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By Jorge Amigo via email, @AmigoJor
This is not necessarily intended as a rebuttal to “Do Vancouver men suck?“, but more like an addendum that seeks to add another layer to the discussion of why dating in this city is tremendously complicated. You see, Katherine Ashenburg’s article focuses on how men here are a bunch of ski bums who dress like teenagers and have no clue about how to court women. As a Mexican immigrant, I suppose her article does not apply to me…and I don’t necessarily disagree with her assessment. However, the dating game is a dance of two, and I feel she misses half the story when she avoids any criticism of women in Vancouver. Thus, to fill the reciprocity gap (and expand on her final sentence), I hereby share my vision of “why women in Vancouver suck”.
Warning: this may offend those who are absolutely paranoid about any sort of cultural generalizations. Although I agree that every human is unique and every case is different, blah blah blah, I also find that sketching some general attitudes about women in Vancouver is a useful exercise. As a person who has lived in Mexico, France, and Italy (arguably countries with some of the most romantic/forward men in the world, where women are used to being approached), I see a serious deficit in the way women handle the romantic prowess (or lack thereof, according to Katherine) of men here. Also, my generalizations don’t come out of thin air, but are derived from 5 years of constantly meeting women in Vancouver, which has allowed me to find some common denominators in the way that women here react to men. If you disagree with some of these general attitudes, congratulations, you’re an outlier. I wish you thousands of successful dates. (And, um, I would love to meet you.)
The best way to get my point across is to present you with some typical scenarios where strangers meet, and then explain how Vancouver women are so “special”. Enjoy.
The girl on the bus
Buses are the quintessential way you come into close contact with strangers. They are, by definition, places where you experience close proximity with people you don’t know. As such, they serve as a litmus test for the general approachability of people in a city. To me, they’re a box full of potential for meeting new faces. Yes, I’m the annoying guy who talks to you on the bus. The dude who asks you, “How is your morning going?” or “Have you listened to the new Bon Iver album?” Yes, I fully believe that casual conversation makes us more human, and I never pass the chance of trying to sit close to the interesting-looking girl in the bus and open my mouth.
You know where this is going. The second you start talking to a Vancouver girl on the bus, you notice the automatic clenching of the fists. The tightening of the cheeks. The rapid eye movement looking for an escape route. I remember a girl who looked absolutely bored riding the #6 bus down Davie, from the West End into downtown. She was most likely my neighbour and, judging by the cool outfit, probably worked in some creative job in a startup in Gastown. She was one of those people that you spot and automatically feel like you would have a billion things in common with and you would already be BFFs if only you had been in the same Film Studies class at UBC. Her reaction to my non-intrusive, “Ahh, lovely sunrise with those heavy clouds in the distance, eh?” A dismissive “yahh,” and a microsecond later she buried her face in her iPhone (probably to text Crime Stoppers). She was most likely thinking “HOW DARE HE?!”
Question: do they hire Latino men with my accent to sexually molest girls as part of some safety training in the BC high school curriculum? No? Reaaaaally? Well, IT CERTAINLY FEELS LIKE IT. I cannot stress this enough. Due to some bizarre learned cultural behavior, women in Vancouver experience an explosion of panic the second a man (who did not go to elementary school with them) talks to them. They can’t hide it… adrenaline shows in the eyes and the mouth and everywhere on the face, and our brains are programmed to read whether a person is comfortable with you or not. As a guy who gets this reaction almost daily, I almost feel like saying “sorrrry, did I ruin your morning commute by putting your body on high defensive alert for the next 9 hours??”
Now, you might be thinking, maybe, Jorge, you approach women with the look of a hungry wolf that just spotted its prey, salivating at the sight of a mere 2 inches of exposed ankle. Perhaps. But those who have met me know that I’m a “nice” guy, and even if may sometimes be on a “mission”, I approach people gently, in a non-imposing and friendly manner. (Yes, you might later find that I’m a bit hyperactive or get overexcited and talk A LOT if I find you interesting, and I’ll probably recommend you go to 6 or 7 life-changing films playing THAT night…but that’s waaaay after you’ve given me the initial green light, not after I get the look of a deer about to be murdered with a rifle).
The 18 kms of beaches
In a city with such precious beaches (Kits was recently rated North America’s sexiest beach. By someone who clearly needs to travel more), you would think that summer here would be the ultimate place to meet your future life partner. Think again. Vancouver beaches have big logs for a reason. NOT for comfort when you read, but to MARK YOUR TERRITORY.
Let’s start with an exercise. Close your eyes and think about the last time you went to Third Beach or Kits Beach or Jericho (Wreck does not count because everyone is high and they’re not being themselves ) and played Frisbee with the strangers from the next log over. Or helped them apply sunscreen. Or organized a game of volleyball where nobody knew each other previously. Tough, eh?
You see, the beach is the one place where Vancouver women exercise a particular kind of double entendre. They spend 80 percent of the year getting fit, choose the perfect bikini, and then lay by themselves on a gorgeous beach with a book. But don’t you dare intrude on their beach Zen. Seriously, what am I supposed to read from these visual cues? That you want to be left the fuck alone? Obviously.
I won’t argue against the fact that everyone has a right to privacy and to enjoying public space without having to deal with some talkative Mexican who wants to meet you just because he happens to be at the same beach as you. However, the reaction I get when I (try to) talk to Vancouver women at the beach is invariably like crashing into a cement wall (mind you, at the beach I’m the quintessential douchebag with a ukulele who plays two songs and then expects all the girls to want to meet me just because I’m more…umm…sensitive). Monosyllabic responses and quickly looking over their shoulder as if the boyfriend were about to arrive, are the norm. Give. me. a. break.
I remember a girl at Spanish Banks once who briefly smiled at me when I glanced over. I was alone, so I decided to walk over and say hi. In a matter of minutes we were talking about music, some show she loved at the Push Festival, and asked about each other’s job and family history. I also learned that she had a boyfriend, yet we continued our conversation for about an hour, until she had to leave to meet a friend for dinner. Before leaving she asked if she could text me later so that I could join her for a film with her friends, and I’m glad to say that we have remained close for more than a year now. In other words, she is a normal woman who is not afraid to…oh wait…she doesn’t count, she is from Montréal.
Purely anecdotal. Last summer I walked to the park near Sunset Beach and spotted a girl who was sitting by herself with a full picnic kit (blanket, basket, book, wine, the works). As I walked by, I decide not to pass on the opportunity to meet a new face, so I said: “I was going to sit over there by myself, but you seem to have the perfect picnic setup. Can I join you?”
Now, I wasn’t going to steal her food (I was carrying my own hummus and quinoa salad) nor drink her wine. I just wanted a conversation (because, yes, sitting with someone is usually infinitely better than sitting alone. Anywhere.)
After looking at me incredulously for about 6 seconds, she began to mutter something that went like “ahh, ummm… my… I was just about to leave, sorry.” And then she packed her stuff and was gone. Wait, whaaat? I knew she didn’t have to leave because I saw her set up her picnic blanket a mere 7 minutes before. AND she had to chug her glass of pinot grigio in order to leave.
I imagine that in another city, she may have said, “Sorry, I was hoping to have a picnic by myself, but thanks”, or even, “Listen buddy, get your own piece of grass.” Again, I understand that you’re by yourself on purpose, but is it necessary to act like you saw a Sasquatch if you get approached in public? You see, it’s one thing to be socially rigid (Germans, Swiss, etc), but an entirely different thing to be socially inept. Lesson: the problem with Vancouver women is that they leave you standing in the park alone, feeling like you just committed a crime.
Yes, Katherine, meeting women in Vancouver is indeed “daunting, strenuous, semi-natural, and so not romantic.”
The Yaletown encounter
Not worth our time discussing this (though it sounds like Katherine’s interview subjects , Natalie, Elise and Tracey, are Yaletowners). Like, yahhh. Like, why botherrrr? In all seriousness, though, trying to talk to a girl in the streets of Yaletown is like pretending your pet Chihuahua understands English. You will get the nervous look of a dog that knows it can be crushed by anything taller than a bonsai. That is…if you’re not actually talking to her dog (because, the most common way to approach a woman in Yaletown is to direct your ice-breaker towards her pet Chihuahua, and then hope that she gets off her phone and actually says something other than “yahh, OMG, totally, wait…there’s a creeper trying to touch my dog, LOL” and disappears into a yoga studio. )
I agree with Katherine that “Vancouver is in a class by itself.” When it comes to paranoid, anti-social women, the ones in Vancouver seem to have written the book.
A glimmer of hope: coffee shops
I like happy endings. This treatise of women in Vancouver would not be complete if I didn’t mention the only place where I find it somehow easy to have a good conversation with a stranger and get a number. (Omit for a second the fact that coffee shops in the world were INVENTED for that purpose)
In a coffee shop environment (not the chain variety, but real coffee shops, like Nelson the Seagull or Revolver), I find that women in Vancouver are particularly at ease when I smile at them. It may be that it’s such a safe and non-threatening location (there’s people around that can text Crime Stoppers for them) that they temporarily defrost their Vancouver ice wall. Or perhaps they’re at a coffee shop precisely because they’re so tired from a day’s worth of fending off salivating wolves, that they landed there to rest and don’t have any energy left to keep their defensive barrier in place. Whatever the reason, the coffee shop is where women in Vancouver become real: respond normally when you ask to borrow a chair, offer a friendly nod when you comment on the amazingness of the shoes they’re wearing, poke fun at your accent, and appreciate some healthy banter. In other words, I haven’t left Vancouver because some very sensible people decided to open amazing new coffee shops. Thank you. After all, we all need a place to feel human again.
Jorge AmigoTwitter: @AmigoJorJan, 8, 2012
– dedicated to fedupvancouverguy, for his illustrious comment