Is Vancouver a Sociable City?

Not really, no.

To the casual observer, Vancouver appears to have it all.  Beautiful scenery around every corner, the promise of an active lifestyle, some of the best hiking in the world, lots of art and culture and many other attributes that often have it competing with Melbourne for top spot on the Economist’s annual report for the most livable city on the planet.  And there is very little that would cause anyone (outside of Melbourne city limits that is) to argue with that result.  However, with one in four Vancouver dwellers admitting that they find it difficult to make friends, and one in three claiming that they are lonely (The Vancouver Foundation Study), it would seem that Vancouver is not as ‘livable’ as you might think.

Vancouver has earned itself a reputation of being, cliquey, unfriendly and unwelcoming to newcomers.  ‘Unfriendly’ and ‘unwelcoming’ I don’t necessarily agree with.  On a superficial level, people are generally very friendly and I’ve never been made to feel unwelcome by any Vancouverite.  The issue, I feel, tends to be getting past the superficial.  People are outwardly friendly, but there is rarely any follow up and real friendships are difficult to form.

It’s not just me, I swear!

This phenomenon is not recent observation, nor is it unique to my experience.  In 2012, The Vancouver Sun published a five part piece on social isolation in the city.  That’s right, five part!  When the province’s most prolific broadsheet dedicates this much time and space to the issue, we can reasonably assume that there may be something afoot.

Wait ’til you hear what Toronto said…

I’ll be honest and say that this detail had been brought to my attention before I left for Canada back in October 2012.  And again when I arrived in Toronto, many times I was forewarned of the socially reclusive creatures I would encounter should I travel too far West.  Almost certain that no one had given this snow capped, beach footed, beautiful city a fair chance, I naively decided that this place is exactly where I would make my home for the next year or so, open armed, ready to befriend anyone who would have me.

Not this gal…

In fact, I was so determined to prove the doubters wrong that I decided that I would find an apartment with Vancouverite roommates and really try to integrate with the city’s locals.  Well, sixteen months down the line I live with three Brits and our friend group consists of people from Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia, USA and other parts of Canada.  My few friends that I do have who are from Vancouver tend to be people who have travelled and lived overseas themselves, and so are more likely to reach out.  However, this isn’t a problem unbeknown to the locals, people from Vancouver acknowledge this issue and often feel it’s effects as much as newcomers do.  It seems that no one, domestic or imported, can really put their finger on the cause.  A quick Google search will spit up numerous articles on the subject, suggesting various theories, with no solid conclusion.

My opinion…what was that about assholes?

I believe that the ‘Vancouver Effect’ has become something of a self-fulfilled prophecy.  People are automatically guarded and distant, because they believe that everyone else is guarded and distant.  In the dating game, guys don’t approach girls as they come across as stuck up, girls come across as stuck up as the guys seem uninterested and unfriendly…and so the cycle continues.  I have even found myself getting caught up in this chicken and egg scenario, not following up on new contacts due to the belief that it probably won’t amount to anything anyway.  Just one lame-ass theory, of which there are plenty more out there I’m sure.

Social skills…hello!!

Having been here for over a year now it’s inevitable that my friends and I have become woven into this odd social fabric.  It wasn’t until a recent trip to Victoria, over on Vancouver Island, that the stark contrast between Vancouver and the ‘outside world’ became very apparent.  After checking into our hotel, my friend and I decided to go out for a couple of drinks.  It was a Friday night and in Vancouver this would usually mean deciding on one of the chic, mellow bars, being shown to our table by our server, having what I’m sure would be a very stimulating conversation between ourselves, and then maybe trying our luck at a nightclub.  Well imagine our surprise when we entered Big Bad Johns…a loud, lively crowd, random pictures and artifacts on the wall, bras hanging from the ceiling, a barman who actually served drinks at the bar…and a ton of people who actually wanted to talk to us!  We had a fantastic night and left Victoria the next day reassured that we had managed to salvage at least some of our social skills from our pre Vancouver days.

Where are you going? Come back!

With all of this in mind, the last thing I want to do is scare anyone away from Vancouver who is thinking of making the move.  It has taken more effort and time than it has in the past, but I have made some really good friends.  I do love this city, but it’s the people I have met who have made the experience worthwhile, and that’s what I’ll miss when it’s time for me to leave here.

My Advice for Vancouver Newbies

  • Arrive in Vancouver armed with the knowledge that it can be a little socially backward at times.
  • Make an effort with other travelers who are in the same position as you.  Hostels are obviously ideal for this.  If you’re not staying at a hostel, make sure you check out the Beaver Bar at the Samesun hostel on Granville Street.  Once you’re feeling brave, you might want to give the Cambie a try…definitely one place in Vancouver where you might wish people were a little less friendly 😉
  • If you have any kind of hobby or skill, definitely use that to break into niche communities.  Look out for postings in coffee shops, Craigslist and Facebook
  • Meetup.com is a popular way to gather troops here, I made some good friends from one of the groups on there when I first arrived
  • When looking for somewhere to live, definitely go for living with at least one roommate.  Also, be willing to sacrifice the quality of the place if the roommates seem cool, they could be and most likely will be your gateway into a social group.
  • Enjoy this amazing city, and if you manage to crack the Vancouver social code, be sure to share!

I’d be really interested to see what other people think about this ‘phenomenon’.  If you’ve experienced it, think it’s all BS or just want to tell me how awesome/turd-like this post was, please vent away in the comments! 🙂

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