“This city is just so unfriendly.” “It’s so difficult to meet anyone here.” “The people are such snobs.”
As a Vancouverite of about fifteen years standing, these are phrases that I’ve heard many times coming from the mouths of people who have recently moved here from other parts of Canada. In fact, they are words that I spoke myself on more than one occasion.
So, is there truth to them? Well, yes and no. The fact of the matter is that Vancouver is a big city, and all big cities do have a tendency to be alienating. People are packed in closely together on public transit, in shopping malls, in office buildings. People are hustling and bustling to make a living. Inevitably, there are social problems such as poverty, crime and drugs. Overall, there is no denying the fact that places like Vancouver, Calgary or Toronto can seem cold, forbidding places when you are trying to settle in.
In truth, though, the people in Vancouver, or any other big city, are really no different from people living anywhere else. Granted, there may be a slightly thicker veneer of reserve to break through, but basically people are social creatures, and this is just as true in Vancouver as it is in Biggar, SK. People want to make connections with other people. They want to find reasons to break down the barriers that keep us apart.
So, why is there this perception – so common to new arrivals in large cities – that it is so difficult to make connections and fit in? I think it has more to do with the attitudes we carry around with us, than with the places we find ourselves in. In general, most of us are reluctant to take chances. We are reluctant to make the first move, to risk lowering our defences and reaching out to others.
For many of us who grew up in smaller centres, it may be something we’ve never actually had to do since we were very young children. We had the same group of friends from a young age, and the community was something we just naturally grew into. In the big city, things are not the same. We must take some chances, and make the extra effort. To meet people, we must join clubs and strike up conversations. We must be ready for rejection – or perceived rejection – and not let it jade us or make us reluctant to move beyond our shells the next time.
Like many of the most rewarding things in life, developing friendships and a sense of belonging require taking some risk, and moving a little beyond our personal comfort zone. Is it easier to blame the situation instead of taking responsibility for changing it? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.