Just a Bad Urban Legend?


Photo Credit Judy Thomson

Vancouver has a reputation for being an unfriendly place, but is it just some kind of bad urban legend? In the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics the organizers thought we needed some help in this department. They were busy giving speeches encouraging us ‘to smile’ and ‘give the world a hug.’ Smile? Hug? Are you really serious? We’re from Vancouver! We are friendly, but huggers and smilers–not so much.

Committing unnatural acts?

Then we surprised ourselves during the Olympics. Vancouverites started talking to strangers, wearing bright ‘Rah-Rah-I-am-Canadian’ clothes and even smiling at other Vancouverites! The best place to witness this ‘phenom’ was on SkyTrain. The new and improved Vancouverite 2.0 went out of our way to help tourists find the right stop, and we even talked to one and other on the trains.

Back to black

That amazing Olympic spirit seemed to come to a grinding halt the day after Sid the Kid’s legendary goal. We were on the train to a downtown meeting the morning after Canada’s hockey team won the gold and we witnessed a stunning reversal. Everyone was back to black, and had withdrawn into their little personal cocoons. It was less than twelve hours after a fairytale ending to an amazing Olympics and all that goodwill and friendliness stopped dead in the tracks!  Today that spirit seems like a fond and distant memory.

Vancouver Foundation survey confirms it

We teach networking skills to a lot of people who come to Vancouver from other places in Canada and around the world, and they often tell us that it’s hard to make friends in our city. (Last week we heard that Victoria is a much friendlier place than Vancouver.) A recent survey by the Vancouver Foundation seems to prove this point. One-third of respondents said that Vancouver is a difficult place to make friends. “And most people said they don’t socialize with their neighbours, while nearly a third maintained that they have little interest in doing so.”

“The coldest cities and people on the globe”

The Vancouver Sun’s recent series, Growing Apart, based on the Vancouver Foundation research, said this about Vancouver: “it seems Vancouver and its people might be described as among the coldest cities and people on the globe.”  Ouch.

The Caspar Effect

We’re not asking that everyone start hugging strangers or begin walking around with a crazy perpetual grin, but wouldn’t it be great if more people in Vancouver stepped out of their iPod induced personal cocoons, and stopped using the Caspar Effect. The Caspar Effect? That’s when people won’t make eye contact with you—it’s like you are not there (Caspar was a friendly television ghost in the Sixties).  This blog quote from Manager Tools explains what we are talking about: “I'm walking in an office building, in the public spaces or in a client's office. I'm in an airport, or at my local grocery store. I'm at Wal-Mart. And, because I pass close to someone, near them, walking by, standing in line, our eyes meet. And they look right at me, know that I see them, and they don't smile. It's not ‘not rude' if you're ‘not the smiling type'. It's not ‘not rude' if you find it ‘uncomfortable'. It's rude ALWAYS. This is the price one pays for being in public spaces where you can feel reasonably safe and secure. Civility is the grease that distinguishes us from animals in the wild.”

Simple things to be more engaged

  • When you are in a public space and someone looks at you, acknowledge them with a smile
  • When you get on the bus or train make eye contact, maybe even smile and say good morning? If you don’t feel comfortable doing that (engaging strangers because of fears for your personal safety) then only do it with little old ladies. Start somewhere!
  • Take those earbuds out when you enter the office, so you don’t walk through your work environment with that barrier around you.
  • Walk by workmates’ desks, make eye contact, smile and say “Hi” or “Good morning”.
  • Talk to people in the office elevator. Just say hi and smile. Even if you can’t think of anything to say, when they leave the elevator say, “Have a good day.”
  • Call people who serve you by their name. If you know your regular barista’s name, use it. When you are picking up your dry cleaning, address the folks behind the counter by name.

So what do you think?

Do you think Vancouver is unfriendly? What do YOU do to make this a friendlier city? Have you got any suggestions for what we can ALL do to make this a friendlier place?  What’s the friendliest city you’ve experienced?

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One Response to Just a Bad Urban Legend?

  1. Earl Flormata July 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    I’m an avid networker, and as such don’t see the “unfriendly” side but am taking steps to change that. I volunteer at a not for profit networking group called the BridgeMakers and what it’s about is “Networking to the Nth degree”. We’ve got chapters in Richmond, Downtown and Kits and it’s about helping people share what they do, meet great new people and really just get to know another. We tell stories, trade tips and advice and literally help each other to grow. If anyone’s interested, find us on and you’ll find a friendly group of folks to have a chat with.

    Another group that’s helping to make the change is the Remarkable Man Project. Their model is helping men become champions to women, heroes to children and brothers to each other. That certainly sounds like something that would increase the smile and hug factor in Vancouver! Again, it’s on

    “Be the Change you want to see in the World.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi

    I’m taking steps to make a difference.

    Be Remarkable!
    Earl Flormata

    Feel free to contact me if you’d like to connect.

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