Vancouver is a Cold and Unfriendly City

culture, personal 10 Replies

I’m an immigrant to this city, though I’m legally a citizen. I moved here in May 2006, and I knew precisely one person prior to my arrival (my brother, Christopher). I moved here from Ireland, a country known for gregarious socialising. In the years since moving here, I’ve encountered a wide variety of people, have a large number of acquaintances, and a couple of circles of friends. Occasionally, I hear someone complain that “Vancouver is a cold city” or “it’s difficult to meet people here”.

To be frank, I can’t see that as anything other than bullshit.

Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities on the planet. It’s a population of over 600,000 people, over 51% which is made up of visible minorities. What kind of hubris does it take to declare that half-a million people, from almost every country on the planet, are cold and unfriendly? How many of them could one have possibly interacted with? After living here for 8 years (minus one-and-a-half living in Japan), I’ll bet I’ve not met even five percent of the people who live here. Such broad and sweeping statements are not indicative of a reflective thought process.

Are there unfriendly people here? Of course there are! There are plenty of people who are brusque, and plenty who are assholes and worse: even if only 1% of the population were made up of such, there’d still be 6000 assholes wandering around. You’re bound to run into them from time to time. But the question that’s front and centre for me is: what are your expectations of the people of Vancouver that they are failing to meet, such that you label the whole city as unfriendly and cold?

A few people have made the complaint to me in person, and it almost always seems to centre around people on the street and bus not talking to them, that when they try to strike up a conversation with their fellow commuters, they are met with abruptness, silence, or cold glares. And yet there’s a certain level of entitlement embedded in the idea that you are somehow ‘owed’ interaction from other people in the city. Your fellow commuters are going somewhere, they have lives and concerns of their own. Even if they’re not nose-deep in a book (or engrossed in their electronic devices), even if they’re not wearing headphones, you are not entitled to their attention. I’m often engrossed in my own thoughts on the bus, thinking about my job, or a student I’m going to meet with, or the date that I just left, or a whole variety of things. While I do try to make an effort to be cordial to anyone who disturbs me, it’s an effort to be cordial to the person who simply assumed they could butt into my mental space at that time. There is little different here from the 15-year-old guy getting mad at the person who rejected him, it’s just simple narcissism.

Moreover, there are an *extraordinary* number of social events going on in Vancouver  all the time. If I were looking to meet people (as I often am), the website has 39 events scheduled for Saturday, May 17th, within 5 miles* of me. The number of attendees range from 1 to 98, and they are all within a fairly small radius, for a total of 496 attendees. That’s just under 0.1% of the population of Vancouver*** looking to hang out tomorrow, nevermind any other day, and only using this one website.

For those folks who are committed to declaring Vancouver to be cold and unfriendly: stop bothering people when they’re busy, stop bothering people when they’re going some where, stop bothering them when they haven’t decided that they want to talk to other people. In short, stop stepping on other people’s bounderies, and then blaming them for your transgression. If you *really* want to meet people, to make friends with folk, take a few minutes out of your life and go look for other people who share the same disposition are yourself. Your inability to find them doesn’t mean that Vancouver is cold and unfriendly, it means you need to familiarise yourself with the (many and varied) tools at your disposal.

*I can’t figure out how to change this to kilometres**.
**Seriously, Chrome, your autocorrect for this is “kilometer”? Fail…
***The area I’ve selected probably catches a little bit of Burnaby too, but the point stands.


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10 thoughts on “Vancouver is a Cold and Unfriendly City

  1. Nigel Fish

    I agree with you…mostly.

    First off, your initial argument saying that it is bullshit when people complain that it is “hard to meet people,” I completely and wholeheartedly agree, and anyone saying this simply doesn’t know how to use the internet to find hordes of people with similar interests, who will meet you at a variety of events. Are you into Video Gaming? Running? Rock Climbing? Skepticism? BDSM? Jesus? There is someone out there who wants to talk to you about it.

    However, I think Vancouverites are more unfriendly, at least toward strangers in the public environment, than in other cities. I’m not talking about the example you used of striking up a conversation on the bus, I would find that equally awkward almost anywhere in the world. I’m not stating that I feel it is unfriendly when I try to strike up a conversation, as I agree that stranger’s do not owe you their attention.

    What I am saying is that I find it unfriendly when I, on a brisk walk through the park, say “Good Afternoon” or “Hello” in passing and never once, over the dozen times I’ve said it, have I ever gotten a response. I feel that this result is completely the opposite of when I would take such walks in my hometown, where usually I found myself getting utterly irritated by having to say Good Afternoon in response to every goddamn person walking by. Courteous bastards, who the hell do they think they are anyway?!

    So, okay, maybe I’m not saying people here are more unfriendly per se, but they certainly do not engage in some of the minor courtesies I’ve definitely encountered elsewhere. I’m not complaining about this mind you, I don’t really think it’s that important, but the cringing and ground-looking I get when I even say “hello” *IN PASSING* seems a little bit unusual compared to where I’m originally from.

    (note: the reason I’ve only said “Good Afternoon” a dozen times is because I started doing that after I read this article for shits and giggles, and the total lack of response forced me to report my findings :).

  2. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    I hear what you’re saying, specifically about greeting people on the street, but that’s not my experience here. I suspect that it varies by neighbourhood too. In any case, I think it comes down to deciding to define ‘people responding to a ‘hello’ in the street is friendly, people not responding to that is unfriendly’.

    I think that this whole notion has to be situation in the context that is Vancouver, with the abundance of religious proselytizers, the hordes of Greenpeace/Oxfam/whoever solicitors, and the hundreds of people who have been made homeless and have turned to walking up to people to tell stories in order to afford a meal. I know that in my own case, if anyone appears to be walking in my direction (as opposed to obviously passing), my first response to any kind of ‘hello’ is a ‘oh shit, what do they want from me now….?’. I think that this is a reasonable response to the frequent solicitations we experience in this city, and I’ve never experienced this level of solicitation in any other city in the world (except Tokyo, where restaurant staff walk around outside to herd customers into their establishment).

    I agree that it would be nicer if people were more open to smiling and greeting other folk while out walking, but I disagree that this has anything, at all, to do with ‘friendliness’. ;)

  3. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    A slight expansion on my last point: you may or may not have seen Crocodile Dundee, where he’s in New York? One of the comic scenes is Mick Dundee walking down the streets of New York saying ‘hello’ to everyone he passes. And it’s hilarious because, in the context of a major metropolitan area, that’s just weird. ;)

    I can’t find the exact video I’m looking for, but here’s another one. It’s a running joke in the movie.

  4. Elieno

    I’ve found that Sask People are much more socially advanced than Vancouver people, and i”m not generalizing, because I’ve experienced both places, they’re much more trusting and warm and helpful. ” Because as the joke goes , Vancouver’s like a beautiful woman with nothing to say ! Te he te he te he !!! Very
    Low key people with undeveloped emotional expression !!!

  5. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    i”m not generalizing, because I’ve experienced both places

    Actually, you are generalising: the most you could say is that the people that you met in Saskatoon were more ‘socially advanced’ (whatever that means) than the people you met in Vancouver. When you are talking about the people of Vancouver beyond the people you met, that is the very definition of generalising.

  6. Ped

    Your experiences are not the norm. Many people find vancouver stuck up, and hard to make ” friends”. That being the key word. It’s easy to make acquaintances, but try to maintain any sort of friendship with these same people is very hard. No follow up. It’s a very clique place. Those circles don’t seem to welcome ” newcomers”. Maintaining any sort of contact is very difficult. Can’t say I’ve ended up at many parties after the bar here. Whereas in other places I’ve dwelled, invitations come easy. Here, they want to know who you know. Meetup groups are great. I agree with you there. But just because I like running, doesn’t mean I want to join a group of yuppies running together in a pack. And many meetup groups are business socials which are great as they serve a function.
    Since the Olympics came here, this city has become expensive, and busy. It’s just changed. For some reason, the city enjoys closing music venues , while allowing the Donnelly group to proliferate. The city closes early as well. Some Bars are open till 2 but the sky train runs till 1. So night life here is limited fun.
    You talk about hordes of culture. Again you’re right. But it’s not the same type as in toronto or Montreal. In vancouver , there are many first and second generation immigrants who don’t like to blend in and tend to stick to there own culture. Whereas out east, cultures seem to share in there collective.. It all makes for a very strange vibe for me. I’ve been here for 6 years. And I have made a couple friends it’s true, but still find it lonely here…. I won’t likely be planning to stay a seventh year….

  7. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    Your experiences are not the norm.

    No, my experiences are different from yours. I know many people here with similar experiences as mine. You are confusing ‘vocal opinion’ with ‘widely held opinion’.

    I’ve never, *ever* been asked “who I know” when getting to know people, and I’ve interacted with folk all over the Metro area. You appear to have met some terrible people, and have assumed that they are representative of Vancouver.

    It sucks that you’ve had a bad time here. Good luck with wherever you decide to move to.

  8. Lois Patterson

    I agree that there is absolutely no shortage of events, including many that are free or low-cost. If you cannot find anything of interest, look harder, ask people, or expand your interests.

    But although I know lots of great people around Vancouver, I know that Vancouver is not as easily welcoming and chattily friendly as some places I have visited in the Midwest or Texas or Mexico. So for newcomers (and old-timers too), although this does put a burden on you, you’ll have to work at being more overtly friendly than the norm.

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