A breath of fresh air on the Pacific Coast

A Skytrain employee helps a transit user at Nanaimo Skytrain Station.

A Skytrain employee helps a transit user at Nanaimo Skytrain Station.
Photo by Presley Perswain, Flickr

Immigrating to Vancouver was a near and dear project to me. It meant a well needed escape from a Parisian life that isn’t as glamorous as you might think.

It only took me a few days to get a first feel of Vancouver and its inhabitants. I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy it is for Vancouverites to converse, joke and share personal stories with perfect strangers. A simple look or smile can trigger a lasting conversation.

A diverse population can prompt an interest in others, so why doesn’t this seem to apply to Parisians? There are many immigrants in Paris too, but for some reason Parisians and suburbanites have a hard time being open and friendly with people they don’t know. Individualism comes first, it is what drives us. We are not used to being helpful, caring or to chitchatting for the sake of it.

The first time I took the SkyTrain in Vancouver I was completely disorientated. I did not ask for directions as I was certain no one would waste a minute of their precious time to help me. I was astounded that three people actually stopped by to help me figure out the SkyTrain system.

When I describe Vancouverites, I now use words like “civic-minded”, “kind”, “generous” and “accommodating”. What a change for the lifelong Parisian that I was until not so long ago!

First of all, I am now forced to observe rules, for my own good. For instance, I try hard to become a considerate pedestrian who obeys the orange hand and the white walk signal at each intersection. It will take me some time though, to break my typically Parisian pattern of not abiding by any rules. Then, because I feel so secure in this city, I am not as cautious as I used to be. I wander around town with my iPhone in hand without the fear of being robbed, I walk in empty streets at 3 a.m. without checking compulsively if I am being followed, I don’t feel exposed to aggressive behaviors and I generally feel safer than when I was in Paris.

Also, I enjoy Vancouver for its diversity and the fact that you can meet people from all around the globe. Diversity is part of the city’s identity. For me, Vancouver is the ultimate cosmopolitan city. With the many intertwined communities, people in Vancouver tend to be more open, and to better understand and appreciate cultural differences.

I learn a lot by comparing and getting to know my new friends’ cultural twists. I find myself steering the conversation towards cultural subjects to learn about the different lifestyles and ways of thinking of people around me.
In essence, I consider Vancouver to be a school of life. The city’s cultural abundance can be seen at every street corner.

My outlook is clearly subjective since I am a newcomer here, a stranger of sorts, as opposed to when I’m in France. If I had been a foreigner in Paris, I would probably have been exposed to more diverse communities.

Another striking difference here is that Vancouver cultivates an ubiquitous cultural mix. Diversity is more valued here than uniqueness. In Paris, we try to comply with the norm. We become what society dictates to us. For instance, a person generally fits in more easily if they display specific physical traits or dress, and this is true for both adults and kids alike. A person who is overweight or who is not dressed in the latest fashion will instantly be scoffed at and will feel ashamed that they do not look like everybody else. I have not witnessed this sort of pressure in Vancouver. Each person can uphold their own cultural uniqueness because diversity benefits everyone.

Freedom has a price, and for me it was leaving Paris. Is Vancouver really one of the most livable city in the world? Yes, 100%, and I invite all French people who are tired of their reprehensible fellow citizens to come here for a big breath of fresh air. They will rediscover what it means to live in a society where variety is more important than uniformity. A society where difference is not despised but cherished.

Translation Aurore Thiercelin