Another advantage of working at the tulip festival is that nearly every visitor who comes is happy to be there. They arrive with a smile on their face and exclaim over the wonder of those acres and acres of colour spread like a deep-hued rainbow on the gently rolling valley floor. Thousands and thousands of visitors came to the festival this year, mainly due to the beautiful weather on both weekends, and they, too were a rainbow of colours and cultures. We staff did a rough calculation and decided that, overall, about seventy-five percent of our visitors were of Asian descent. The other twenty-five percent were made up of those of Eastern European, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Anglo-Saxon, Dutch and other Western European nationalities. One gets used to interpreting the questions asked by those with strong accents or as is the case sometimes, those with no English at all.
|The weekend lineups|
Early on in the festival's history, Kate noted the great attraction the fields had for the Asian population and had a friend make up signs in Mandarin. Every second sign on the fields is in Mandarin and at the entrance gate we have a sign in Mandarin explaining the different levels of the entrance fee. One day during the first week of the festival, a group of seniors arrived to enjoy the sights. The women were friendly and interested in everything, and the group went for a walk down the path which heads the rows of tulips. When they returned the man in the party came up to me. "Why are all the signs in Chi-NESE?" - he said it like that, with the accent heavily on 'nese. He was not impressed.
"Why sir, all the signs are not in Chinese," I said.
"Every sign at the start of a row of tulips that tells what kind they are is in Chi-NESE," he said angrily, " and so we couldn't read them to find out what kind they were."
I supressed a smile. "Oh, I'm sorry sir, but we have no signs which tell the individual varieties. Those signs simply say what every other sign says in English, to keep out of the rows and not to pick the flowers."
"Oh..." he said, "but why the need for Chi-NESE signs at all?"
"Because a huge majority of our visitors speak the language and a great many of them speak no English at all. It is a courtesy to our visitors," I said.
"Harrumph," he uttered, and moved a bit away from me to look at something else. While one of the ladies of the party purchased flowers from me, the man in question noticed the sign in Mandarin, which was taped to the table we use as a till for the cash register. "See?" he pointed at the sign, "This is what I mean - all your signs are in Chi-NESE!"
I thought of telling him that there were about five signs posted around the place that said exactly the same thing in English, but I decided not to proceed. He was obviously determined to find fault with our efforts to make our Mandarin speaking customers feel welcome. For the rest of the day, I was particularly friendly to our Chi-NESE visitors.
Like I said before, most of our visitors were lovely people who are enthusiastic, eager, friendly, and often jovial. Many of them come from Greater Vancouver, and many on bus tours. Although our website specifies the fact that the tulip festival takes place on a farm, and visitors should dress appropriately, many visitors wear the same outfit to the festival that they would wear downtown on Robson Street where there exist seven Starbucks and several high-end shops including Tiffany's. While we staff arm ourselves against the elements in jeans, gumboots, hats and coats, many of our visitors arrive in expensive shoes, delicate skirts and thin jackets. We had a few days of pouring rain during our second week and the fields became saturated and muddy in places. One bus tour arrived and the tourists wanted us to supply each of them with plastic bags to tie over their shoes. Another group asked if we supplied special shoes for all our visitors. I was tempted to tell them we were not, in fact, a bowling alley.
|slightly inappropriate footwear, though not quite as inappropriate as the |
"Vat's vis all the Asians?" She said it like she had a bad taste in her mouth.
"They love tulips, I suppose," I said cheerfully. And then I asked her where she was from.
"Yes, but before that? I detect an accent." I tried to be polite, and smiled.
"Poland," she said somewhat defiantly.
"Really? I've noticed a real increase in the number of Eastern Europeans visiting the fields this year," I said.
She paused. "Well...ve love flowers, too but..." she said hestitatingly.
On Sunday, I did not have to work, so my husband and I decided to circle the whole field, which I had not yet had a chance to do. I stopped to take photos about every twenty steps, happy not to have to worry about getting back anytime soon. We passed groups of tourists speaking a myriad of languages as we made our way in the sunshine. I felt like the tulip fields were a microcosm of the whole world that day, and I smiled at the wonderful impossibility of it.