Three Months in Vancouver

To the girl who caught me staring as she was crossing Robson St on Granville. ‘Bout a month ago now, some time in the evening, I think it had been raining that day. It’s unlikely you’ll ever read this, or recognise yourself if you did, but I just wanted to be absolutely clear if you ever did. I was not checking you out. When you spotted me watching and smiled coyly to yourself, that was not the reaction I was hoping for. What I wanted was for you to hurry the bloody hell up. You’d started crossing after the red hand had stopped flashing and weren’t even halfway across when the lights turned green, walking with a weird shuffle that barely put one foot in front of the other. I was hoping a judgemental stare would get you to cross a little faster, so that the poor motorists waiting for you to drag your slow arse across the street might get a chance to cross the intersection before the lights turned orange and red again. Alas my face is not the most expressive of mugs, and you maintained your crawling pace all the way across, smiling knowingly. It was fucking discourteous.

To their credit, and my surprise, none of the drivers being held up by this bird leant on their horns or vented some frustration. I wasn’t sure if that was because of stereotypical Canadian politeness or it was just that time of the day when everyone was exhausted and just didn’t give a damn anymore. Given my experience as a pedestrian dealing with Canadian motorists so far I’m inclined to guess it’s a bit of both, but more former than latter. Canadian drivers are so goddamn polite, using their horns more often than not to warn that they’re passing close by a pedestrian instead of as the (otherwise universal) signal for “get the hell out of my way” that I’m used to from back home. It seems like the greatest danger a pedestrian has to worry about are folk on skateboards (and they are bloody everywhere) and tripping over a homeless person camped out on a foot-traffic heavy corner. It’s a far cry from negotiating the intense and impatient streets of Sydney. An even further cry from some of the other cities I’ve visited. Like Rome, where you just cross the road and trust that the guy or gal in the speeding fiat has that unique Italian instinct that allows them to miss a crossing pedestrian by, to quote an old mate of mine, the width of a bee’s dick. Or Hobart, where I’m surprised people attempt to cross the road at all. Seriously, Tasmanian drivers see someone on a zebra crossing and they floor it.

If I had to describe my current state of affairs it’d be with the word ‘settled’. I’ve settled in at work, after a second move I’ve settled into a good house (and I’m not unsettling anytime soon, my bags are fucking heavy), I’ve settled into a loose routine around getting from one to another, I’ve settled amongst the regulars at a few bars and cafes that took my fancy. It’s been three months and I feel that I can finally claim I’m living in Vancouver instead of just hanging about and hoping stuff works out. I’m asking for time off and making plans to expand my experience in Canada. Hopefully Edmonton (Matildas game) in a month and Montreal (comedy festival) in July. Fun times.

But being settled also means that the parts of life that were novel when I arrived are now just irritating, and the parts that were irritating back home have lost the novelty of occurring in another country.

Cyclists catching the Skytrain (still a pretentious name). There are always the good ones, old hands at taking their preferred method of transportation on a necessary stretch of public transportation who know how to do so without inconveniencing anyone and inciting the anger of everyone around them. But there are plenty who simply don’t know how to take their bike on the train without nearly braining someone with their front tire (gotta love young hipsters), or simply don’t fucking care who they inconvenience by parking their bike across the doors or row of empty seats.

A collection of the young and well-intentioned collecting or advertising or something for the Red Cross at Granville Station almost every time I passed through, during the day, for about two months. Not normally something that would bother me, except they kept using a ‘conversation starter’ that began to get on my nerves. “Have you heard about the Red Cross?” When they finally stopped appearing on the steps just inside the entrance, presumably to some new patch of NGO-promoting territory, I was about ready to rip into the next person who asked if I had “heard of the Red Cross.” Like, “What, you mean an institution that’s been around for a century and a half helping people during and after wars and natural disasters that is rightfully culturally synonymous with humanitarian aide, relief, rights and donating blood? Yeah, I may have fucking heard of them. Has anyone not heard of them? Do you really want the money or blood or whatever from the kind of person who has never heard of the Red Cross?” I know it sounds stupid but it’s not a great sales tactic to accuse your possible consumers of ignorance and stupidity right off the bat. Hurts my professional pride you could say. Find something better guys.

Hare Krishnas playing accordions, singing their group’s name and dancing on the street was interesting at first since it’s a rare sight in Sydney (wow, that sounds really patronising), but is now just noise pollution and occasional cause of a bottleneck on the pavement (yeah, definitely sounds patronising). They’re not hurting anyone and they’ve got a right to proselytise, so power to’em, I’m not about to tell them to stop. It can still be a bit of a bother weaving between a crowd out enjoying the sun who’ve stopped to watch the rhythmic musical repetition of “Hare Krishna” when you’re in a rush. Suppose I’m less annoyed by the lady with the accordion than the tourists watching the show.

Shit, I’m not a tourist anymore, am I? I mean, I was never really a tourist in much of the traditional sense. I never really am. But I could at least call myself a tourist for a little while. Now I’m just another bloke living in Vancouver, getting annoyed by a gaggle of rubbernecking tourists acting like they’ve never seen a busker (or Hare Krishna) before.

Of course I still get to enjoy all the wonders of being a foreigner in a strange land. Y’know, like needing to have cultural references explained to you (say, a TV show that never quite made its way overseas) or being asked if other cultural references exist back in Australia (I have, for example, been asked if Aussies had heard of Pink Floyd). I know I haven’t got it bad, I’ve gone from one English-speaking country to another with a lot of shared history, society and culture. Still every so often asks me a question using a local phrase or for an object with some slang name and I’ve had to give a tentative “maybe?” then run off to find someone who can tell me what the hell they were talking about.

Meanwhile I’ve had to cut back on my own slang, lest no one know what the hell I’m talking about. I’ve also had to cut down on my heavier language. Calling someone a “cunt” round here is no longer a term of endearment (unless they’re an Aussie, Kiwi, Irish or, mostly, from somewhere on the rest of the British Isles). That’s not to say they don’t use the word, they’re just… not very good at it. Yeah, that’s probably the best way of putting it. Let me put it this way, while walking down the street I heard a local woman call another local woman a “darn cunt” (then spit at her). A “darn cunt.” Darn. Darn. Shit, I’ve mentioned before I come from a land where using the word in a variety of creative and contextually appropriate ways is practically part of the high school curriculum, but I ain’t ever heard someone say “darn cunt” before. Seems a bit too half-arsed to be a proper insult. I mean, at least go all the way and use “damn” instead of its goody-two-shoes younger sibling. Just, yeah, it stood out.

Mind you, I probably swore more than is socially healthy before I climbed onto the plane three months ago anyway so it’s probably not a bad thing I’ve cut back.

What’s surprised me is how many people have no bloody clue what my accent is. I kinda expected the Australian accent to be a little more recognisable than it apparently is. I’ve been asked if I’m English, Irish or Scottish more times than people have guessed Australian. My theory is that I’ve been speaking slower and more clearly since arriving, lest no one understand what the hell I’m saying (we speak very quickly in Australia, and how much you move your lips/open your mouths depends on what part of the country you’re from). I don’t mind it, and I don’t mind being asked where I’m from, I just thought there were enough examples of Aussie accents floating around in popular culture for it to be a little more easily separated from other English speakers. I guess, really, there aren’t. Aside from Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max there aren’t many Australian protagonists (or even many side characters that move beyond minor). Most North Americans have probably heard Australian actors speaking with constantly slipping American accents or vaguely Olde English sounding shouts than their natural accents. Experience and hindsight.

The weather’s getting better, sunnier, warmer. Most days this past week I haven’t needed to wear a coat out. Time to go out and do things other than barhop, I guess. Not sure what. There’s plenty of tracks to trek, I guess. Someone mentioned white water rafting. That sounds fun. Summer in Vancouver’s apparently filled with festivals and markets and general merriment. Better be fun, the locals have talked it up so much. I’ll still be barhopping. I still love barhopping. Will probably do a bit of that tonight. But I need to start doing things in the sun as well.

So, yeah, not the most exciting three months. I’ll admit that. Been working hard, weather’s been nasty on my days off, but life is good and Vancouver’s a fun city that’s apparently about to get funner. And it seems that there’s Tabasco sauce everywhere that serves food. I goddamn love Tabasco. I wouldn’t have realised that if I hadn’t come here. So if nothing else comes out of this stay, there’s that.

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