Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 10.14.15
Stanstead, Quebec


I feel inspired! Let's have a drink.

There was a time when I felt it would probably be a good idea if we let our local SAQ [QCbooze store] clerk know we were going on vacation; you know: so he wouldn't worry about us.

This is what happens when you live in a one-hooch town, where there's only a single place to buy your wine and booze unless you cross municipal boundaries or state lines. Beer is different. You can buy a case at the dépanneur, then mix it up with a two-four from the grocery store, maybe another dépanneur across town, the gas station, and then start the cycle all over again. In a small town, this is known as "fooling no one."

Eventually you have to load up your trunk with all those empties and schlep them to the grocery store to get your deposit back, and then the jig is up -- the Shamefaced Redemption, if you will.

If you're a frequent flyer of your town's one liquor store, on the other hand, there's no place to hide. The most you can hope is that the clerk on Saturday is different from the one on Wednesday, because, yes, you care about the SAQ clerk judging you on your booze consumption, and don't pretend you don't.

She knows too much. She probably remembers more about what you drank on the weekend than you do. ("It was red, there was French on the bottle. 'Chateau Choufleur' or something. And a wheelbarrow filled with sponges? That can't be right -- It went well with grilled meats but not very well at all with Doritos, believe me.") The clerk knows your tastes, and she knows that if she keeps Tequila Rose liqueur in stock there will be at least one soon-to-be-sick so-and-so who'll take it off her hands.

Thankfully, most SAQ clerks are nothing but discrete. Most. One Saturday afternoon a few years back, as I left the store with four bottles of wine (or maybe it was five, who can remember?), the clerk called out, "If you run out, we close at 5:30." The audacity! He's lucky we didn't complain. Or run out.

It's one thing for your local clerk to know (and secretly judge) your drinking habits. But last week I learned that the state is now snooping in my liquor cabinet.

The SAQ has introduced the snazzy "Inspire" card. On the logo, the second "i" is upside-down, because, obviously, it's drunk. The société describes the program as "a new personalized experience that evolves along with your preferences and enhances your discoveries." I'll get recipes and recommendations and notices of specials and... aww, who am I kidding? I buy booze, I get points.

I now have a snazzy card in my wallet that I get to whip out with a flourish at the SAQ clerk -- we’re best buds! For every $1 purchase, I get five points; 1000 points is worth $1 that I can redeem on SAQ products. In other words, for every $200 I spend, I save a lousy buck. At least with my Subway card I get a free six-inch. But did I mention the card was super snazzy?

What does the SAQ get in return? They get to know all about me, my purchases and preferences and probably whether I went back for seconds at the free sample table. Already, to earn "150 BONUS POINTS" I filled out my "taste profile" online. I led them to believe that I like all types of wine, except port, because that way madness lies.

I told them I preferred vodka, rum, gin, tequila, and liqueurs but not creams. Alas, I couldn't tell them why I didn't like creams; there was no field where I could write "because of a traumatic curdling incident as a child." I also said I prefer scotch, brandy, and eau-de-vie, even though I had to look up what the heck that was.

I continued lying as I filled out a survey and said that I liked wine oh-so-much, like 10 out of 10, that I was perfectly fine drinking wine alone and that I bought 22 bottles from the SAQ a week, plus multiple purchases at bars and drinks with friends, which is just like drinking alone if you have your cell phone.

What will the state do with this information now? It's all confidential, the SAQ reassures me. Sure. And if the cops pull me over next week for a random breathalyzer test, it will purely be a coincidence.