A NEW SCHOOL YEAR IS UPON US AND THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS WILL BE CALLING OTTAWA HOME FOR THE NEXT EIGHT MONTHS. HERE ARE 5
RULES I’VE LEARNED DURING MY TIME HERE THAT MIGHT MAKE THE STAY A LITTLE EASIER
So here it is September and the Nation’s Capital has once again welcomed its annual wave of new residents, all prepping for the new school year. The Labour Day weekend came and went as they always have here in Ottawa, with legions of students enrolled at one of our numerous higher educational institutions moving into their temporary addresses, parents and boxes in tow. Yes, it’s that time of year when the next eight months are looking bright and shiny and new, seen with a breed of fresh optimism that will evaporate the second the first professor deals out the first homework assignment. For those of you returning, and many more who are favouring our fair city for the first time, here are five pieces of wisdom I’ve collected during my time living in Ottawa, shared here for your benefit. You first time residents may find some of this helpful, returning ones humorous. But either way, drum roll please . . .
5. Behave Yourself: When the need strikes to cut loose a little bit and sample some of Ottawa’s night life, you’ll find you have plenty of options to choose from. But keep in mind, Ottawa is a fairly close-knit town, and the employees at one bar or club may find themselves working at another establishment in the near future. Or they may already work at two places at the same time. There’s also a good chance they know people who work at the club across the street or the bar by the same name across town. My point is, if you get in a bouncer’s face or offend a waitress or get kicked out of one place, there is a very, very good chance many other drinking holes in town will know your name and face in the amount of time it takes to send a Tweet or update a Facebook status. So have fun, but remember to behave yourself and tip your waitress on the way out.
4. By-Laws R Us: Ottawa isn’t merely Canada’s capital, but we’re also the country’s unofficial by-law capital. Whether it’s because we have so many government offices and branches from so many different levels co-existing within one town or that we have the National Capital Commission sticking their bureaucratic fingers in every pie or that Ottawa is just more anal, we seem to lead the continent in by -aws. Ask your favourite business owner or landlord sometimes about the jungle of red tape in this city compared with other Canadian burghs. Suffice to say, there is an army of uniformed by-law officers waiting to pounce and hand you a hundred-dollar ticket (or more) for some minor infraction or offence.
3: Behave Yourself 2: Ottawa isn’t just home to Canada’s Parliament, but also to its Supreme Court, various Ministries, foreign Embassies and the headquarters of a number of federal departments. And suffice to say, with that much political capital lurking Ottawa’s streets, the Nation’s Capital attracts it’s fair share of CEOs and corporate profiteers for regular visits. So with that many politicians, ambassadors, diplomats, supreme court justices and other assorted power players and rich guys, you can imagine how much security is wandering around this town. There’s the Ottawa PD, the Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, an over abundance of Canadian Forces troops, private security, etc. etc. Just ask yourself how many marines are hanging out in the America Embassy on a regular basis. You may not see them, but trust me when I say they’re there. When 9/11 went down, they were on the streets outside the embassy in a matter of minutes in full fatigues and carrying serious firepower. Odds are, if you’re doing something wrong, half a dozen pairs of eyes are watching.
2 From Point A to B: Ottawa has one of the best public transportations systems in North America, and the majority of its drivers and other employees are genuinely good guys doing an often thankless job. Now having said that, make a habit to get to your bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive and don’t be shocked if it’s five minutes late. Or more. And you’ll soon discover that it isn’t altogether uncommon for a bus to never show up at all. This city wasn’t designed to handle the amounts of traffic it currently sees, and when it’s “was only supposed to last the summer” construction projects stretch into September, October and even November, things get even more complicated. And while the most of the drivers are cool, it’s an absolute guaranteed fact of life that the one time you decide to snap on a driver, you’re going to do so one the biggest ass hole on the schedule that day. And when winter arrives, Ottawa traffic, a nightmare of binge drinking proportions normally, becomes even more brutal. And speaking of winter . . .
1 Winter Is Coming. And Yes, It’s Cold: Depending on who you talk to (and there is some debate on the matter) Ottawa is the second coldest capital in the world. Only Moscow is colder (and we’re not just referring to the hospitality) so you can expect three or four frigid months of misery in the coming year. Not even going to try to sugar coat it. There are going to be days when it’s so cold that when you sneeze it’s going to come out as slush. There are going to be times that you may be tempted to slash certain portions in your yearly budget to afford an extra night or two out on the town, but trust me, you do not want to shave a single penny off your budget for winter clothes, boots or home heating. And other than snow, politicians and by-laws, you know what Ottawa doesn’t need more of? People flooding social media to give the rest of us a weather report. Between December and March, your local meteorologist of choice will do a fine enough job telling you how low the mercury is going to plummet on a daily basis. We don’t need 842 000 Facebook statuses telling us every day that it’s cold. If it’s February and you’re in Ottawa, odds are you won’t be breaking out the sun tan lotion. I don’t need this universally accepted fact Tweeted at me three hundred times a day. Because it’s just going to piss me off more. Bitching about the weather doesn’t change it and it really just makes everyone around you want to face palm you. With broken glass. And fire. Besides, with global warming rearing it’s fierce-some head more and more, real winter may soon find itself facing extinction. And when you curse the cold and wish it was sunny and thirty degrees all twelve months of the year, just remember the Chinese proverb about being careful what you wish for.
So there you have it, five simple suggestions and observations I’ve amassed from my two decades here. And for the most part, they’re simply the product of common sense. Ottawa can be a good town, if you know how to treat her right. And knowing some of her more eccentric personality traits doesn’t hurt either.