Two years ago today I arrived in Vancouver green behind the ears, slightly blue around the gills (after a nine and a half hour flight added to an eight hour time difference), but mostly bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and any other anatomical reference you can come up with!!
I had been planning this life adventure for so long and now it was finally coming true. I remember myself and my travelling buddy - the other half, some may say the better half and I won't disagree! - were so nervous entering Customs as we'd heard they grill you and want to know everything about your time in Vancouver, in case you intend never to leave and illegally so! We actually fought in the queue (sorry, sorry, after two years I should be used to calling it the "line-up" by now!) because we were so on edge and, honestly, it looked like we were going to break up before even stepping foot in this beautiful country! That would be a sorry story to tell at home wouldn't it...yeah, we planned our trip for a year, then had a huge argument, broke up in Customs, now I'm home, broke, single and writing an imaginary blog as I have nothing interesting to say!
No, not good.
We managed to pull ourselves together and, of course, forward-thinking woman that I am, I made sure I got a male Customs Officer and Simon got a female (it just works easier that way!)
My man was totally lovely - couldn't have been nicer - asking me all about my intended time here, and I think he even started chatted me up a bit which I was embarrassed about but loving at the same time, looking over at Simon smuggly...until I saw he was literally sweating buckets at his Customs desk! And when I say sweating I don't mean metaphorically like he looked uncomfortable, I mean sweat dripping from his furrowed brow (I assume that's why his eyebrows are so big, to catch the stuff!), so I knew he was in trouble. Apparently the lovely lady I'd sent him to wasn't so lovely after all and was treating him like a suspected terrorist, so when I'd finished up with my "Mr. Nice Guy" I waltzed over, put my around him supportively and did the "good girlfriend" gig [if only she'd seen us two minutes earlier threatening to split up!!]
She let him through as I knew she would - he's a loveable auld Irish chap with a cheeky charm that would melt the heart of Thatcher herself - so off we went to take our first baby steps into the big wide world of Maple Leaf Land.
My friend Neil - a cuddly Canadian crooner who convinced us to come here and not to sticky, hot, humid V freezing cold Toronto - came to collect us and to introduce us to the city. I must say, even though the media seems to be more vibrant on the east coast with a lot more career opportunities, I don't regret my decision to come to Van in the slightest. This city has lived up to and surpassed my expectations on every level; from the people to the scenery to the nightlife to the laidback "westie" attitude. So, if I have to choose life over being the next Oprah for a few years then I do so very willingly!
The first thing that dawned on me as soon as we stepped foot on Canadian soil was...bloody hell, it's boiling! The sun was scorching and there was a cloudless blue sky...quite the departure from 1) a cold, dark flight [sleeping on a plane is like sleeping in a car - you think it's going to be okay as it doesn't look too uncomfortable, but it just doesn't cut the mustard at all, your head lolling from side to side, aware, even in sleep, that your mouth is gaping open and everyone can see your fillings] 2) Ireland which, as usual, was experiencing a grey summer right up until the day we left [then they had a heatwave...typical.]
We hopped in Neilo's pick-up truck made for two and, with the gear stick stuck under my bottom, got to see our very first sights of Beautiful BC, just as the license plates promise! It was approximately 1pm Vancouver time/9pm our time, but we were wide awake and raring to go, high on the anticipation of what was to come. We drove around downtown, oohed and aahed at the snow visible on the mountains from Burrard Street under the still sweltering sun, then over Burrard Bridge where I was absolutely blown away by Granville Island [my conversation went something like this; "Wait...that's an island?...in the middle of downtown??...this place is mystical!"], and then to Stanley Park where we caught a panoramic view of the city which was simply stunning (and a seagull devouring what appeared to be a whole starfish...hm, not so stunning!)
We then made a stop at Kits Beach to hang out with all the beautiful people and grab some grub, where I sampled my first ever salmon burger. A burger made of salmon?! Not my usual choice of burger meat or "pattie" but it certainly set me on course to the ridiculously healthy living here in Van (which I adhere to every now and again!)
Over the next few weeks we tried to fit in every tourist guide tip we could think of, from the Vancouver Aquarium to the PNE to the Chinese Gardens to even getting our mugshots taken saloon-style on the aforementioned magical Granville Island!
(Watch all of our experiences here)
And of course Wreck Beach, but that's a story for a whole other day!!!!
The biggest differences I've seen between Ireland and Canada have actually been quite minimal, such as the use of varying words like "pattie" or "line-up" above, or saying "sorry" instead of "excuse me" in a crowd. SO many times I've been in a rush, stuck behind some slowcoach and I say, "Sorry....sorry...SORRY...I mean excuse me, can I get past you please?" and only then do they move over! The same happens with servers in bars or restaurants when I'm trying to get their attention, although in that case I learnt my lesson pretty quickly or I'd starve/die of thirst!
Another minute difference is that apparently Canucks don't say "Emmmm" when trying to think of something, and apparently the Irish also over-pronounce the letter 'h' which gives everyone a great laugh when I spell my surname. I'm glad I can be a figure of amusement, but who knew?!
Another bigger, and potentially illegal, difference I had to deal with once I arrived was jaywalking. Now, jaywalking is something I'd only heard of in movies and I kinda thought it was a made up law and one to which we didn't really need to abide. WRONG!
We also thought it was so cute that the traffic light stops "tweet" like a bird as opposed to that annoying alarm noise when you can cross the road, but I must admit we often "broke the law" and crossed the street willy-nilly whether the little green man showed his face or not. I always thought it bizarre how ultra law-abiding citizens would refuse to cross the road even if there was no oncoming traffic, but it literally just dawned on me yesterday as I stood waiting for the "tweet" on an empty road that I was, at least partially, Canadianized!
I also used to be much more impatient on the streets and would push past people taking up the whole pavement (footpath!) while throwing them back a dirty look, but now I try to treat everyone with respect and wait my turn, whether that be on the street or in Tim Horton's or even on the Skytrain. In Ireland, it's customary (and I don't want to tar everyone with the same brush but we're definitely more forceful in our dealings with each other!) to move onto a bus or a train before everyone's gotten off, but here everyone stands back politely and waits until the last person has departed, then the newbies pile on. I've seen this happen even when the Skytrain doors are about to close and, should that happen, normally people just shrug their shoulders in resignation and wait patiently for the next one.
I'm even trying to curse less (if only among my Canadian friends as they always seem quite taken aback when I drop the F-bomb) which is something I hope to extend to my mad group of Irish compatriots at some stage...one step at a time though, no need to re-invent the wheel just yet!!)
Now don't get me wrong, of course there are some Canadians crazies out there [a friend of mine told me recently that during the last Canucks game - the Finals baby! - a man on the Skytrain home from work screamed "F**k off all foreigners, GO HOME!!" and lots of other racist niceties to a train full of...em...foreigners, which seems kinda bemusing considering Canada has the highest per capita net immigration in the world], but the majority are just dandy.
Even the homeless people are a pleasure to be around. Just this minute I went down to recycle some garbage (rubbish!) and up pops this head from inside the huge trash cans (bins!), smiling and saying "Hello!" as this random guy burrows waist deep in our leftovers for some treasures! How odd. At home you would totally call the cops (police!), but here it's like some natural form of recycling.
I actually try to help out most of the homeless people living along Davie Street (there's one guy by Subway who's always reading a book - respect - while another sometimes plays a handheld Nintendo, which makes me wonder why they're homeless at all as they seem quite capable?!), either by giving them money or buying them food. I even pop down when I'm around on Christmas Day to give them $20 or whatever I can afford, as a sort of Irish Santa as I know they probably need it more than me. My boyfriend's always slagging me (that's the Irish way of saying 'teasing' in case you want to steal it, be my guest!) that I'm the next Bob Geldof and seem to think I can solve the homeless problem one fiver at a time, but I always imagine if that was me, or my brother, or my sister, or my son, and how much I'd appreciate a show of support if the shoe was on the other foot. [Check out this great story about a homeless guy who has received a life-changing inheritance out of the blue...it would warm the cockles of your heart!]
Oh and while I'm discussing some of the more bizarre cultural differences, I just have to mention those medical TV ads with their insane warnings. I saw one the other day for Abilify for depression. They use cartoon marketing so it seems harmless...and then go through a never-ending list of things that can go wrong!! I mean, I know it's probably to do with strict regulations but how in the world are you meant to trust something that can so obviously kill you or, even worse, make you want to kill yourself and others?! [There's a great parody from the film Food Matters featured in this clip you should check out...it's so true!]
And then at other times the ad just tells you the name of the product with some mysterious tagline that I assume is meant to get you thinking and guessing, but just leaves you confused and wondering what the hell all that was about?! Like the ad for Cialis that features a woman playing a mandolin - a mandolin for cripe's sake! - and singing some silly song, followed by the tagline, 'Cialis: ask your doctor.' Em, okay, we get that it must be for something the kids can't hear but, seriously, that could be anything from incontinence to impotence to irrate bloody behaviour due to ridiculous TV advertizing!!
So what, you're just meant to say to your family doctor; "Oh, ah, doc, I saw an add on TV recently - ya know, the one with the woman with playing the mandolin - something aboot Cialis?? Is that like Viagra and, if so, can I get some?!" Only in Canada (and North America) eh?!
Cynicism aside, I must admit these little idiosyncrasies make me warm to Canada even more.
There are so many differences and yet I still feel at home - something that you can't say for many parts of the world these days. The truth is I'd love to stay forever but I know I'll have to go home eventually.
But, until then, Vancouver - my lover, my friend, my mentor - thanks for having us :)