Guest post from Dan, writer and co-founder of wheelhouse.
The Boy Scouts have a nice motto: “Always Be Prepared.” This is good advice for any scenario: moving to a new city, going camping, your first day in prison or maybe Hebrew school…bottom line is it’s good to know what’s waiting for you ‘round the bend.
I wish I’d remembered this when I moved to Vancouver last year. I was keen but woefully unprepared – in Boy Scout parlance, I’d have been less the gung-ho Junior Ranger with a fistful of Merit badges, and more the wheezing, overweight trooper who’d prematurely mowed through his granola rations and forgotten his ear medicine. My first days in Vancouver were rough, is what I’m saying.
But in the year since, I’ve grown to love this damp, mangy dog of a town and being, as we are, at the start of 2014, I’d like to help Rain City’s new arrivals start the year fresh with what I didn’t have last year: a list of “pro-tips” for how to not only endure the first few months in this charming, seaside wunder-burg, but how to straight-up slay them. Sound good? Alright, Boy Scout, let’s get you unpacked and settled in.
1). Leave. That’s right, re-pack your bags and leave Vancouver. Do it now. We all make mistakes and you’ve made a horrible one. Don’t let the mellow, Coastal vibe fool you; like a mercurial drug kingpin or a tranquilized silverback, this city projects a welcoming, easygoing vibe, until it doesn’t. Get out now.
2). Manage Expectations. OK, maybe you’ll want to stay – maybe you’re tougher than I was; it’s entirely possible. Well, you should start by accepting that you’ll be priced out of happiness. Rent and home ownership here aren’t just expensive; they’re horrifically, eye-bleedingly exorbitant.
Oh, but you’ve found a semi-affordable hovel in which to hang your hat, and you say you’ve budgeted for Life In The Big City? Alright hotshot, well don’t go flouncing and cartwheeling along the Sea Wall just yet – we’re just getting started.
3) Get High [on yourself]. I had some UBC psychologists run the numbers and they confirmed it; the only way to emotionally survive in this town is if your self-esteem, upon touching down at YVR, is already registering at an ‘11’ out of 10. Sorry, science doesn’t lie.
What I mean is you’re going to need to be cool with roughly 89% of Vancouverites being happier, better-looking, in better shape, richer, and yet, somehow, more sincere and altruistic than you are. It’s unfair and it makes no sense – sweet, teenaged, skateboarding Jesus – it makes no goddamn sense. But that’s the way it is and if you aren’t, in fact, bursting at the seams with “positive vibes” or whatever new-age sorcery the locals attribute to their nauseatingly eternal optimism, this place, which countless surveys have reminded us is the Wellness and Positivity Capital of Canada, will eat. you. alive.
4.) Beware The Wellness Totem Pole. Yeah, speaking of wellness, it’s baiting you here at every turn and you should avoid it like the plague. Not since the creation of the Military Industrial Complex has there been such a complete, top-down totem pole of insidious, bankrupting, soul-crushing activities, so neatly packaged for modern consumption.
Where do I even start? Crossfit; Juicing; Yoga; Pilates; Yoga-lates; Public Salsa Dancing– on their own they’re suspect enough, but together? To quote Iron Maiden’s most famous PSA: “Run For The Hills.”
You see, “wellness” is merely the 21st century’s snake oil; a promising cure-all that the public blindly gobbles up because, just like snakes, yoga mats, to pick one example, look rad when you carry them around, and everyone wants in on the fun. But let’s be realistic; how many of us are really better off doing yoga than we’d be doing simple calisthenics or, better yet, no calisthenics? Exactly.
On the upside, Vancouver women can wear the hell out of a pair of yoga pants, and that’s nice. Also, those Employee Vision Boards – on display at every location of a nameless, multi-national Yoga-wear chain – are some of the funniest things I’ve ever read. This is where employees predict what their lives will be like in the future. Here’s an excerpt: “Paula’s Diary, October 2018: I pick up my kids from school in our biodiesel hybrid Jeep, and bring them home for our daily family backyard yoga session followed by nourishing, organically homegrown kale smoothies.” Take note: if you didn’t reflexively dry-heave just reading that, then it’s probably too late for you.
5.) Start Drinking. Specifically, start drinking something called “craft beer” because it’s a really big deal here. Vancouverites love talking about “hoppy” (read: rancid) microbrews and I don’t get it. I mean I get that there’s no accounting for taste and people are allowed to like what they like, but so much of craft beer sounds like just a big make-work project for the chronically overeducated, over-inked, and under-skilled, or maybe just people who, you know, haven’t heard of whiskey.
Sure, aside from concoctions like “Autumnal Apricot Pumpkin Hefeweizen” being disgusting and the answer to a question nobody asked, craft beer is, compared to other things like eczema and child brides, pretty innocuous stuff. Then again, that’s what people said about fascism in the 1930’s. Still, it’s what people do here, so if blending in is at all important to you, bottoms up, bro.
6.) Dive Into The Melting Pot. Vancouver greets you with a rich tapestry of cultural diversity and you should sample all of it. The only problem is it’s not actually a melting pot; it’s a TV dinner.
Let me explain: when you peel back the plastic film that covers a microwave TV dinner tray, you see every flavor and texture corralled into its own little walled-off area; mashed potatoes stay here, creamed spinach over there, Beef Stroganoff stays waaay over there. There is no intermeshing of flavours – no melting pot.
Similarly, peel back Vancouver’s weatherproof Gore-Tex membrane that covers all of us, and you’ll find each culture is similarly – weirdly – sealed off in its own part of the city. People from different ethnic backgrounds don’t really mix and mingle, and it’s damned bizarre.
It would be poor form to blame one ethnicity for this phenomenon, but assigning blame is great sport, so I’ll go ahead and offer up my take based on purely anecdotal evidence: Vancouverites of Saxon, Anglo, and Norse descent – or the group cultural anthropologists commonly classify as “Whitey” – just don’t seem terribly keen on having a multicultural city and no, the fact that our white folk consume disproportionately large quantities of sushi and edamame doesn’t count.
Sorry, that was kind of heavy.
7.) Go Outside! Countless locals will assure you, there’s no better way to discover Vancouver than getting outside and ripping a hit off of mother nature’s most potent opiate: fresh air. Well, to them I would say, respectfully, “fuck that noise.”
Look, the problem with telling everyone to “enjoy the outdoors” is that it presupposes we would all rather be exploring, say, the majestic North Shore mountains and not be, say, indoors, elbows-deep in Cool Ranch Doritos and binge-watching episodes of Manimal. Incidentally, here’s a pop quiz: what’s cooler, spotting a hawk in its natural habitat, or spotting a human on TV who can can TRANSFORM into a hawk? (that’s what Manimal can do.) Exactly.
No, for those of us not up for physical activity, Vancouver’s culture of seemingly mandatory outdoorsiness is oppressive at best and, at worst, a recipe for a grisly end: a sprained ankle, cardiac trauma, bubonic shingles (look it up dude, I swear) or, worse still, more outdoorsiness. Yes, for those of us pale, brittle-boned sofa-jockeys, the outdoors are a non-stop gauntlet of pain and regret. No gracias.
Example: I hiked the Grouse Grind over the summer and while it wasn’t horrible, it was far from enjoyable. Also, early on in my hike, I saw a man receiving first aid treatment for a heart attack. That’s what outdoorsiness had netted him – his heart was literally under attack. Thankfully the man in question ended up being OK, but I doubt he’ll be slapping on his hiking boots again anytime soon. Lucky guy.
8.) Don’t Believe The Hype. I’m only going to say this once: The Rain Is Not Your Friend. And yet, you’ll see countless Vancouverites walking around, come mid-March, on day 239 of consecutive grey, drizzly gloom, with their faces plastered all with the same dazed, manic stupor, while they repeat to anyone who will listen how much they love being in the rain.
When you encounter such people, you’ll naturally arrive at one of two conclusions: 1) these people are full of crap, and/or 2) BC pot is seriously potent. But what you’re actually witnessing instead are symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, where a hostage, after extended time in captivity, forms a strange, empathetic bond with his/her captor – in this case, the rain is the captor. While you’re basking in that beautiful analogy I just dropped on you, remember, just because your purpose-built Wellingtons allow you to stomp in puddles like a small child, it doesn’t transform the rain into Magical Pixie Nectar.
Splashing in puddles is fun for, at most, 5 seconds, max, and then you realize you’d much rather be not wet, and instead on a beach someplace warm, staving off skin cancer, public intoxication/lewdness, or some combination thereof.
Oh, and FYI the best way to treat a friend or loved one suffering from said syndrome is to confiscate their rain gear, advise their local Mountain Equipment Co-op they are not to be sold anything, and then just wait for them to come clean.
9.) Kiss Spontaneity Goodbye. Imagine that you were only able to buy condoms at a handful of retail outlets, operating only at regular business hours. That would be horrible, right? Well, now replace condoms with beer. (Don’t actually do this because neither is a replaceable commodity nor should beer and condoms ever be mutually exclusive purchases, but I’m making a bigger point here: you can’t buy beer anywhere but at a liquor store. I realize this is not strictly a Vancouver issue, but it is the case here and, if I haven’t already said so, it is 100% not OK.)
But really, why is getting home at 11:30pm, to a beer-less fridge, and not being able to run down to a gas station or corner store to quench your thirst, an acceptable thing? What about waking up at 4am after a scary dream, opening the door to a beer-less fridge to drown your fears, and not being able to run down to a gas station and pick up a 6’er? Or how about waking up at 7am to greet the day with an insatiable thirst, opening the door to a beer-less fridge— OK you probably get the idea. Look, it may not be Prohibition, but it’s kind of worse, in its own way.
10.) Grab Your Climbing Gear. What up, Cliffhanger? I hope you like heights and have tons of rope, because you’re going to be repeatedly scaling everybody’s “friendship wall.” What I mean is people here are notoriously closed off and wary of meeting new people, making it hard for newcomers to forge new friendships with born-and-raised locals. When you couple that fact with the impressive level of fitness of Vancouverites, it seems like so many folks here would literally rather run a triathlon than have to make a new friend. Maybe it’s the gloomy weather; maybe it’s Vancouver’s reputation for being a “wired” city (which is, as far as I can tell, just a polite way to describe a citizenry who don’t know how to interact with something that doesn’t have built-in WiFi), but there’s definitely an issue here.
Sure, once you do scale the wall, people are nice; it’s all roses and fair-trade coffee – but it shouldn’t have to be so tough to get to that point; for one thing, climbing harnesses give me wicked-bad chafing. And now you know that.
Well, there you have it, 10 tips to help newcomers acclimate to Vancouver. Yes, I can hear you asking, “hey guy, if it’s so bleak here, why haven’t you followed your own advice and skipped town?”
The answer is every city has its shortcomings and it’s also true very few other cities have as many appealing traits as this one. I’ll come right out and say it; Vancouver is a great town.
But when you’re beginning any kind of new relationship, it’s just nice to know what awaits you, warts and all, and we don’t necessarily need another story about the inspiring grace of those white belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium or the virtues of paddleboard handstanding by Spanish Banks (“I totally engaged my core!”).
So what I hope I’ve done here is knock this city down a few notches off its impossibly high pedestal and, as a result, made it more approachable for newcomers.
Because the truth is Vancouver is like an impossibly beautiful lingerie model – but the one who had one too many Labatt 50’s (in my utopia lingerie models drink Labatt 50) and has fallen off her bar stool, at which point you realize, “Look! She’s only human; she has flaws. I can do this; I can go talk to her. I can live in Vancouver.” And you should.
Just don’t make me go hiking again.
About the author: Dan Reitman is a 34-year-old writer and co-founder of wheelhouse, a creative agency. He has pale skin, unresolved self-esteem issues, and a healthy contempt for both the great outdoors and anything artisanal. He also really does like Vancouver.