Is Vancouver an unfriendly city?

On the bus on my way to work this morning there was a piece in the “24 Hours”? daily in which the reporter asked both men and women how easy it was to meet other people in the city. (I forget the exact wording, but you get the idea.)

Among the small group sampled, the consensus goes something like this: People you meet on the street (and I’m casting a broad, poorly sewn net here) are just generally not that outwardly friendly. In Montreal, according to one woman from the article, strangers you pass on the sidewalk are much more likely to make eye contact and smile. In Vancouver, chances are they’ll look the other way.

Now I don’t know if this is a recent thing or if I’ve only recently noticed it, but I think she’s right. Not only downtown, but in the suburbs too, the more I look for the friendly smile from passer-bys, the harder it is to find. Upon returning from a recent trip to a Midwest US state, the effect was more pronounced. People down there seemed “friendlier”? and strangers on the street were at least more likely to acknowledge that you actually existed.

Anyway, off the bus and on the SkyTrain platform that same morning, an interesting coincidence: As I was walking up the stairs, a train was arriving in the station. And because my morning schedule is such that if I make every transit connection seamlessly I arrive perfectly on time, I naturally started running (well, jogging) to ensure I would get on the busy train. See, the problem is you have to run all the way to the front car because the back few are always packed.

As an aside, why don’t people more naturally distribute themselves to the different cars? I never really understood that. I mean, you’ve got people pushing to cram themselves into one car while there are still free seats in another”? But I digress.

So I’m jogging to the empty car when this woman (younger) who was standing waiting to get into one of the busy cars stepped back slightly and her handbag swung directly into my path. I’m fairly athletic, but it was too late to alter course so I ran straight into it, knocking it out or her hand and a few meters across the platform. Ooops.

Naturally I look back and yell “I’m sorry”? as she yells “hey!”? Now the big decision. The doors are about to close at any second and I’ve still got a little ways to go to get to the empty car. I can easily read the look on her face: She wants desperately to yell something like “Fuck you jerk!”?, but thankfully she doesn’t “? I’ve already attracted enough negative attention to myself this morning. So do I go back and pick up her bag or get on the train and make it to work on time? As I sat down at my desk at 7:59, I couldn’t help but feeling a little disheartened at my decision”? I’ve never really thought that’s who I was, yet that split second decision seems to speak lots about who I’ve become. Maybe I’ve been living in Vancouver for too long.

10 Comments


  1. Visitors

    April 17, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Been in Vancouver for three days now, immediately noticed the non-friendliness and feel sad that in a city so beautiful, surrounded by so much beautiful nature, I won’t miss Vancouver at all because there is NO HUMAN CONNECTION to be found. I actually have to get out of the habit of saying “Good morning” because I end up feeling like a schmuck each and every time I get ignored. Too big? Too many drugs? Too much money? Too little money? Whatever the explanation is something important is lacking here. I’ve been to 35 countries so I know what’s out there… thanks for your blog.

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  2. Ann

    October 16, 2009 at 12:42 am

    This is soooo sad..I was thinking of moving there..are they really unfriendly or just scared?

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  3. Timbo

    April 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    … well I have to agree that Vancouver is beautiful but the people are not welcoming, and not interested. I have lived in four different cities gobally, and can objectively say my option is that Vancouver has no soul. The people live in indifference to others. It is sadly a Canadian anomaly. NIMBY

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  4. John

    July 30, 2010 at 9:30 am

    It’s not only Vancouver. I’ve lived in a number of places across Canada, and Canadian cities are generally unfriendly (paranoid, depressed, peevish to be more descript). But now I’m sure I’ve found the most unpleasent spot in the entire Country – Nun’s Island! It’s a small suburb of Montreal and my wife and I were drawn there by the green spaces. Big mistake. We’re just waiting for the end of our lease.

    The problem is generally found in the larger cities, but medium size cities can be pretty nasty too – e.g. London Ontario. If you plan to escape the city one day, and settle in a more scerene location like PEI or New Brunswick, please make a extra effort not to corrupt these folks.

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  5. Saverio

    October 19, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Been in Vancouver for 18 mths now. I disagree that Vancouver is unfriendly. Coming from London UK I thinkit is very friendly. However that’s where it ends. People here are very clicky, they have this fake friendliness about them, they”ll tell you to “have a good day” but that’s where it ends in other words I’ll be friendly to you but only at arms length.

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  6. Kerry

    July 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I have been in Vancouver for a week and I am disgusted by how UNfriendly it is. I am serious as a heart attack when I say even the dogs snubbed me. If you pet them they look at you like it’s tacky. My son and I joke about that.
    But seriously, the passive aggressive nature is getting on my last nerve. I went to get breakfast at Urban Fare in Yaletown and the guy on the other side of the counter is staring at me. He says nothing. I finally say “I was hoping to order some breakfast.” He says “we open at 7”. Confused I say, “it’s 7:03”. The guy gives me a dirty look “I’ll be right back.” UNREAL I get this treatment EVERYWHERE in Vancouver. EVERYWHERE. People look at you like they smell something bad. They are never wrong and they don’t need logic to argue with you, even when you’re the customer! I’m staying in an expensive hotel & when I asked if housekeeping could please make sure they leave towels in my bathroom (I tip well & have to pay extra for the service since it’s technically a condo) I was told rudely, “they do that if they have time” WHAT?! You had time to take my money you better FIND time to leave me towels like every other hotel on the planet. I’ve had aboot enough of this.

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  7. Andre

    January 26, 2012 at 6:48 am

    I moved to southern Ontario in 2009 from the Northeastern US and I have to say I find all the cities in this region to be excessively unfriendly. I’ve lived in London and Mississauga now, and in both places I found people to be reserved, passive-aggressive (ALWAYS have a chip on their shoulder but will not show it outright), and unhelpful. It’s really disappointing because you would think that Canadians would be more relaxed and friendly than Americans but once you actually get up here you realize that that’s not the case at all – if anything it’s the complete opposite. I now look forward to every opportunity to get to the other side of the border just to be treated like a human being.

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  8. Tessa Marie

    December 26, 2012 at 1:14 am

    I have been doing my research on if Vancouver is friendly or not, because I am a friendly person and like to meet new people, but hearing that its clique-y, unfriendly, all this stuff, is really scaring me. Its one of the cities I have chosen and think about moving to, I want to go visit there first and see what its like. This is really scares me, I wanted to move there to fulfill my dreams, but I’m also told by people you’ll have your nice people and jerks everywhere, so, I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to take the risk and figure it out for myself, I’ve heard from some people that Vancouverites are very laid back and friendly, while now, I’ve been hearing they’re not. Its sad, there’s so much talent there and its a beautiful city, I think their shows, movies, actors, and actresses are better and more talented than the USA. My favorite actor lives in Vancouver, originally from LA, and is very friendly to his fans. :-/.

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  9. Elysha

    December 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Vancouver is extremely unfriendly. I’ve travelled to 55 countries on every continent all of my life, and I’ve lived in around 15 countries. I grew up first in Toronto but lived in Vancouver since my teens, but I’ve now moved partly out and lived partly in Europe. I’ve lived a little in London in fact. I’m not crazy about it but personally I find it to be friendlier than Vancouver and except for a minority of nasty people, much more polite and helpful as well (I’m a woman, but one interesting thing I found in London was that it was impossible to carry my heavy bag up and down the steps of the London metro stations anywhere in London, and I did this many times during the time I lived there, without a man or even a woman offering to help me or even just picking it up and carrying it for me without even first offering; I’ve never had this experience in my life in Vancouver despite having a permanent back injury. Londoners also don’t have the Canadian defensive attitude, and are much more patient with the things that come up in daily life. I also find them to easily get into conversations with complete strangers on the metro/tube and at bus stops and to extend invitations and start genuine friendships there as well). In general I find the UK to be much friendlier than Vancouver. Although I’ve lived in Vancouver since I was a teenager, my only real friend here is not even Canadian and is one of the few people I’ve met who lives here but has not adopted the local cultural behaviour in an effort to fit in and “be cool”. My experience with Vancouver is that the people are extremely cold and seem “empty” (I once told a friend on visiting here from abroad that they seemed like vampires or the living dead, i.e. soulless) and devoid of feelings on the inside.
    They are however extremely superficial. They pretend to be friendly and welcoming and as someone mentioned they make promises to visit but never follow up on them. This comes across as extremely arrogant. I’m a friendly person who makes friends very easily wherever I go and live and that includes cultures extremely different from my own, as well as cultures (like the UK) which are similar to mine, but it is almost impossible for me to make real friendships in Vancouver, no matter how much time I give it (after all, I lived here since my early teens). I find that Canadians are a bit cold in general, but I made friends much more easily in Toronto than Vancouver. And by friends I mean real friendships. I’m very social, so if I wanted to when I’m in Vancouver, I could socialize and make a lot of very superficial friendships that never ever get close no matter how much time I give them, but I no longer can be bothered since ti is draining and disappointing, If anyone does become a real friend here, that person is not local (but even many non-locals, I find, try to fit in and be superficial like them).
    Canada has a bad name throughout the world for its coldness but I’m happy to see that the rest of Canada is at least known to be more friendly than Vancouver, which also has a bad name in Canada. And no, I don’t think it is the immigration or the newness of the city. Many cities throughout the world are much more multicultural than this one and a number of cities are also newer, but they don’t see this problem. And Vancouver has been this way at least since I was a teen, so it is not a new thing.

    Incidentally, northwest Europe and Japan’s people are initially reserved, but in a different way from Vancouverites since once we get to know them, they gradually open up and form real friendships. Conversely, Vancouverites are superficially friendly with fake smiles and so on, but never ever get close no matter how much time you give it or what you do or don’t do.

    Oh, one more thing. I think someone on this or another website said that Vancouver is “safe” and “as safe as Hong Kong”. No, I do not find Vancouver to be safe and being a woman I should be able to judge. I can’t walk around comfortably after dark here even in its poshest areas (and I live in one of the “better” parts of Vancouver although I’ve been everywhere here). I have been followed on the streets after dark and once had a man attack me at a bus stop with a bottle (this was also in a “good” area). Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world, I’ve lived, there, but I’ve also lived in Dubai and Japan and visited Singapore (I lived in southeast Asia) and they are safer than Hong Kong in my experience. But most countries I’ve travelled and lived in are safer than Vancouver. And where I live in Europe is much safer than Vancouver and I can walk anywhere alone there in the day or night and feel safe. Vancouver has also experienced shootouts in the streets and restaurants of its decent residential areas, armed robberies and so forth. It is also as someone mentioned on another site, full these days of derelicts. In the countries I’ve been to, homeless people and beggars don’t make us feel threatened, but they can in Vancouver; some will become very belligerent if we don’t give them cash, some will try to trick money out of bystanders, and some go into restaurants in “good” parts of the downtown or the central branch of the library to aggressively and persistently accost people for money and even become angry if they don’t get it. Unlike in other countries, none of the staff escort them out. London has many more homeless people than Vancouver but most I met (and talked with) were illegal immigrants and often educated, not on the street by choice as druggies (I’m sure they have their share, but the more visible ones are the way I described). Where I live in West Europe, I have seen no one living on the street. There are a few beggars, fewer than in Vancouver, but almost mostly illegal immigrants and not threatening. So no, I don’t find Vancouver to be “safe” and it is also quite depressing.

    This is all a big shame since Vancouver is a very beautiful city, and except that it lacks the culture, history and beautiful old buildings and streets, it resembles Oslo in Norway.

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  10. Dave

    June 1, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    If you are not from Vancouver don’t bother coming here, it doesn’t matter who you are if you don’t know five cool people in the “scene” then don’t bother. Everyone is superficially friendly like give you directions but the scene is thick here, very fake superficial people all trying to climb the cool ladder witch makes it really uncool “who do you know?” is the most frequent question. Go to any other city where people at least will give you a chance.

    Reply

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