“That is such a Samantha thing to say.”
I’m just back from a wedding in Calgary. It was a fairly posh affair, if an intimate one befitting the couple’s slightly more mature stage of life. A well-to-do dentist, herself the daughter of an even better-to-do-though-recently-retired dentist, was marrying a charming chap from the Maritimes. It was a slightly exhausting trek with our four-month-old in tow, but in the end so very worth it.
Since everyday is a learning experience, what did we take home with us ? Not only that we can never celebrate too many positive life events, that love is a beautiful thing even when it takes unorthodox forms,ii and that every excuse to dance is a good excuse, but also that the old Keeping Up With The Joneses (KUWTJ) game is as lamentable as it is contingent upon geography. (And my goodness are we evermore grateful for our geography!)
Y’see, while Edmonton and Calgary have a dynamically productive tension between them that I often applaud, they’re still vastly different cultural spaces. Calgary is not only slightly larger in terms of population, but dramatically so in terms of the size of its Rolex Class, as we’ll call them today, these being the people who not only have the $10`000 – 40`000 needed to play the KUWTJ game, but also a distinctly imperative social pressure to play it. Is it any wonder that the Daytona is on a 5-year wait list in Stampede City while you can get two of them in six months here in the province’s capital ?
The cause of the difference is, naturally enough, the motive forces of the respective cities. In Edmonton, it’s the provincial government bureaucracy, the 40`000-student University of Alberta, and blue collar industries supplying the oil patch. In Calgary, it’s corporate head offices, primarily for the energy sector. With these economic engines in mind, it should come as no surprise that the former prizes blending-in while the latter prizes KUWTJ on the imaginary (but all-too-real) ladder of material success.iii
Blessedly, I find myself having been born and raised in the low-key culture that is Edmonton. While our architecture leaves a great deal to be desired, enjoying luxury goods here is more like being Roni Madhavi, the Indian-Ugandan vintage Patek collector, who enjoys his hard-earned pleasures as part and parcel of a personal journey, sharing his passion and hobby only with a few like-minded folks online.iv If you buy a luxury good in Edmonton, it isn’t because it’s “veblen” or some such nonsense,v at least not primarily (or even secondarily), or because everyone else in the Rolex Class is so why aren’t you, you buy it so much more for what it is : an object of craftsmanship, enduring quality, and, yes, beauty. And you largely keep it to yourself, downplaying it if anything.
In Edmonton, the new two-tone Datejust that marked our 5th wedding anniversary was a sentimental,vi heartfelt, and arguably excessive gift for the girl,vii but in Calgary, it would’ve been “Finally something decent!” or “Samantha’s has more platinum and diamonds than this one, you know…” In Edmonton, it’s the kind of jewelry worn with Lulu tights, your husband’s sweatshirt, and a $10 pair of flip-flops so that salespeople don’t think you’re homeless while holidaying.viii In Calgary, it’s the kind of thing worn with a Balenciaga top layered under a Versace leather jacket with Prada jeans, Louboutin heels, and freshly pumped lips. In the corporate capital, KUWTJ colours and shades every ownership experience and turns it into a contest of credit card limits.
Thankfully, cities like Edmonton, Winnipeg, and even Montreal exist, where you can enjoy what you enjoy because you enjoy it, not because you’re supposed to and certainly not because Samantha’s husband couldn’t keep his nagging wife contented with anything less blingy than what Kylie Jenner wore to the Oscars.
So y’see, where really does matter. Where are you ?
___ ___ ___
- Sacha Baron Cohen’s gay Austrian fashion reporter character from the original Ali G series. Trailer here. ↩
- In this case, the bride is the out-and-out breadwinner and always will be. I have no problem with this! The roles in their relationship are well established, just as in a lesbian couple or what have you, but it’s certainly unorthodox and still has some hurdles ahead when babymakin’ comes. ↩
- To be as ecumenical as possible, the upside of the KUWTJ game is manifest in the world-class architecture seen in Calgary. Public infrastruture by Santiago Calatrava (Peace Bridge), towers by Sir Normal Foster (The Bow), another tower under construction by Bjarke Ingels and Westbank (Telus Sky),* downtown libraries by Snøhetta, and so much more, and it’s this same drive that leads Calgary to have car dealerships selling Astons, Rolls, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, and more, while Edmontonians are grateful just to have two Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi dealers so that the monopolists (usurped just five years ago) can’t rick-roll us as hard.
*Telus Sky is really just an inversion of BIG’s Vancouver House, if with the nontrivial addition of Douglas Coupland’s lightshow. ↩
- You can read or watch the Hodinkee feature on Roni and his truly exquisite vintage Patek collection. ↩
- I’m referring to Veblen Goods here not in the proper economic theory sense of the term, wherein goods are increasingly sought after as their prices increase, but rather in the way know-nothing needle dicks improperly use it to feign coolness while deriding things outside of their means. Believe it or not, it’s a thing. ↩
- Sentimental because her mother was gifted a very similar two-tone Datejust by her father when they were the same age we are now, and which her mother has worn as her only jewelry watch for the last 30 years. ↩
- Y’know, that old Water Malone trick. ↩