Mind the (cultural) gap

In March this year I travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia on a work trip. Although I had to work for 5 days, I also had the best part of 3 days to explore the city. This was my first ever trip to North America.

I know some North Americans, both American and Canadian, and they speak English. It couldn’t be that different, right?

Wrong! The Vancouver trip is probably the most weirded out I have been in a while. Despite the language difference I feel culturally at home in most of Western Europe, and when I visited Morocco last year I had mentally taken against of the language and cultural differences. But for Canada I had not.  The language similarities made the cultural differences even weirder. 

For someone used to being grunted at by bus drivers and begrudgingly served by shop assistants the niceness of the customer service staff was a little off-putting. Almost everyone I met was really nice, except those who weren’t, and they really weren’t. There seemed to be little in the way of middle ground. This was probably just the luck of the draw re: those that I met. 

The biggest surprised was how much time on the news was given to the Spring forward in comparison to the discussion of the voting about a major piece of legislation around DNA tests and health insurance. Apparently this was normal, Canadians don’t really do politics.

Little things like the positioning of hanging street signs at intersections took me a day or so to get my head around. Does that mean the road I am on, or the intersecting road? The ticket machines for the Canada Line made zero sense, and the notion of a drug store was bizarre. They’re kinda like Boots but sell groceries as well. Plus the added confusion of taxes and tipping. 

For someone who grew up in ‘a more rural market town’, according to Stagecoach, chartered in 1205 I also found the newness strange. Although I couldn’t help to chuckle to myself in Gastown at the youth of the heritage buildings, a little over 100yrs old.  I did however like the feeling of space, width of the footpaths and roads, and the weather made me feel it home. For all bar the final day of my trip it rained. So, much like home, I didn’t leave ‘home’ without an umberella.

Day 1 of my trip was spent exploring the city didn’t get off to the best start. I spent about 30mins trying to find the Hop on-hop off Vancouver Trolley stop, not the easiest to find. I’d booked online, and although I had my ticket printed I had no idea of what the stop signs looked like and only a rough idea of the location. My plan for the day had been to explore Stanley Park, but this was scuppered by the poor weather. After wandering around for a while with my umberella I gave up and visited the aquarium. After which I rejoined the hop on-hop off tour and stayed in the warm, dry trolley until it returned to its start point of Canada Place. 

Day 2 was a little more productive. Much of Downtown Vancouver can be explored by foot, and that is what I did. In the morning I walked to Gastown, stopping to buy some gifts and look at the steam clock and the Gassy Jack statue, before continuing on to Chinatown.

In Chinatown I visited the walled garden and joined the guided tour. The garden had been built as part of the world fair, with many of the materials having been shipped from China for the construction. On the day of my visit the water had been drained from the pond for maintenance, although this component was missing the garden was still a pleasure to visit. 

As the weather looked as though it was going to return to wet and grey I headed to Canada Place and the Fly Over Canada experience. After which I walked around to Coal Harbour and back through Downtown to my hotel. 

If I had done my homework a little better I would have made better use of Days 1 & 2 by visiting Victoria and possibly Shannon Falls. As I am no longer able to partake in winter sports I consciously decided against visiting Whistler. 

Days 3-7 were taken up with work but I played hooky for a couple of hrs to go on a sea plane sightseeing tour. This was the major highlight of the trip, despite being a shorter flight than planned because of the weather. It was particularly exciting as I had not been on a sea plane before. As a sports fan I also took the opportunity to attend my first NHL game, I was somewhat surprised by how prominent the advertising was, and how stop-start the game was. Included in my hop on-hop off tour ticket was a ticket for the Harbour Centre Tower, this gives great views over the city, it gives you a good sense of where things are in relation to each other. I used my ticket to watch nightfall over Vancouver.

On the evening of Day 7 I had dinner at the Tea House in Stanley Park. The restaurant overlooks English Bay and is renowned for its sunset views. Unfortunately the cloudiness meant that there was very little in the way of a sunset, but the meal was stunning and the staff were great. If you’re going to eat alone, this isn’t a bad place to do so.

My flight home was not until the evening of Day 8 so I was determined to make the most of the day. Especially as this was a bright, dry day. Vancouver looks stunning in the sunshine, especially with the view out to the mountains.

The day started with a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, I really enjoyed walking the treetop path through the evergreen rainforest and the clifftop walk.

The afternoon was spent exploring Granville Island. I lunched on calamari rings and fries, under the watchful eye of a rather large Gull, before exploring that market and art stores. 

Although I crammed a lot into relatively little free time there was much I did not get to see and do that I wish I had. May need to make a return trip.

Photos from my trip can be viewed on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/gp/11423095@N04/F0Z0eS

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