Monthly Archives: January 2011

Toronto Man Follows HIs Dream to the UFC

“The biggest thing is if you have a dream, then just chance it […] you don’t need to give it up because you think you’re too old. If you want to do something, then just go out and do it.”

– Sean Pierson, Toronto-based UFC Fighter.  Entered the esteemed UFC octagon December 11, 2010, at 34 years of age, and won his first UFC fight with conviction.  He’s back for more action April 30th, for UFC 129, held right here in Toronto.  Good luck Sean!

Asa on Larry King Live (Part 1)

This is a great interview of Larry King by ‘guest host’ and YouTube sensation Asa the comic. If you watch part 2 as well there is a very deep story about an interview Larry did with a paralyzed police officer many years back – powerful story. Larry is truly the king of interviews. Excellent voice and great story teller. Asa holds his own even though he was obviously nervous. (I would be too!) Good job Asa!

A Thank You Card is Classy

Today in the mail I received a Thank You card from Leon’s.  Inside contained a hand-written note from Mike, the salesman who sold me my sofa a few weeks back (see previous post Mike Does Right at Leon’s).

I think it’s great that a company is sending out thank you cards, and I think it is also great that the sales rep is personally writing and signing the note.  It’s classy, and it carries positive emotional weight.  I bet you are not surprised then to hear me say that I will be returning to the same store in the future for my furniture needs.


How a Waitress Can Earn a 1-Cent Tip

This story is about a harsh lesson learned for one Toronto waitress.

A long time ago, maybe back in the early or mid-nineties, some members of my family were visiting Toronto (they don’t live here) to see a Blue Jays ball game.  They stayed at the Skydome Hotel.  That’s right – this story happened before the name change to the Rogers Centre.  Anyway I was not there at the time, and I don’t recall why.  Perhaps I was at University, or overseas, or busy in some other way.  Nevertheless this is a classic story which is still shocking to me today.

Essentially the story goes that after spending an exciting but expensive weekend in the big city, the family (probably 4 people) went down for breakfast at the Skydome Restaurant.  My uncle joined them for breakfast as he lives in the city.  Anyway, what I heard was that my uncle ordered the breakfast buffet special, and others ordered straight breakfast dishes.  Uncle got up and collected some items from the buffet to put on his plate, and returned to the table.  He maybe returned once more to the buffet table.  So everyone is laughing, enjoying a big breakfast and reminiscing about the good times had in Toronto.  My uncle, who has never been a big eater, had not touched his danish on his plate, and didn’t want to waste it since he was full, and offered it to my brother.  So my brother accepted it and put it on his side plate.

Apparently, from out of nowhere, the waitress dashed over to the table and aggressively commanded that he (my bro) could not have that danish as he did not order the breakfast buffet!  Even as my uncle was attempting to explain to her that he was full and didn’t want to waste it, the waitress picked up the danish (with or without the side-plate I just don’t know) and runs off with it!

My family sat, amazed at the extent the waitress would go to in the enforcement of the buffet rules.  It was a 10 cent danish!  It’s not like my uncle was grabbing things up and feeding the whole table!  It’s not like it was roast beef!  It was a danish!!!

So my brother, who generally has a really good disposition and is a happy guy, was not amused.

When the group had finished eating and requested the bill, the same waitress brought it over to the table, and asked “Who gets this?”

My brother looked at her and said “Me.”

As fate would have it, it was indeed his turn to pay (as the ‘rents had paid for dinner the night before) and he was more than happy to pay the bill.  He added a 1-cent tip to the bill for the waitress.

It’s a sad story to some, a funny story to others, but a good learning lesson I think to all waitstaff:  think carefully before you steal food from a paying customer!  Is the reason in your head really worth it?  Maybe discuss your idea with a manager beforehand if possible.

I’m glad I wasn’t there.

Accept, except, access, excess, etc.

This is a common speaking mistake.  When English words have a double c (cc), we sometimes pronounce the first c as hard, like a K, and the second c soft, like an S.  For example:

“Accept” is pronounced AKSEPT, not ASSEPT.
“Access” is pronounced AKSESS, not ASSESS.  That’s a different word with a different meaning, right?

However English is not consistent.  We do sometimes pronounce cc like a double k.  Example:
“Accolades” is pronounced AKKOLAYDZ
“Accomplishment” is pronounced AKKOMPLISHMENT

So it can be confusing at times.  Use a good dictionary which also shows you how to pronounce words (phonetics) if you are not sure.

We also have xc which sounds just like our first example of cc, which is to say the first letter is pronounce hard, the second soft.  Example:
“Except” is pronounced EKSEPT
“Excess” is pronounced EKSESS

English can be fun but frustrating to learn, so try to have a sense of humour about it and use a variety of resources to enhance your learning.

“I’ve been here for 14 years – but I still can’t speak English well!”

This is what I heard today over the phone from a potential client.  She does not have a thick accent but she does has one.  She sounds fairly confident and certainly intelligent.  She has a couple of degrees and valid work experience.  So what’s the problem, right?

She sometimes feels shy when she is in a group of Canadians.  She is not sure what to say and if she says something is it appropriate or not.  She is not as confident as she would like to be.

Like many she starts to think it is because of her accent, but as we chat longer over the phone she begins to understand that her level of formal English, both academic and professional,  have taken her so far, but not far enough to truly mingle stress-free with the native Canadians.  What does she need?

After admitting that she doesn’t have any native English-speaking friends to hang out with (she spends time only with people from her community – the exact community is not important for this story) I tell her that she needs to study, learn and integrate pop culture and idioms more to help increase her comfort.

It almost sounds too easy and so she resists, but it will not do her any good.  Language, any language, not just English, is a reflection of the culture.  Textbook English starts you off but to improve fluency you need to be able to speak about current affairs, get pop culture references and retort back to idioms.

Reducing your accent will benefit you if you have a thick accent, and there is nothing wrong with spending time to work on it even if it’s pretty good already, if you so choose.  But please do not neglect the amount of fluency that comes from informal chit-chat, especially through idioms, slang, colloquialisms, and pop-culture references like movies, comics, heroes, books, etc.

Pop Quiz:
Who is Princess Leigh?
What is a Hobbit?
Where does ‘Gotham city’ come from?
Name a friend of Harry Potter.
What’s the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek?
Name a few main characters from Friends, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons.

I could go on but for now if you can answer these questions easily then you are not living with your head in the sand, and you probably enjoy North American culture.  If you are having problems answering my questions, then you probably have difficulty with small talk and in social situations in general with native English speakers, especially us North Americans.  Borrow some books, rent some dvds, and watch some more TV.  If you have friends to join you – all the better.  Create a study group and have fun while you learn.  It’s worth the investment of time to learn some pop culture, and who knows, you might actually have fun learning it!  🙂

Black’s Photography is Ace!

Before I returned to Japan for the second time this last November,  I shopped around for a new digital camera, since the last time I was there I broke my other one.  It was July 4th 2008, Canada Day, and I was in Kyoto with a few foreign teachers, including my Canadian buddy Andrew.  We drank a ton to celebrate the occasion,  and around midnight as I was taking a photo or perhaps trying to shut the camera off, I dropped it.  It hasn’t worked since.  Luckily I didn’t lose any pictures off of it, but the zoom lens is permanently stuck halfway out.

Early November 2010 I looked around at some different camera shops, and when I went into Black’s near Yonge/St. Clair I was happy with the customer service I was given.  A nice young lady answered my Qs, even though I didn’t buy anything that afternoon.  The point is I returned to that store based on my memory of the service and of course the cameras.  When I returned to the store a few days later I was helped out by a very knowledgeable salesguy.  He was able to answer my Qs easily.  When he introduced himself as “Ace” I almost laughed, thinking he was joking.  Maybe it was a college nickname I thought.  But in the end apparently that is his name and he was a great salesman, nothing like Jim Carrey at all!

Not only did he help me pick the right camera for my needs, but he even pointed out matching products that were on sale that I wanted, like a camera pouch and memory card, and in the end threw some things in for free.  I was also told that if I so chose I could come back to the store for a 1-hour tutorial on the camera’s functions, which I took him up on.  A couple days later Ace showed me the ropes of the new camera by demonstrating the features in the store.

I for one can say that I was even happier with my purchase afterward because not only did I believe I had a great camera, but I also believed I got a good deal too.  Having a friendly and attentive C/S or sales rep help you is a total bonus, as it reinforces your feeling that you the customer made the right choice not just with the product, but with the store itself.

I spent a couple weeks in Japan, and I took a ton of photos and videos with my new camera.  I drank almost every evening too, but I didn’t drop the camera this time.  Perhaps my dexterity is improving, or perhaps it’s because I didn’t make it down to Kyoto this time to see Andrew.  (LOL)

Upon my return, when I needed to get photos printed off, do you know where I went?  Of course – the same Black’s Photography store.  I didn’t see Ace working there that day, but I ran into him crossing the street another day and he remembered me and smiled and waved.  I liked being remembered.  Don’t you?  It makes you feel special, if only for a brief moment.

Thanks Ace, and thanks Black’s Photography!  I will be coming back to your store.

Worse Than a Fly in Your Soup?

The other night I took my wife out for dinner at a restaurant that currently has 3 names (which is quite confusing – I guess they are merging or something) just south of Yonge and St. Clair.  We had a beer and a meal and all in all the service and food were good enough.  Nothing fancy, but the place isn’t pricey either, so it was fine in my books.
Anyway, after we paid and left, my wife starts laughing (outside) and asks me “Did you see that?!”

She continues to laugh hysterically even though I had no idea what she was on about so I asked her to fill me in.  Still smiling, she said the waiter who served us and everyone else in the room had his fly fully open!  She said it had been that way since the moment we walked into the joint!  WOW!  Really?  I couldn’t believe it!  Poor guy.  I wonder how many other people noticed.  I wonder if it positively or negatively affected his tips?
Let this be a warning to all servers – check your clothing before you go on, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, and do a final fly-check okay?

Mike Does Right at Leon’s

My current couch is falling apart, piece by piece.  It’s an Ikea futon couch and it was never meant to be my main couch but for some unknown reason (laziness) it has been in the living room for far too long, breaking down both itself and anyone’s back who sits on it for too long.  God help you if you tried to sleep on it!

So my wife and I headed out today couch/sofa-shopping.  We didn’t find what we were looking for at the Urban Brick so we headed down to Leon’s which we remembered spotting when we were on a tour of the awesome SteamWhistle Brewery a while back (that could be another post…) down by the Rogers Centre.  Anyway, we walked in and started sitting down on couches.  We put down our shopping bags and took off our winter coats and couch-surfed a while, hmming and hawing.  I asked a lady a question regarding pull-out couches and she handed me off to Mike, who asked my name, introduced himself with eye contact, a good handshake and a smile.  I like this guy already.  The fact that he is well-dressed in not only nice clothes but ones that fit him properly gets him bonus marks on personal presentation.  Anyway Mike pulls out a couch and leaves me to discuss with my wife.

A short time later we walk to him and he asks what I think, and I say I think that the sofa-couch is a bad idea!  He laughs and we agree that a proper couch would feel better.  I tell him we need to look around and try out some couches and he offers to put our bags and jackets behind the desk.  His stock is rising…

He leaves us alone for the appropriate amount of time (a good sales person KNOWS when that is…) and by the time he re-appears we are down to 2 possibilities.  Mike assures me both choices are good and customer-favourites, i.e. big sellers.  I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s okay, because a good sales rep is supposed to reassure the customer that they have made an excellent choice, no matter what they pick.  I fish for a discount which is politely ignored.  I like that confidence.  He is not pushy and not needy.  It makes me want to spend money because I believe high-quality stores do not need to discount all the time.

Anyway we decide on a couch that is nicknamed “Fiona”, which I think looks strong and elegant but practical, and my wife agreed, but I think it also had something to do with the Shrek movies we recently watched together that I got her for Christmas!

The couch felt good and was within our budget, and Mike was a confident but calm and non-pushy  salesman who understood genuine rapport-building, and so what the hey, we even ordered the upsell Scotchguard!

Our new couch is to be delivered Saturday, and we can hardly wait.  Tonight as my wife and I sat on our current Ikea futon couch I cursed it several times and told it that it’s time was up and it had to leave.  I don’t care if I hurt it’s feelings, because everyday it hurts my back!
Sayonara Futon!  Hello Fiona!  (Well, at least on Saturday I can say that…assuming there are no problems with delivery!)

Christina’s on the Danforth

This isn’t recent, but I was sitting here thinking of some of my favourite restaurants to go to because of excellent customer service, and I thought I might start to mention them one at a time, in random order, here on the blog.

For many years I used to live just off the Danforth.  (Man I miss Greek food sometimes…)
Anyway, whenever I wanted to impress a lady on a date, or my Mother when she visited Toronto, I would take her to Christina’s.  What I like about that place is the decor, the food, and the service.  The gentlemen wear formal black and white and talk softly to you.  Even bringing butter is done professionally and with an air of importance, without feeling stuffy or snobby.

I went there many times in my life, and only had one bad experience.  I had taken a girlfriend out for a romantic night of wine and seafood, and the restaurant was not too busy.  We were seated alone.  20 minutes later a small but loud group of ESL students and their teacher came in, and for some strange reason, were seated right beside us!!!  I couldn’t believe the daftness or insensitivity of the hostess.  There were plenty of open tables available in the room.  (It was not the group’s fault, of course.)

Anyway after grumbling and scowling a bit I quietly went up to the bar and made my complaint so that the small party could not hear, and we (my girlfriend and I) were offered a new, more private table.

The lesson for servers and hostesses here is – look before you seat.