The other day I had a conversation over coffee with a Canadian and another American expat about how Vancouver rates as a friendly city.
When I first moved here, I met a Montrealer who literally shuddered remembering the loneliness of her first two years here. “It’s a cold, even frigid, city,” she told me.
A Winnipeg native and a former client told me “Vancouver is the East coast of the West coast,” meaning it had the reputation of an impersonal megacity like New York.
My colleague suggested that if I’d expected a parade or a limo to welcome my arrival, then it was no surprise that I would be disappointed. Honestly, it’s not that. I’ve joined this and that, showed up here and there, made invitations and pursued getting to know people.
I’ve made numerous attempts to forge acquaintances, ending up not even to the point of friendship. With the people I meet here, 99 percent of the time our coffee or drink meeting results in no follow-up from their end. Maybe if I had young children I’d have more success, as so many people I meet are in that phase of life and probably caught up in it.
We live in an apartment building with a patio that allows us frequent contact with our neighbors on each side. On one side are neighbors who only acknowledge us if we initiate a greeting, and then scurry away to avoid any lingering conversation. If we pass them on the street or at the gym they avoid eye contact. On the other side, however, are neighbors who have offered to water our plants when we are away, loaned us books and have invited us over for drinks. Those friendly folks are the exception, I have to say. While I find Vancouverites polite, civil and laid back, they are not warm and outgoing, as a general rule. The concept of friendliness is rather undeveloped in my opinion.
What surprises me is when I hear even young people complain about the lack of friendliness. On a train from Vancouver to Portland, I overheard (he was drinking beer and was quite loud) a young man give several examples of how friendly Portland was compared to Vancouver. A recent study found that young people are amongst the most “sad and lonely” in the city.
It’s complicated. For sure, on a summer night there isn’t a pub or park that isn’t packed with groups of revelers who certainly do not seem lonely. Jericho Beach on a lovely day is swarming with clusters of families and friends picnicking and tossing frisbees. I’ve met some warm and generous people with whom I have made real connections.
In the coffee shop with my acquaintances, we speculated on possible reasons for the reputation of “no fun City.” I’ve heard that there is a deep fear of giving offense, given the potential for it in a city that is so multicultural. Perhaps the English reserve of its cultural DNA is responsible. One of my colleagues speculated that the city is lurching towards the future so quickly that it disorients people. I don’t understand that, but I’ll give it more thought. A speaker at a cultural event I attended said the city’s many distinct cultural enclaves keep people separate and out of touch with each other, and therefore prevent community. I definitely can see that. Maybe it’s just that Vancouver is so expensive and its apartments so tiny. It’s hard to socialize without dough or the space to hang out out of the rain.
There are a lot of freelancers and small studios here. We work from home offices, or in very small groups, and as a result circles are small. That’s certainly my case. When I think of the friends I’ve made over the years, most came from school or jobs I’ve held.
Making Vancouver feel like home will take more time, patience and effort.