Walking with my friend one balmy afternoon we pass a face familiar. Without slowing his pace the face says hi, which of course I return in kind.
“Who was that?” asked my friend.
I had to admit I did not know. For all the times he has said hello, he has yet to offer anything more than that. But I have seen him regularly ever since I moved here in 2007 and started trying to be sociable.
“Oh, he must be a ‘hi’ friend,” my friend concluded.
I had to ask.
A “hi friend,” he explained, is someone you see with great regularity yet the most they will ever do is offer a simple hello. No attempts are made to expand the cordiality or to actually have a two-minute conversation. Nothing. Just “hi.”
I have heard a lot since I moved here about how difficult it is to meet people.
I have to admit that living in the US, although I met my share of flakes and weirdos, the people were way friendlier. And I’m talking about New York, land of misunderstood attitude (actually, it’s the visitors that are rudest).
Sure, New Yorkers often had an agenda — such as seeking a new love interest or to advance in some capacity — but they still made an effort to meet the new faces. And even when it became clear that the new guy wasn’t their next lover or whatever, the conversation continued and so did the repeated friendly greetings in the future.
So why should it be any different north of the border? And yet it is.
I chuckled at the recent brouhaha in Toronto over the beer ad calling its product colder than a Torontonian, but mostly because it was very apt.
I found the ruthless desperation of social climbing in Toronto a turnoff, especially as many people only warmed up as one’s expense account grew.
Then again, I could have put any Canadian city’s name in that ad, including this lovely city that I love so dearly.
Yes, this city suffers from the same affliction: agenda-itis: for many, we only make the effort if it will get us something in return, be it love, sex, status or a leg up in life. Since when did being sociable become a chore?
I’ve heard people here say they grow tired of making friends only to watch them move away.
Funny, with long distance and internet, are we ever really far away? I actually talk more to my family now that I’m further away and less accessible than when I lived in the same city.
Others have rationalized this city’s unfriendliness by suggesting the source is social anxiety, the fear of bring rejected.
I see that fear as projection. The most judgmental person can only imagine how horrible the other person could be based on their own secret self-assessment.
These are all just sorry excuses. Vancouver, I love you, but it’s time for tough love: if you want things to change you have to make the effort, not the other person.
If you’re a fixture wherever you are, be it the Davie Village, a bar or a club, you’re the one who needs to be more welcoming, not the newcomer.
So what if the new person isn’t a bodybuilder, or butch, or handsome, or rich? Really, in life these things change anyway. The rich can get poor, the butch can still be quite fey, looks fade, the bodybuilder will succumb to gravity or even possibly the cumulative effects of beer consumption giving the appearance of being in the second trimester.
Given that many of us grew up surrounded by people who made us feel like outcasts for being different, does it really make sense for any of us to exclude each other now?
Some friends of mine recently went to Chicago and had a marvelous time. What they enjoyed most was how friendly and outgoing the people were. They couldn’t get over it.
But one bar was different. There they walked in and no one talked to them, no one was friendly and they had a miserable time.
As my friend told me how terrible it felt to be ignored, I pointed out that now he knows how I felt when I moved here (and how, unfortunately, I still feel from time to time).
They say the internet is killing our bar scene but I disagree, although it does offer us an easy out to justify making such little effort.
What’s killing our scene is our chilly arrogance, our unwillingness to reach out and welcome new people, and our intolerance of anything that doesn’t conform to our own norms.
If we want things to change we need to step it up and make the attempt to welcome new people, with no expectations other than some conversation and the chance to make our community’s spaces truly social.