a part of Ottawa’s culture that I never understood, nor did I ever like.

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“Busy”

I am not sure what it is about this word, but it always seemed to haunt me, and never in a good way.

When I began to work for the government, everyone around me attempted to one up each other on how “busy” they were. You were only busy if you were writing briefing notes, Q’s and A’s, and of course reports. I grew up with a Father who never said he was busy, he never told me he was too busy for me, mind you, I don’t think I ever dared ask him to play with me. It just seemed like a very odd request, I mean, he played chess with us, and goodness knows he was an incredible opponent, he never once turned me down when I needed his help with any school work. My Mother on the other hand, always said she was busy. We will get back to that shortly.

At work, it annoyed me that people said they were busy. I couldn’t figure out why they were doing the same job, and yet, spent a long time in the office during non emergency international incidents. For years, I got sucked into the idea of busy. Once you become a Mother, it just seems like everyone is “busy”. It still bothered me, using that word.

My Mother, always complained how busy she was, she always helped with our homework, and was always there at every play, don’t get me wrong, but her excuse for most things, was that she was too busy. What always struck me, was she was always too busy to really accomplish something, and see something through to the end.

It wasn’t until a Tim Ferriss podcast, that Tim himself made an off-handed comment that struck a chord, if you are busy, you aren’t organizing your life properly, something is just wrong with what you are doing. Wow, and I mean wow.

So, in a quest, I decided to spend 3 months re-wiring my brain. I ignored when other Mother’s complained they were busy, and wanted to complain about how busy their lives were or are. That took a lot, if the inside of my cheeks were any indication of how painful it was to listen and ignore without sympathizing or saying something like “shut up”, it was simply painful.  For 3 months I have not used the word busy. I have not once told my son I was too busy to play with him, instead, I have told him “let me finish up what I am doing, and then I can give you all of my attention. How about I put on the timer?’. When it comes to my writing, I have set aside time to write, and if it doesn’t work out, fine, if it does, it does, but I am never busy. Being “busy” is no longer an excuse to accomplish what I want to and need to accomplish.

With the simple act of eliminating that word, I have become more positive, more present, and more effective human being. It surprised me just how an elimination in my vocabulary has changed my outlook on life.

I dare you to try eliminating it from your vocabulary, and see how it works for you!

Dip Kid