Smiling at Snow by Tom Gordon

Now, if there’s one thing English people are disinclined to endorse it’s any sort of display of emotion towards strangers that is anything but mild (and private) approbation. Vancouver seems to be trying its hardest to drum out the disgruntled Brit in me: on four separate occasions my listless and absent-minded glances that happen to fall on a stranger’s face are met with beaming smiles. This was a far cry from Blighty’s mutual understanding that we both immediately glue our eyes to our shoes and forget we both ever existed. After overcoming my patriotic duty to be immediately suspicious of any degree of unsolicited positivity, I actually came to be warmed down to the cockles of my perennially downbeat heart. Not only that, but the heavy metal/pizza themed patch on my backpack had already been the genesis of at least 5 conversations with random Canadian strangers in two months, despite having passed a year in England with nary a remark. I was beginning to think, “Perhaps people are just nice?” Surely not. Such a sea change was far too much for my stiff upper lip to take.

Yet Canadians who hail from outside of Vancouver have told me repeatedly that the city is well known for its relative coldness (emotionally that is, weather wise Van is positively balmy compared to the rest of these fairly frigid northern climes). The mere thought of how inundated with grins and affable greetings these other territories must be filled me with levels shock and fear akin to that of a prospect of a world without English Breakfast Tea (no worries on that score, plenty of Yorkshire Tea to be found in Vancouver. Mercifully).

I was lucky enough to visit one of those other provinces when I made the drive (I say I made the drive, I relied on an Aussie and a couple of Dutch drivers, but that’s a mere footnote) to Jasper in Alberta. Beautiful, sublime, awe-inspiring: these are all vaguely synonymous words that totally undersell just how beautiful the forests and peaks of Jasper were. Empty, non-existent, hard to recommend: these are all somewhat less synonymous words that are probably over-generous ways to describe the Jasper nightlife. But an English style piss-up shouldn’t exactly be your main reasoning for making the 22-hour round drive to one of the most stunning locales in North America. The ice-fields and the glaciers therein, the forests, with bears and wolves aplenty (although good luck finding them, closest we got was some promising looking footprints) and some truly glorious hikes are what Jasper’s all about.

So if you find yourself in British Columbia and its surrounding environs, remember to smile back, wrap up warm and that the word “bangin’” doesn’t have quite the same connotations in North America.
Tom Gordon (BA American and English Literature)

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