***May 2013 update: I am surprised at the constant popularity of this post. However, remember that it was written in March 2012, after I left Vancouver mostly heartbroken and disillusioned.
What I got over the course of one year and close to 300 comments is that I’m not the only one who had expectations that were not met. That said, it doesn’t mean that Vancouver is a necessarily bad place to live. I’ve received mostly assent and agreement, and some people disagree as well, and that’s all right. What I WILL NOT accept are personal attacks (“you’re stupid/I found a job, you must simply be incompetent/we don’t want people like you around anyway”). I know there’s a lot of comments like this going around on Reddit. Happily, I don’t read that drivel. What I also will not accept are racist comments (“It’s all the fault of the Chinese” (or “Chinaman”, I swear I got that), “Indians make this city look dirty”, etc.). Immigration can be an issue, but racism is barbaric and is swiftly removed. I’m happy to let in views that disagree with mine, because that’s the nature of rational and productive debate, but disparagement and racism are not acceptable.—End of May 2013 update
Due to the sudden (and rather unexpected) popularity of this post, I will fiercely moderate the comments. I thank everyone who shared their thoughts and stories with me; I encourage you to write your own and let me know on Twitter (@anabellebf) or on my blog’s Facebook page so I can link up to it.
This post is entirely my own opinion, based on my personal experience and has no claim to objectivity. It does not mean to represent in any way the “truth” about Vancouver. It just represents my truth. I’ve recently written another post that attempts to put some things in perspective. Please give it a look.
There’s this thing we have back East about Vancouver: we think it’s a mystical land where there is no snow in the winter and summers aren’t crushingly hot. There are beautiful mountains and glass skyscrapers and the ocean. Everyone is a hippie and people are friendly and mellow because they all do yoga and run while breathing clean, wholesome ocean air. You can grow pot on your lawn and it doesn’t get you arrested. There is no snow. There is no snow. There is no snow.
You should have heard me in my first two or three months here: “I’ve always wanted to live here. It’s so beautiful. There’s no way I can go back home after seeing this, being here! You should totally move here. Yeah, it’s expensive, but this view makes up for it!” I was gaga for Van; if it had been a person I would have waited in line for an autograph.
Now, not only am I leaving, but I never want to come back.
So long! Adieu! It’s been nice, but now I feel like a young naïve girl who’s been tricked into having sex with a pretty but vapid jock.
Despite the good things about Vancouver, it has disappointed me on so many levels that I wonder why anyone in their right minds would choose to stay here. Let’s see a breakdown, shall we?
Disappointing thing #1: The job market
I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, don’t get me wrong. Times are hard and jobs are scarce, but I am a highly trained, skilled and experienced person and when barely 15% of the jobs you apply for actually call you back, you’re starting to take it a bit personally. “Is it me? Am I not good enough?” you ask in tears as the pretty jock dumps you after he’s had what he wanted.
There are no jobs here, and when a good one pops up, the competition is so fierce that you have to send a singing telegram to get noticed. I thought my French would give me an edge–might as well speak Catalan for the little it did for me.
And IF you get one of these rare jobs, the salaries are in no way high enough to support basic living. Vancouver’s minimum living wage is 19.14$. 19$ an hour is somewhere around 40K a year, BEFORE any taxes and deductions are taken. And that’s just basic survival for a family with two full-time, full year income earners. No car, no luxuries, probably no savings either.
So what’s wrong with this picture? 19$ an hour is a lot, you say? Let’s see what else.
Disappointing thing #2: The cost of living
Okay, this isn’t exactly a disappointment. I knew about the cost of living because of the two years I spent in Victoria. But even then, the cost of living here is ludicrous. How many people must cram into a 1500$/month 2-bedroom apartment just to make ends meet? “Why aren’t they moving somewhere cheaper?” you ask.
Well, there isn’t anything cheaper. Well, actually, there is, but the cheaper stuff is often illegal, unsafe and unhealthy. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to rent my room for 500$ because I know the person who owns the house and they have accepted me in the family. The real estate costs are driving the rental costs at levels where even renters won’t be able to afford it anymore. When a one-bedroom rent for one person can easily eat out 50% of your monthly income, there is something deeply, deeply wrong with the market.
And it’s not just about the rents. The food is also ludicrously expensive. On a comparative scale to Montréal, the food can often be close to double what I used to pay back home. Big brick of cheap, Kraft, orange cheddar cheese? 15$. Back home? 8$, 6$ on special. 5 chicken breasts? 15$. Back home? 7-ish$.
So it’s not just about the rent prices; it’s also about the sky-high prices of everything from food to entertainment to personal care items.
Disappointing thing #3: The heart
It’s not like there’s nothing to do in Vancouver. Actually, I was pretty busy during the months I spent there. But the city has, how can I explain it… no soul. It is as superficial and empty as the endless condo towers growing like weeds.
There are good people in Vancouver who give this city some spark and light; but most times I felt no joie de vivre, no… happiness. Everyone is working so hard to maintain the appearance of being affluent that they lose their souls in the process. They lose their ability to enjoy life. And what good is a city surrounded by nature if you can’t find it in your heart to enjoy it to its fullest because you are worried about bills all the time?
Montréal might not be as pretty, but people there have fun. And there’s fun enough for everyone, not just the pretty 18-year-olds. Sometimes it felt to me like Vancouver’s obsession with food is masking a deep dissatisfaction. An interesting study topic for a cultural anthropologist?
I used to love Vancouver as a tourist… but staying there made me hate it. How many smart, motivated young people must you scare out with your over-inflated prices and lack of joy before you realize that you are headed to an economic and human disaster, Vancouver?