Every city has its share of unique quirks and Vancouver is certainly no exception. There is plenty to love about this city, just as there is lots to hate too. For those of us who call Vancouver home, we’ve come to accept many of these things as a matter of fact (even if we never stop complaining about them), oftentimes forgetting that visitors to our city might find them foreign, strange or surprising.
In visiting Tokyo years ago, I learned that it is completely inappropriate to eat your food while walking down the street. While in Florence, I learned that stand-up coffee bars for grabbing a quick espresso are far more common than the lounging cafe culture here. And if you’re not from around these parts, you’ve got a few things to learn about Vancouver before you get here.
West Side, West End, and West Vancouver
When you travel to just about any other major city in the world, you can expect the town to be carved up into sections and neighborhoods. You might have the north side and the south side if there’s an east-west river running through the center. And while we’ve got East Vancouver and West Vancouver, they’re not neighbors at all.
The West Side is more of the direct counterpart to East Vancouver, whereas West Vancouver is next to North Vancouver on the North Shore. The West End is the westernmost portion of the downtown peninsula, which is neither West Vancouver nor the West Side. That’s not confusing at all, right?
Street Names Changing at Random
You’re driving down East 49th Avenue in Vancouver when, without turning, you suddenly find that you are now on Imperial Street in Burnaby. You think that you’re on 12th Avenue when all the signs now indicate you’re on Grandview Highway. Or how about when you find yourself on the corner of Lougheed Highway and Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam?
Perhaps not unique to Vancouver but equally frustrating, many streets have this strange habit of changing names after you reach a certain intersection. Government Street becomes Austin Avenue, Knight Street curves into Clark Drive, and East 6th Ave turns into Great Northern Way, which turns into East 2nd, which turns into West 2nd, which turns into West 6th before banking into West 4th and finishing up as Chancellor Boulevard.
Wreck Beach Isn’t as Sexy as You Might Think
Speaking of Chancellor Boulevard, Vancouver does indeed have itself a nude beach by the University of British Columbia. Before tourists get all excited about trekking down to Wreck Beach for all kinds of sexy time, recognize it’s not really what you’d expect it to be.
Most of the time, no one is there and, even when there are people, many of them are fully clothed anyhow. And if you’re thinking that the hot girls who normally wear tight yoga pants are disrobing down at Wreck Beach, you’re in for a rude awakening.
The Mountains Really Are Right There
Many visitors to Vancouver know that the city is adjacent to a majestic mountain range. What many of them don’t realize is just how close these mountains really are. Cross either bridge to North or West Vancouver (see the first point above) and you’re practically already among the North Shore Mountains.
We’ve got Grouse Mountain, Mount Seymour, the Lions and several more, many of which are open for hiking, skiing and other outdoor activities. And yes, these mountains are very clearly visible from just about anywhere in the city, making it very easy to figure out which way is north.
A Modest Single-Family House Really Is a Million Dollars
Real estate speculation is a part of the daily conversation in Vancouver, whether or not you’re actually in the market for buying a home. Prices continue to skyrocket with plenty of people voicing their concerns over affordable housing and the influence of foreign buyers.
If you’re looking for a single-family detached house in Vancouver proper, you’re easily looking at a million dollars, even if it’s several decades old and in need of some TLC. Even in the suburbs, houses get into the 800k range very easily.
Not Everyone Is High All the Time
Yes, there are dispensaries everywhere these days. Yes, the annual 4/20 festival draws huge, slowly lumbering crowds in front of the Art Gallery steps every year. And yes, they’ve got baked goods to get you baked.
Despite having a reputation of being the Amsterdam of North America, not everyone in Vancouver is high on pot all the time. Just some of the time. And when they are, it’s really no big deal and no one bats an eye.
The Unspoken Rules of Umbrella Etiquette
It doesn’t rain all the time. Sometimes, it just drizzles. All day long. You just have to understand the standard rules of umbrella etiquette. If you’re the taller person, lift your umbrella above the shorter person as you pass one another. It’s just common courtesy. And shake off that umbrella when you enter a store, leaving it in the designated bin by the door. No one is going to steal it.
And since we’re in Canada, you should be apologizing profusely the whole time.
“Ethnic” Food Doesn’t Really Exist
Having grown up in this very multicultural city, I’ve never come to view any single cuisine as particularly “exotic” or “ethnic” in the traditional sense. Whether you’re going out for sushi or grabbing some souvlaki, it’s just another food option. We’re certainly no melting pot, but I feel just at home having dim sum surrounded by Cantonese speakers as I am scarfing down on a dosa at the Sri Lankan place on Kingsway.
A City of Immigrants
Don’t expect Vancouver to be particularly representative of the rest of Canada.
While visible minorities make up about 16% of Canadians, they make up over 50% of Vancouverites. I’ve been told by many a Caucasian friend that they’re the ones who feel like the minorities here. This also means it’s hardly out of the ordinary to find yourself in neighborhoods where English isn’t spoken at all.
All Things to All People
Whether you’re a nature lover or you prefer the concrete jungle, whether you like to indulge in high-end fine dining or you like cheap and cheerful, Vancouver’s got a little something for everyone. We’re a mosaic, patching so many cultures and subcultures together in as Canadian a way as we know how… with vegan, GMO-free poutine that’s been locally sourced and served on a biodegradable container made of soy.
Maybe that’s why it never plays itself, acting as a chameleon of a city that changes its colors with each passing day. Everything that I’ve written here could be outdated next week.