“That wouldn’t have happened back home.”
“What wouldn’t have?”
“That whole day. Our conversation, the quiet location and views. And we didn’t have our phones out!”
In response, my boyfriend simply smiles at me and says, “It was a nice day, hey?”
The stereotype is that Canadians say “eh,” but, as it turns out, they’re more inclined to end their sentences with a jovial “hey?”
In January, I quit my two-and-a-half year position as a school librarian in a Washington, DC public school. I went back to my hometown of Buffalo, New York for a week before joining my boyfriend on Vancouver Island — making a switch from east to west and from the United States to Canada.
My previous time on the West Coast had been limited. I made a week-long trip to Los Angeles six or seven years ago, where I thought I got a decent overview of California and the the “West-Coast lifestyle.” Highlights (for just me, I suspect) were a visit to a recording studio with the voice of Sleeping Beauty or whatever Disney character my boyfriend’s brother was dating, a view of Adam Levine waiting for his girlfriend outside of a women’s-only vintage shop, and learning to surf. The trip was brief, but I soaked up the warm weather and beautiful people.
I got a chance to experience the more “laid-back” West Coast when I spent a week in Seattle. At Pike Place, I watched in awe when everyone in line at The Crumpet Shop happily chatted to their neighbor-in-line or the people making the food. No one seemed to mind the time that was passing other than me (“Why is it taking this long to make a crumpet?!). And I experienced this ease everywhere I went, from the many coffee shops, to the streets I drove down in my friend’s old Volvo station wagon (not a single person honked!). Then it hit me: I was the only one with a waiting problem! By the end of my trip, I was quietly laughing during these scenarios, picturing the people of DC, myself included, impatiently waiting for everything: the metro, coffee, the line to die down at Target, a sandwich, the car in front of them to move, the sun to come out, the next bill to pass.
That was DC. This is Vancouver Island.
The ever-moody Pacific northwest winter brought us a very rainy Sunday my second week here. My boyfriend and I, along with some new-but-very-welcoming friends, were on our way to a tea farm. The last twenty minutes of our drive to the farm was through back roads, passing small cabins, open pastures, and tall trees that lined the entire winding way. When we arrived, we were greeted like close friends, seated at a wooden table just in front of a wood-burning stove. The owner came to meet us, and continued to check in with us frequently as we tasted the selection of teas and desserts. He inquired with each of us about our “stories.” When it was my turn I was playfully teased for being American (more than once). It was all good-natured; the owner spent some time in an area of Virginia I’m familiar with. He was genuinely interested in what we had to say– what we each brought to the tea table.
Life and people move slower here. Conversation runs longer and deeper—there is talk of goals, but from the standpoint of interest, not gain. There is a discussion between the two men at the tea farm table about the perfect pita for sandwiches and genuine praise of one another’s respective graphic design and photography work. Our phones remain out of sight despite the beautiful handmade ceramics, the wood-burning stove, and a plate filled with a mountain of truffles. Two pictures are taken and one is for Instagram, but once the image is captured, that phone is tucked back away.
As the weeks pass here, what used to be at least a two-mile-per-day walking commute is now a stroll to a nearby lake where everyone I pass, young, old, male, female, wishes me a good morning or afternoon. Often I am asked how I am doing. I share the dock where I read with fishermen and geese.
There is ease with life and each other that I am not accustomed to. It is first instinct to be kind and open, not guarded and selective. In the check-out line at the grocery story, when my boyfriend runs back to grab another item, the cashier, the man behind us in line, and I get into a happy discussion about cake.
“Do you have eggs?” asks the clerk, noting his boxed cake mix and various baking ingredients.
“I sure hope so! I just got what I was asked to get.”
“I always forget the eggs,” I add and they both nod in agreement.
“Will you make it a layered cake?”
“Yep, I think so!”
Once, in a DC grocery store check-out line, I had a woman yell, “SERIOUSLY?” at my back when I asked for a complimentary bonus card.
Canadian politeness is only matched by Canadian friendliness.
There are days when it does not quite work for me, when I want to take a walk without looking up and greeting anyone or when I want to buy my boxed mac n’ cheese without being asked whether I’ve had a good day and what my plans are for the evening. There is something about an East Coast city that shields you from interacting with others. While living in DC and briefly in New York City, I could choose not to speak to anyone for days at a time; no feelings hurt, no customs broken. I often enjoyed that anonymity and easy ability to be solitary. I have even occasionally found myself missing the loudness of the public bus that I happily blocked out with my headphones. There is some guilt attached here to walking around visibly blocking out the sounds of nature.
But, there is something to this way of living.
Back at the tea farm, as a I make my way to the Porta-Potty that serves as a bathroom, I laugh as my rain boots slosh through all of the mud that the ceaseless rain has created. I take an extra moment to check out the hill and fields behind me and to stick my tongue out to catch a raindrop.
Maybe I’m learning to slow down, too.