This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The social terroir of the Maritimes is an acquired taste: a contradictory melange of oil/potato/beer money, and sweaty all-ages punk shows in abandoned buildings. Desolate salt marshes and jazzy little cities. Ultra-hip artist collectives and age-old linguistic traditions. It's the birthplace of Confederation. It's among the most depressed regions in Canada. The spirit of the people is a pure beam of light; the daily reality for many is dark and deadly crags.
If you wanna thrive on the ferocious coast, you'll need to negotiate the following areas. Here's how to do it, from someone who lives here.
You haven't really lived here until you've sipped from the stained, crumpled Tim's cup of poverty. It may well be your lot to dig in the couch for change, or dine for weeks on toast while waiting for your ship to come in. Experiencing firsthand the ebb of Fortuna's Wheel lets you bond with the neighbors—many of whom have been hustling minimum wage jobs/seasonal jobs/no jobs since grade school. When things are going right, don't be tight. The code dictates you must share the wealth: rounds, smokes, and rides to Giant Tiger.
"THE PEOPLE ARE SO GREAT," locals intone, nervously scanning the forest covering 80 percent of New Brunswick. "I REALLY FEEL AT HOME HERE," they say, their voices nearly lost in the dismal howl of the wind. But the clichés exist for a reason: friendliness, creativity, and tenacity really do seem to flourish here. It still sucks when the "bar district" is a deserted bank of VLTs, and your only recourse is to down buckets of Radler, crying "Hello???" Adele-like, into the fog. No one will answer. If you can't locate the romance of loneliness on the East Coast, we'll see you in Vancouver in a couple years, wearing a hip windbreaker, paying $2,300+ per month in rent, and still complaining that it's impossible to meet anyone. Sorry: Loneliness is the modern condition.
Treading ruts in the sidewalk of the same, three-block radius of coffee shops, work, and friends' houses is a fast-track to hating it here. Avoid stagnation. Sidle into the silent film night, the rave at the Legion, the unlocked cathedral. Go examine that weird monument at the edge of the old graveyard (or leave an empty at Alexander Keith's grave in Halifax). If you're in the middle of nowhere, you might as well try to map the void.
Stunning, historic mansions that would cost millions anywhere else are dirt cheap and plentiful in places like New Brunswick. Can't afford one? Happily, it's a renter's market, too: Vacancy rates in 2012 were 5 percent in Prince Edward Island, 3.4 percent in Nova Scotia, and 6.9 percent in New Brunswick compared to 2.8 percent nationally. Despite this, your friends still all seem to cycle through the same handful of apartments. When Keith moves into Jess's old apartment off Quinpool Road, which used to be Matt's place before he moved to Alberta, you may get disoriented about whose house you're in and where the couch is this time.
You can extend your adolescence for longer in a land where the median age hovers around 43. The rapidly aging population means you make friends with diverse demographics. You soon realize older people have the most kickass parties and the best oysters, order single-malt whiskey from the States, and dispense life-enriching wisdom and tips for using power tools. Millennial ennui loses its sting after you've hung in a trailer with a 78-year-old war vet who needs your help bottling homebrew at 11:30 PM. You will start hanging out with all your friends' parents.
"I don't care if anyone talks about me. Why, what are they saying?" The rumor mill is the biggest drag, and greatest joy, of small town life. It is a poisoned chocolate cookie: SO BAD and SO GOOD. Knowing everything you say can and will be held against you, you've gotta choose the time and place wisely. Prince Edward Island writer Dave Atkinson offers this dicta: never gossip in a restaurant. "You have a 100 percent chance the person at the next table knows that person. It will get back to them." One-hundred percent, can confirm.
Securing anything good, from a job with dental to decent weed, requires "knowing a guy." Nepotism is so ingrained in the Maritimes that it generally passes unremarked. How much you choose to learn about vast companies that control the region's economic livelihood, the future of the environment, and God knows what else, is up to you. Don't worry: They definitely have our best interests in mind. Shh. Learn to love Big Brother.
Binge drinking is a hallowed social sacrament: the Maritimes report the highest rates of alcohol abuse anywhere in Canada except the far North. Depending on your temperament, you may need to cultivate serious self-restraint. If you buck the trend and decide to quit drinking, expect at least one old guy to sneer, "Huh. Don't drink? Don't smoke? What do ya do?" Break free. Don't ever romanticize John Thompson.
All government-issued drugs are a hit here: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland have more smokers than anywhere else in Canada. You don't wanna be a statistic. Unfortunately, statistically speaking, a solid 65 percent of interesting conversations, flirtations, and juicy scandals occur when you leave the kitchen party to get out for a cigarette (usually Player's). Pick your poison.
Revisit the ill-advised hookups of the past. Consider new and unforeseen possibilities: butcher-boy at the Halifax farmer's market, the middle-aged bookstore lady, D-list musicians you meet on Twitter, oilfields workers who are only available in two-week stints, tattooed bikers, genius nerdy lawyers, blind dates, speed dates, you will date all of them, because if you're not open-minded you will end up dating no one. Which actually, in all likelihood, is probably best for everyone.
Shop at cool boutiques if you wanna; however, it's a happy sartorial accident that toques, flannel, badly cut hair, etc. do double-duty for both blue-collar laborers and hipsters. Normcore has been a thing here for decades. Whatever your style, strangers in the coffee line get familiar enough with your wardrobe to say, "Bustin' out the vest again, huh?" or "Always like it when you wear that blue sweater." When That Lady At Korner Grocery gets a new barrette, you'll notice.
Yeah, okay, you moved to Toronto when you were 21 and rode bikes and public transit and you don't believe in car culture and now you're 30 with no license. Good luck with the Maritimes' unpredictable, pee-smelling inter-city bus service, drastically underfunded municipal transit, and thousands of miles of crumbling highway infrastructure. You probably need to get a car (either a 12-year-old Toyota Corolla or a brand new Ford F-150) at some point. Sorry.
When you can't say "hi," nod. Follow the rule: If you know them, nod up. If you don't, nod down.
You are missing out. It's a big world of killer beach parties and clubs and exotic food and non-community-theater and repertory houses. Soaring, glittering concrete and glass, interesting metro stations, beautiful brooding Czech girls, and superlative curries. All of it's happening without you. Yep. Next. Enrich your inner life. Read some books. Explore every cranny and country road. Live vicariously via the internet. Fuck FOMO. Embrace JOMO.
The Maritimes lag a couple decades behind the rest of the world: blame the time-warp on traditional industry, 19th century architecture, fascination with genealogy, and lingering casual racism/sexism. On a smaller scale, prepare to be haunted by things like your own drunken belligerence on NYE 2006, that girl you ghosted after one date, and that lady who thinks you stole their cat.These specters will emerge, unbidden, as you're trying to grab a six pack or walk to work. You will avoid eye contact.
Moody Alistair MacLeod and depressive David Adams Richards were right: death is a part of life in the Maritimes. So pour out a little liquor for those who didn't make it, and pay your respects. As Dave Atkinson puts it, "Know the person well? Go to the wake. Barely know the person? Go to the wake. Too busy to go to the wake? Go to the wake." Confronting mortality in this way is healthy: whether or not we survive socially in the Maritimes, there will come the day when we've all gotta say farewell to Nova Scotia, forever. Reflect on this. Hopefully, we'll leave this place a little better than we found it.
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