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My socks don’t match. Am I world class?

Having spent a reported $377,000 on tickets to Olympic events at a time when its workers are being laid off, it follows that the City of Vancouver would now publish an etiquette guide prescribing how its workers must smile and dress while yanked away from their jobs to serve as the the taxpayer-funded equivalent of Wal-Mart greeters.

The 128-page handbook lays out the international standards for hosting heads of state, royalty and other dignitaries. It includes appropriate greetings, ways to address elected officials and dignitaries, the placement of flags, speaking order at events, and other such protocols.

Fair enough. But it goes further.

“Wear knee-high socks or stockings that reach above the calf,” the city advises. “Socks should match the pant colour.”


[Full disclosure: This reporter's socks barely cover his ankles. And they don’t match the pants. Oh, hell, my socks don’t even match each other.]

Does this mean I’m not sufficiently “world class” to welcome visitors during the Olympics? And, if not, would new socks make me so?

It’s a question Gary Stephen Ross raises thoughtfully in the March issue of The Walrus magazine. His essay, entitled, “A Tale of Two Cities: The Vancouver you see, and the one you don’t,” may well prove to be the smartest adventure in navel-gazing to be published this Olympic season.

Ross unearths the question that I suspect lies beneath the city’s decision to publish a 128-page etiquette handbook:

We’re world class, right?

Ross, a Saturday Night veteran whose day job now includes editing Vancouver magazine, turns first to a fellow recovering Torontonian for comment:

“The world-class thing reminds me of Toronto in the ‘80,” says Anthony Perl, the silver-haired head of urban studies at Simon Fraser University.

“When people start saying that, alarms should go off in city planning and governance minds. They thought they’d invented the answer; if something was done in Toronto, it must be successful. We risk that here — our megaproject mania for highways, SkyTrains to UBC, stuff like that.”

Perl is given credit for a list of Vancouver’s most glaring shortcomings: "No downtown university with an adjoining student neighbourhood, no broad pedestrian promenade, no major civic square."

I found Ross’ own insight more delicious:

A great city is a world unto itself, defying attempts to break it into its constituent elements. Berlin, Rome, New York: these are urban conflagrations, memory vying with amnesia, civic magma bubbling and hardening under the weight of history.

"World-class city?" Ross asks again. "It’s the world, not the city, that gets to decide."

Monte Paulsen embodies Prêt-à-Porter.

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