Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 12.08.09
Stanstead, Quebec


The unwritten rules of postering

We live by countless unwritten rules. For example, if you're at the checkout with a cart full of groceries and the person behind you has only a handful of items, you let that person go ahead, even if that person has questionable taste in cereal.

Another unwritten rule is that the person you let ahead should not then proceed to purchase lottery tickets and/or pay for them by debit card. If that happens, you are allowed to throw a tin of Beef-A-Roni at the person. This last bit is not an unwritten rule but I think we can all agree it is fair and just.

Still another unwritten rule is that if someone waves at you from a passing car, you wave back, even if you have no idea who that person is. Otherwise word will get around that you are a snob. (Note: This rule applies only if you live in a town of fewer than 4000 people.)

And then there is this unwritten rule: You don't mess with another person's posters.

I'm talking specifically about posters on public bulletin boards.

Bulletin boards are critical information centres in small communities, providing publicity opportunities for individuals, community organizations, and other cheapskates.

Your typical bulletin board might include a notice that Bad Kenny and the Bedsores will be playing at your local bar this weekend, which is actually not so much a notice as a warning.

If you have a hankering for potlucks, turkey dinners, and other occasions involving cottage cheese, then look no further than your bulletin board.

On bulletin boards, you can find notices people have spent whole minutes designing to announce everything from tires for sale (slightly used) to houses for rent (slightly haunted). Many of these feature the phone fringe -- those dangling bits of paper along the bottom, each one printed with a phone number to call if you want to learn more about naked yoga classes.

Most bulletin boards are crowded with posters and notices fighting for space and attention. Here's where the rules come in. You can overlap another poster but you cannot cover pertinent information. You can share pins. You can rearrange to make room for your poster. You can remove an expired poster. But you must never, never take down a poster prior to the scheduled event.

As part of my work, I have to hang posters announcing the Vermont Humanities Council's monthly First Wednesdays lectures held at Stanstead College and alternately at the Goodrich Library in Newport, Vt. This may seem like a menial task but I minored in poster hanging in university, so this is right up my alley.

One of my key spots is the bulletin board at the Stanstead IGA. Over the past year, someone has been removing my posters. It really, really ticks me off.

There are a couple of possible theories. One is that the perpetrator was once romantically involved with someone at the Humanities Council and now flies into a rage at the mere sight of the VHC symbol, recalling the betrayal and heartbreak of seeing his or her love in the arms of another at a lecture on Emily Dickenson's little-known giddy period.

But I think the posters are being taken down because they are for an English event.

Granted, I have no real evidence to support this, but if I'm right, let's think about the thought process:

"Mon dieu! An English lecture! How dare those anglophones promote cultural and historical literacy. We may tolerate those Townshippers' Association people and their "Expressions" but not this! If the dwindling English community gets word of this lecture, they might congregate in lecture halls, perhaps by the tens or even twenties to hear about the relevance of Plato in the modern age! Zoot alors! Once again, Québécois sovereignty is threatened by the meddling of those infidel Vermonters. I must expunge this poster from this grocery store bulletin board tout de suite!"

I hope I'm wrong. But then, that's an unwritten rule of Quebec's linguistic reality: when in doubt, go with paranoia.