Vancouver Culture Shock

The first thing you’ll probably notice about Canada: it’s really nice. Vancouver especially is just really, really pleasant. The streets are spotless, the people are friendly and the air is crisp and clean.

In essence it’s the complete opposite of China. Which I was arriving from, smelly and tired after 20-some hours of traveling (fun fact: I left Beijing at 11:30pm and arrived in Vancouver at 7:30 pm, meaning I actually traveled back in time to get there. Because I’m hardcore like that).

As I sluggishly wound through customs my brain went into new-country auto-pilot: I need to exchange money; I need to find the sky train; I need to do this while looking confident enough so that the touts will leave me alone.

Except- wait. I’m in Canada. There are no touts. I can just ASK that nice looking gentleman over there where the closest ATM is. Wow this is easy. And weird. Even weirder: their public transit works on the honor system. I just came from a country where people can’t even be trusted to search the internet on their own, and this place works on the honor system.

Sometimes your impressions of a place are colored by your own personal history. In this case, after 6 months in Asia, I found myself unable to judge Vancouver as anything but NOT Asian. I wanted to recognize the city as a unique place, but I couldn’t get over the fact that the traffic was so quiet, and nobody was staring at me and- wow!- there was pizza!

Unfortunately I spent most of my time in town tied up with conference activities, or desperately trying to sleep off my jet-lag. It wasn’t really fair- because Vancouver is clearly a gorgeous and unique city in it’s own right. Glassy skyscrapers harmonize beautifully with craggy snow-capped peaks, and there is fresh blue water everywhere. It was only on a smooth summer evening boat cruise around the harbor I was able to fully take in the beautiful beaches, parks and vistas.

Culturally, it’s got a distinctly West Coast vibe that I fell in love with in San Francisco last year. There are tons of cool little shops, dive-y looking bars and kids with spiked hair and lip rings panhandling for change on the corner (even the panhandlers are polite in Vancouver, I marveled). Mere days after I left the city would erupt in riots over their Stanley Cup defeat, a fact I still can’t reconcile with the upbeat happy people I saw on the street.

I didn’t get to do Vancouver right though. Instead of appreciating local food I was drooling over chicken wings and reviving my love of Diet Coke. I was marveling at being able to cross the street without fearing death, instead of admiring the closeness of nature. In my rush to get home I missed out on seeing most of the sights, as well as nearby Victoria and Whistler. More so than most places I’ve been, I need to go back to this city in order to really appreciate how awesome I just know it is.

Thus, until next time, my final conclusion about Vancouver has to be: it is most definitely NOT China.

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20 thoughts on “Vancouver Culture Shock”

  1. It sounds like you got some kind of reverse culture shock! I felt the same way when I came back to the USA from studying abroad in Spain. There aren’t too many differences though. I can’t imagine going from China to Canada. It must’ve been mind blowing!

  2. …and then they rioted…which of course no one does like that in China though sometimes just buying a ticket at the train station can feel like your in the middle of a riot!!!

    Vancouver does look beautiful! Though I must say that’s not the first thing that pops into mind when I think of that city, oh no! The first thing that pops into mind is Michael Buble, he can croon to me in Vancouver any day!

  3. It was great to finally meet you in person during your trip to Vancouver!
    Hopefully you’ll get more time to explore the surrounding areas on your next trip to YVR! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. I heard great things about Vancouver. I hope to move there for a couple of months next year!

    I hope you have a chance to go back again and see all the sights!

  5. Having did the opposite (moved from Vancouver to Asia), I repeatedly found myself comparing the two in my early days here.

    It wasn’t even one of those apples and oranges kind of things. It’s more like comparing biodegradable coffee cups with….robotic dinosaurs. (That was the first thing that came to mind and I know it’s a bit of an analogy stretch… but it’s all I got).

    Although I’m no longer making those comparisons, Vancouver will continue to be one of my favourite cities on the planet (and this may or may not have something to do with it’s “free” public transit…)

  6. I think where you come from definitely has an effect on how you view the next place.

    I moved to Vancouver from Halifax (east coast of Canada) and found it unfriendly, expensive, pushy (when it came to boarding a bus or train at busy times), found all of the pan handling hard to deal with on a daily basis, the night life bland, and the rows upon rows of glass condos characterless. After 6 months I was homesick, and after almost a year and a half I was back in Halifax!

    My sister however (who also grew up in Halifax) went to Uni in Ottawa, then lived in Wisconsin for 4 years, then moved to Vancouver, and she loves it! Go figure.

    I now live in London (and love it) so my original theory that I didn’t like big cities went out the window, and when ever I’m back visiting my sister I am reminded occasionally as to why I left.

    1. It really is funny how different people can see such different things in a city! London is actually my favorite as well, but I do have to say the Vancouverites are much friendlier than Londoners!

  7. I love reading your perspective on Vancouver after being in Asia for so long! It kinda makes me think of the city differently. It’s too bad you didn’t have more time there.

  8. haha I’m pretty sure that Vancouver is the only place in Canada that has the metro running on the honour system; I found that weird too :p

    Great post! Come back to Canada soon ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Someone suggested Chinese food to me and I practically shouted NO!

      I mean, I’m sure it’s great in Vancouver, but damn I just wanted a hamburger.

  9. Glad you enjoyed your short time in Vancouver. I think after jetlag (and time travel) it’s really hard to really see, or appreciate a city. I’m lucky because Vancouver’s just a short flight from where I live, so I didn’t feel any pressure to see everything at TBEX. If you come back you should definitely go to Victoria, it’s a really nice, charming city.

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