First impressions

Now that I have been in Vancouver a few months it’s time to jot down my first observations, experiences and reactions, to record how they differ from my usual surroundings. These are the signposts that guide my understanding of the place in which I find myself.

I have been lucky since my arrival in this great cosmopolitan city. Many people have opened their arms to me without question and have confirmed the rule that Canadians are very warm and appealing. On the first evening I was kindly helped by a bus driver who first offered me shelter from the torrential rain that pelted in guise of welcome, then showed me the stop I wanted as well as the direction I needed to go. Alone in the dark, wrestling with my big suitcase and backpack under a driving rain, I didn’t meet a soul until I reached my hosts’ front door, and they welcomed me warmly. I stayed with them for a few months before deciding to try my wings and get closer to my downtown workplace.

Exploring the city and its surroundings, I am fascinated by the views from the Skytrain, the light reflecting on the glass buildings, and the cultural diversity that makes up and enlivens various neighbourhoods. All those sounds and movements are enhanced by the ever-present water and the mountains on the horizon.

As time goes by, I am compiling a list of all those small day-to-day occurrences that nobody notices after a while. Here you must line up for the bus, and if the driver considers that the maximum number of passengers has been reached, he asks you not to get on. You only have to hope the next one won’t be too full. The custom is to thank the driver before getting off at your stop, which is signalled by pulling on a cord that runs the length of the bus. If you want to send a parcel or do anything related to postal services, you go to a drugstore that has a post office. Keys go into the hole upside down in most locks, but there can be some exceptions.

When you stroll along the streets, you may meet a person in a T-shirt and flip flops and another wearing a winter coat and lined boots. Generally, people apologize all the time, which leads you to do the same without noticing. Not long ago, someone stepped on my foot and we both apologized! Vancouver’s international image is that of a green city, yet fruit and vegetables are wrapped in plastic, and plastic bags are handed out by almost all stores. I am also appalled by the number of single-use plastic cups I find scattered just about everywhere.

Canadian culture revealed on a bus. | Photo by AE Creations

While driving, you can turn right on a red light, with a few exceptions, and there are four-street corners equipped with four stops signs. When you go to the cinema, you could watch the film twice, so comfortable are the seats. When you go to a concert, you have to put up with the comings and goings of concertgoers who get up and come back, making a whole row do the same, in order to get a glass of wine or beer.

The kitchen ranges have immense, turkey-size ovens. Tradition has it that if you buy Brie cheese, you must serve it on a plate, surrounded by crackers. The notion of “apéritif” does not exist; however, you can have an “after-work” with your colleagues as early as 5 p.m. Being on time means being fifteen minutes early.

The list goes on, as Vancouver is a city of contrasts, captivating and full of life. So, I am going right back to my observation post.

Translation by Louise Dawson