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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: I landed in Canada with my old fears

We were invited to a cultural show organized by our community’s cultural association soon after we moved to Canada. We had joined the association as a way to get to know members of the community and were hoping to meet other newcomers and exchange ideas and information with them.

The event was held at a suburban hotel on a Saturday evening.

In late November, so it was already rather cold. Or, I should say it was nippy for old-timers, but positively freezing for us as we had just moved from warm and sunny Muscat. So we arrived at the venue dressed for the weather, wearing our newly-purchased winter coats and hats and mitts.

The young girls at the check-in desk looked a little amused, and told us there was a coat check.

To begin with, we were unfamiliar with the term.

Coat check? What did they have to check our coats for? We weren’t sneaking any snacks inside – though my wife has been known to do that in cinema theatres, refusing to pay the exorbitant price for popcorn! – as dinner was on the agenda for the evening.

One girl explained what it was and I turned to see others leaving coats at a counter. Not heavy winter coats like ours, mainly light jackets and shawls, etc.

Now I was in a real quandary. To leave or not to leave our coats there?

What if we left our coats there and someone really liked them?

Enough to leave their own and walk away with ours?

Now you must understand where this doubt was coming from.

One leaves one’s footwear outside temples. In India, I have lost expensive shoes this way, having removed them to go inside, and coming out only to discover they were missing.

This is not as uncommon as you might think – I know several others who have had a similar experience. One friend talks of how he was asked to check in his expensive camera at a palace-museum. It had vanished by the time he returned after the sight-seeing tour. A frantic search ensued, but he never got his camera back. He was told to file a complaint, assured there would a compensation, but the fact remains that some of us are justifiably wary of leaving our belongings with strangers.

My wife knew what I was thinking and whispered that we should keep our coats on. We could always drape them on the backs of our chairs later if we got too warm inside.

But everyone was leaving theirs at the coat check and I didn’t want to look too weird, so I decided to risk it.

With my wife muttering audibly about how we’d lose them for sure, and did I really want to spend more money at this stage in our settling in, we removed our coats and handed them to the girl at the coat check.

She handed us a token that we would return to retrieve our coats.

“We get the same tokens for our shoes, remember?” my wife said, not too convinced of the efficacy of the little piece of paper.

But when it was time to get our coats back at the end of a truly enjoyable evening where we met many interesting people, there they were, safe. Over the years, we’ve left our coats at countless coat checks. Even at those events where you just hang your coat on an unmanned communal hanger, with no token, we’ve always found our coats. Now when I sometimes spot a newcomer hesitating by a coat check, I assure them that it’s safe to take their coats off!

– Bhaskar Ratnaswamy

Posted: Mar 3, 2013

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