I have lived most of my life in Eastern Canada and also spent almost six years in France, but the welcome I have felt since moving to Vancouver in Oct. 2013 has made an impact on me. Having lived in two countries has given me a slightly different perspective. I lived in Paris for five years and in Lyon for one, so I notice certain aspects of Vancouver’s culture that others might not.
Let’s start with the English language, one of Canada’s official languages. In France, if you are a foreigner, you are expected to integrate into the local culture quickly. The French are extremely proud of their language and their culture, and it is up to foreigners to adapt to them – not the other way around. Newcomers will find themselves corrected at the smallest mistake, and those who correct you are not embarrassed because they are trying to help you.
In Vancouver, foreigners are not expected to adapt completely. As far as the English language is concerned, we hear it spoken in many different ways. Foreigners’ accents are not judged, since there are so many of them, and even if you make a mistake, you will not be corrected automatically. People generally accept that foreigners will speak their own language more than English, if English is not their native language. They understand that a foreigners’ English will not always be perfect. It is not a problem as long as you make yourself understood. You will not be judged as you would in France, where written and oral expression is essential and often a way to rank you intellectually and socially.
I also notice that Vancouverites are very polite and patient in general. I was surprised one evening on the Skytrain to see people letting all the other passengers get on before them. I checked each passing car and saw the same behaviour repeated over and over with each train’s arrival. It was nice to see such civilized behaviour, especially during the peak hours. There was no commotion, negative exchanges or signs of impatience. Politeness and respect for others was certainly there.
Unfortunately, in France it is more of a free-for-all mentality. In a similar situation, things would have turned aggressive. My French students told me often that they noticed an ongoing decline in respect and civility. Respect and civility is something I truly appreciate in Vancouver, for I suppose it makes daily life more agreeable and less stressful.
I often take the bus and, again, I am always a bit surprised when people thank the driver before getting off. I find that Vancouver’s amicable and civilised personality reveals itself just a little bit more when I witness this kind of behaviour.
The final thing I notice about Vancouver is the absence of judgement towards others, and how open everyone’s minds are. People accept that you can change your life at the age of 50, whether it’s a matter of going back to university or moving away. Whatever it is, people don’t criticize what you do and often they become interested in it.
I feel welcome in Vancouver and I find it is a special place with an exceptional quality of life. It is at times like this that I’m sure I made the right choice by moving here.
Translation Chris Herron