Recently the Village Voice received a (long) fax from French-Canadian tourist Daniel Dõ detailing an unpleasant experience he had on the High Line. He and his friends brought a nice picnic, including some wine that was discreetly sipped from white porcelain cups. A High Line official told them to put away the wine, and Dõ wrote a letter to the High Line staff detailing his objection to the way he was treated. An excerpt follows (we’ve kept Dõ’s French-style quotation marks):
At one point, around 1:00 pm, a young lady (a not very tall black woman) who was obviously working for the High Line Park (she was wearing the polo with [the High Line] logo… but she never introduced herself) came to see us. Actually, she suddenly «appeared» next to our table and without any introduction, just said with a very unpleasant tone of voice: «No alcohol in the High Line Park. Or you pour it and drink it now, or you leave the park.» And she immediately quit. We were so shocked by the way she talked to us, not only because she was very rude, but most of all, because her attitude was totally at the opposite of the spirit of your wonderful place… friendly and peaceful.
Dõ and his fellow picnickers poured the remainder of their wine into one cup, and did not open their next bottle. But the mistreatment continued! As he wrote:
But, surprise, five minutes later two policemen came to us. They said that «someone» had complained that after «being advised», we were still drinking alcohol. They ordered us to pour the rest of our cups in the bushes right away, or we could immediately be arrested for disobedience to law representatives… But this is not the end of our wonderful picnic: a few minutes later, another member of your staff (this time a young white man) wearing the official High Line Park polo came next to our table with a digital camera: and without saying a single word (at least an ironic «Look and smile, guys!») he started taking pictures of us eating and drinking… water. Paparazzi? Not really: we could see on his face that his intention wasn’t to use those pics for a special exhibition in a Soho art gallery, but for the High Line Park’s records. Exactly like when policemen take pictures of criminals. Not very subtle, young man…
Quel horreur. We emailed Dõ to find out more:
Is it legal to drink outside in Montreal?
As I know, drinking alcohol in public parks (ex: picnic) and in the festivals/events areas is tolerated in Montréal. Policemen demonstrate a tolerance when people discreetly drink alcohol (ex: in little cups) with moderation and, most of all, when they don’t seem drunk…
and potentially trouble-makers. Of course, if you are laying down on the grass, totally drunk with a vodka bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag, policemen will come see you!
Could people clearly see you drinking alcohol?
No. As you can see on the picture attached (our picnic place is the yellow highlighted zone), our picnic basket was on the ground, just between the chairs next to the bushes.
When pouring the wine in our little white porcelain cups, the bottle of wine always stayed hidden in the basket : It could actually have been a bottle of mineral water we kept cold.
Also, there were many bottles of mineral water on our tables. To realize that it was a bottle of wine in the basket, one should have stared at us for a few minutes through the bushes, and try to find out if we actually were pouring water or wine (by the shape of the top of the bottle, maybe ?). But the point is not here: the point is the way we were told not to drink alcohol in the High Line…
Had you previously encountered public officials or the police in the United States? Had those experiences been different than what happened at the High Line?
I never before encountered public officials in the States (except at the customs in the airports !), and I must say the policemen who came to us were very kind (let’s say « neutral » !)… compared with the young lady working for the High Line who was really rude. Actually, I think the policemen were a bit surprised to see how « chic » our picnic was, and how « clean » we were :I am not sure that the High Line lady precised that to policemen ! But anyway, I will never know what’s the story she told them exactly…
Are public officials in Canada more polite than those you encountered at the High Line?
I wouldn’t say that. I travel a lot around the world, and for what I observed, every official has his/her own attitude. I sincerely believe anyone can be kind to the others…
And as I just wrote, the public officials who came to us in the High Line were not at all unpleasant or « not polite» with us… They actually were even nicer than the two members of the staff working for the High Line ! At least, more respectful and more polite…
What part of the experience irked you the most?
As I wrote to the High Line : it’s a wonderful place that lots of tourists want to discover. I dont’ think that the way we were treated gives a positive image of the park…
And as I said : no need to be rude and to treat tourists as criminals when you want to explain the rules regarding alcohol in the park.
What did you hope to gain by publicizing your experience?
Well, I just want the High Line Park team to realize that ATTITUDE is sooooo important, and that it is possible to tell almost anything to anyone : it depends of the way you do it…
You have strict rules ? Ok, no problem at all, I can understand that ! But why don’t you educate tourists in a respectful , polite and gentle way ? And not as criminals…
Remember that after the young lady and the public officials, one of her colleagues (a young man wearing also the High Line polo) came close to our tables taking pictures of us, without introducing himself or saying anything !
Would you return to the High Line?
Of course, I will go back to the High Line ! Fortunately, I am not the kind of person to judge the work of a whole team based only on ONE bad experience with one member of the staff. But I believe necessary that the « whole team » knows when some behaviors are not appropriate with the clients/tourists… However, if I get no news from the general manager of the High Line Park (as requested in my letter), I will be very disappointed… and I’ll might hesitate to encourage the park again by going myself again or by telling my friends to go there.
How do you feel about America’s laws on outdoor drinking?
Well, I wish that like many places else in the world, we can use our brain. As I often say in French (sorry for the bad direct translation) :
Rules are made to be respected, followed… and wisely adapted !
Go to Runnin’ Scared for more Voice news coverage.