The #49 bus route and Vancouverites

Bus #49 at UBC loop | Photo by Stephen Rees

Bus #49 at UBC loop | Photo by Stephen Rees (via flickr)

The most revealing experience of Vancouver’s cultural plurality has been, for me, the daily ride on bus route 49, connecting South Vancouver to UBC. Firstly, I was amused by the fact that at a corner on Knight Street, a KFC, a Chinese restaurant and an Indian caterer were all neighbors. I then had the idea to count up the churches of different denominations as I passed by. Conclusion: in terms of beliefs and food, the Vancouverites are spoiled for choice. A Baptist church translates its schedules in Spanish, a Lutheran church announces a next Mass in Mandarin and another one in German. On the way, one also meets a Buddhist temple, a Korean Presbyterian Church and a “Liberty House of Worship,” which presents itself as a multicultural church. On the bus there are various skin colours and different shapes of eyes. The headscarves stand alongside the turbans. Within this plurality one feels like a citizen of the world, all making the same daily round trip while sharing the morning drowsiness or the evening weariness.

This colourful picture gives a certain charm to the city. I was lucky with my individual experience as a young traveler living in a shared house with roommates from different countries, and working with students of diverse backgrounds, to move from cultural cohabitation to cultural exchange. And it is through meetings and discussions that I tried to catch the diversity of the city.

When I arrived here, my first reflex was to ask my colleagues where they came from, thinking that I had to with workers of foreign nationality: an idea based on their physical appearance. But I decided to stop asking such questions since I often got the following answer: “I am from Vancouver.” The cards are redistributed and the references are not the same for a European. Here we meet, for example, English-speaking Canadians with Asian backgrounds, Asians who are Canadian, but whose mother tongue is Mandarin, Asian students learning English, English-speakers from Quebec, or Australian travelers from South Africa for whom English is a second language. This plurality of complex origins looks like a good antidote against stereotypes: it reminds us that it is always simplistic to treat the person in front of you according to one dimension of his or her identity only, here the cultural dimension. To some extent, we learn tolerance by living in this city, a freedom given to everyone to define him- or herself, without preconceptions about what he or she should be or what he or she is. I haven’t met a Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Mexican and Slovakian, but I’ve met a Jordan, Helen, Kim, Heyjin, Michael, Kopano and Kristina, each with a unique story about Canada and Vancouver.

And even though everyone has a unique story with the city, it seems that being a Vancouverite means something and that the inhabitants, as different as they are, share some habits in common. As a foreigner, I was surprised to see a pronounced taste for the sportswear fashion style during the day, contrasting with hyper-sophisticated outfits during the night. I was also surprised by the piercing institution. I was taken aback by the wide range of choices when you order a coffee that make it difficult to pronounce certain orders without taking a deep breath: “Decaf latte with almond milk, vanilla syrup, unsweetened, extra foam, very hot, please.” In addition to these fun observations, diffuse courtesy and relaxation make the interactions pleasant. The “thank you” shouted to the driver from the back of the bus, the ease with which discussions with strangers can be started, the immediate reflex to help someone who finds him- or herself in trouble and the calm kept in public transportation, where I rather used to grumble and push, are all elements that make you love this city. A city where everyone seems to feel at home.

Translation by Hakim Ferria