Beyond tolerance, a simple fact

A culture of tolerance.|Photo courtesy of Bill Taroli

A culture of tolerance. | Photo by Bill Taroli

Before my astonished eyes there they stood. Two lightly bronzed men with brilliant smiles, smartly dressed. With disarming ease they displayed a bond which left no doubt, these two shared more than a simple friendship.

To see two gay men hand in hand or kissing in public in Vancouver is nothing unusual or shocking. Since my arrival in January I’ve encountered many such couples and will undoubtedly see more. But the couple that drew my attention this April afternoon were as convincing as they were imaginary.

I gazed into the storefront of a well-known ready-to-wear chain downtown when all of a sudden I noticed, towards the back, the display for the summer collection portraying two fictional lovers. To the side another display: same graphics, different clothes, different models. A man and a woman this time.

In Canada and in particular here on the edge of the Pacific, the acceptance of differences has gone beyond the stage of tolerance. It has become fact. I cannot imagine the number of people in France who would widen their eyes and sigh when stumbling across such an ad. Based on the homophobic discourse last year before the adoption of the same sex marriage act, I think the number would fill BC Place even on a Canucks game night.

France may well boast of being the home of the Rights of Man but sometimes forgets that not everyone there is singing the same tune. In comparison, Vancouver plays the avant-garde role. Here nothing is more banal than to be tattooed head to toe, to have torn jeans and a pierced nose or to wear a veil. Wedged between sea and mountains the city stirs your imagination. Vancouver fascinates me.

Never mind my sketchy English that contradicts what I had been told: “Immersion? Nothing better!” or “It’s a matter of two or three months. Four at the very most!” I’m now in my fifth month and despite many intensive private lessons at a Coal Harbour school, mastering the language of Shakespeare remains as unattainable as the tip of one of those glass skyscrapers. Unable to express myself with ease and nonchalance, I instead contemplate the world around me.

I observe those travelers who thank the bus driver upon exiting, the dog walkers picking up after their pet, the athletic types with shapely calves and yoga mats tucked under their arms. I notice all the bike paths and the multicoloured garbage bins placed side by side, each bin destined to receive a precise type of refuse. Getting it right as sorting your garbage can be more complex than you think in Vancouver.

However I also notice countless used plastic cups – with straw in lid – thrown away daily. I look upon the homeless on the sidewalks and the customers eating more than they can possibly consume in certain restaurants. The same ones that buy their groceries in an oversized XXL format. With a bitter smile I pay my monthly rent which I know to be higher than elsewhere in Canada. “Mild weather has its price,” I’ve been told.

Multicultural Vancouver, green Vancouver, Vancouver the showpiece of consumerism. You may hear these truths over and over again but they will mean nothing to you until they have been experienced. Vancouver isn’t paradise but is worthy of a stop along the way.