Culture Clink

I was sitting on the bus today when someone made a movement and I suddenly remembered what it was like to be new and foreign to Canada.

May 2007 was a nervous month. IB exams came and went with all the fears that had built up for two years, and the complete and utter exhiliration of sitting my last exam. (My last paper was for Philosophy HL and I was definitely having trouble concentrating on answering the last question when all I could think was soon I would be done.) Graduation came and went. Personal troubles came and went. And suddenly it was August and I was taking a Vancouver bus on my own — not for the very first time in my life, but for the first time since my first time the year before.

For the worried non-Vancouerite student-to-be, busses here are quite easy to take. Before setting out on any new journey, I always check up my route through the Translink website, which tells you how to get from Point A to Point B and back again. I draw little maps and prompts for myself to see when I should get ready to get off. When I first came to Vancouver, busses didn’t announce the next stop, so you had to keep an eye out for yourself. These days, most of the busses I take do have a voice announcing the upcoming stop, as well as a dashboard at the front of the vehicle that tells you the name. You still need to keep an eye out, especially when it’s a bus that doesn’t have the new system installed, but it’s not as scary to take a new bus anymore.

Armed and prepared with my knowledge of Translink and my routes, I got onto my first bus of August 2007 and sat down, relieved that I was doing okay in this new home, and hoping I didn’t look too new and lost and alone. I was handling the important stuff just fine.

And then the woman next to me made a movement to get off. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. In Hong Kong, people typically swivel their legs to the side and let the person next to them pass by without ever bothering to get up. My foreign teachers were often complaining about this apparent rudeness of Hong Kong people. Perhaps it is rude — I was just used to it. This time, however, I was in Vancouver and I didn’t know if this tactic which had always served me well in the past would just appear plain rude to the people around me as well. In my panic, I got up, stood to the side and let the woman pass before I sat back down to worry about whether this was excessively polite.

These days I can tell you that both ways — standing up to let the person get by, or swivelling your legs to the side — are perfectly fine and acceptable. Standing up is the more common way, but if there just isn’t much room to get up and stand in a packed bus, swivelling your legs to let the person squeeze by isn’t a crime.

It’s little things like these that always threw me off and remind me that I grew up in a completely different place. Not quite a jarring cultural clash; more of a slight clink.

This, at least, is now one little thing that you won’t need to worry about not knowing when you come to Vancouver yourself.

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