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The Flinging Place

By Suvi Teigen

I come from the prairies, from wide-open spaces that fling their arms in welcome to newcomers in ways only wide-open spaces can. The meals and conversations are long and lingering, the laughter is infectious and hearty, and if the door is locked, you know where all the keys are.  Court is held at a thousand kitchen tables and no one is ever a stranger for long.

I arrived in Vancouver armed with my memories of these flinging welcomes.  I unloaded my Volkswagon into my garden apartment in East Van while my oaf of a farm dog sniffed out her new surroundings and, having satisfied herself with her new home, collapsed with a harrumph, announcing herself as arrived.  I believed I had arrived too, and Vancouver was lucky to have me.  I stepped out into my new world and, gathering my courage, anticipated my welcome.

But Vancouver’s not a flinging sort of place.  All the rainforest hikes and Sunday seaside walks and towering skylines in the world can’t hide the truth of the matter:  She’s a ruthless host.  For years I found myself teetering around in a world full of sharp corners and unfriendly angles like a toddler shuffling around a glass coffee table, constantly banging up against its edges.  I was clumsy and awkward in my attempts to be known in this place, but desperate to be known, to have a soft place to land.  No, Vancouver will not fling for anyone, and I found it hard to feel at home here.  For those of us from welcoming places, this city is a tease, coming on strong with its beaches and mountains and endless best of lists and activities to enjoy.  These can only capture my attention and sustain my heart so long.

I met a new friend this year who is everything you would want a friend to be.  Boisterous, adventurous, sassy, and, quite frankly, a little terrifying sometimes with her passion and confidence and style.  My friend says that when she meets new people, there’s a moment when she can see herself through their eyes and she sees all these things.  She says there is a moment when she knows that they haven’t made their mind up, that they aren’t quite sure about her yet.  And she says that in that moment, she wants to reach out her hand and say, “It’s okay.  I see what you’re seeing.  And it’s a lot.  But stick with me and I promise you’ll like me.  You just don’t know me yet.”

That’s Vancouver.  Massive front line offensive and a follow through that’s subtle as hell.

You’ve got to stick with it.  I’ve learned that the very best this place has to offer has nothing to do with the obvious bits (although – let’s face it – the beach doesn’t  hurt).  Vancouver unfurls itself slowly and, just like your mama told you, you’ve got to work for the good stuff.

You’ve got to say good morning to people on the street, even if they don’t say it back.

You’ve got to invite yourself to every single party you hear about, ever.

You’ve got to babysit kids and walk dogs and bake bread for your neighbours because babysat kids and walked dogs and baked bread turn into camping trips and long dinners and  one-too-many peppermint martinis at the Christmas party and those are the moments you’ll tell each other about when you’re old some day.

And you’ve got to spend a small fortune on peanut butter M&Ms to get the satisfaction of the owner of the store on your corner finally greeting you by name.

Because here is the greatest secret about Vancouver, the very best thing:  It is bursting at the seams with beautiful, vivacious, interesting, loveable people.  They are what have made this home for me.  They’ve given me my soft place to land.  And deep down in their souls, buried under all the scared parts, they desperately want to fling.  They’re just looking for someone to make the first move.  If you can muster up the courage to be that person, you’ll find people’s hearts are infinitely malleable and the world around you will start to change.

And if you can’t, it’s okay.  I’ve seen what you’re seeing.  And it’s a lot.  But stick with it and I promise you and Vancouver will love each other.  You just don’t know her  yet.

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