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Eastern wisdom

Just getting to know Halifax? Here's a slice of smarts for the new kids in town.

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It's September in Halifax and that means one thing: frosh. Welcome to all of you, particularly those from away, who are finding themselves in Halifax for the first time. In the interest of being proper hosts, we at The Coast thought to give you, the newbies, some coveted information that will make your transition here easier---both for you and for us. Make no mistake: Just as you will have to endure the uneasiness of being in a new city, Haligonians must endure you---with your limitless Shine-o-Rama enthusiasm, and the often ridiculous ideas you bring with you about the east coast. Please don't think me too harsh, good readers, I know of what I speak. I arrived here nine years ago from Upper Canada (yes, people here still use that term) sight unseen, full of hopes, dreams and exactly zero information about the city I'd just moved to. I wish someone had done this for me.

And what better way to impart information than a pop quiz? That's right class, get your pencils out. This is true/false only.

1) All entertainment roads lead to Celtic culture. Everyone here plays the fiddle and has kitchen parties. All the time. And we all have shrines to Rita MacNeil. True/False

2) Everyone would love to hear your version of "I's the b'ye that builds the boat and I's the b'ye that sails 'er." And you'd do well to sprinkle a healthy dose of "Lard Tunderin" in your conversations. True/False

3) Be assured, particularly if you're from a big city (Toronto!), that Haligonians will feel lucky, even honoured, to benefit from your worldly experience. It's always a good idea to regale the locals with how things are done in the Big City. True/False

4) Know that we love student pub crawls: the t-shirt uniforms, the way you and your drunk-ass friends come out of downtown bars bellowing out "Barrett's Privateers" as if on a loop. True/False

5) Ladies: Bring your heels, this is a dress-up town! True/False

OK, so have you figured it out yet? That's right---those of you who picked false on all counts get a shiny apple. In a nutshell:

1) The fiddle is definitely a cultural icon of the east coast but we don't all play it. Nor the bagpipes, regardless of what the tourism commercials tell you. As for Ms. MacNeil, she's popular alright, but there are phenomenally talented musicians, famous and soon-to-be, from almost every musical genre. Culture in Halifax also includes fantastic art, dance, a professional symphony and thriving film and literary scenes.

2) Feel free to enjoy the multitude of traditional sea-faring songs, but no one wants to hear a Come From Away (that's you) affect a phony generic east coast accent.

3) Being a big city blowhard will not work in your favour here. Really.

4) You're going to crawl the pubs, we know this. But keep in mind, there are people around here who were drinking at the Lower Deck before you were born and don't think vomit is funny. Here's a free tip: Get yourself a donair, a localized Middle Eastern dish that looks like a gyro. It's substantial and its sweet meat sauce is a great way to soak up the booze after a late night.

5) Watching women try and walk up Sackville Street in heels---in the winter---is its own sport around here. Take a pass on the Christian Louboutin knock-offs and get yourself a good pair of boots.

Here's a few other things to know. People who live in Halifax are called Haligonians. Not Halifaxers, not Halifaxonians. It's just another way to mess with the heads of people from away, I suppose, but that's the way it is. Also, the HRM---Halifax, Dartmouth and the sprawl around it---is a great city. Not only because people are friendly and considerate---yes, that cliche is true: just look at all the cars stopping for jaywalking pedestrians---but because it's so easy to get out of town. Beautiful lakes and beaches are easily accessible, even by bike. I'm not going to spoil your fun by telling you where they all are, but know that it would take you less time than applying for a student loan to find a great place to swim in the summer and skate or ski in the winter.

On a more serious note, I'd avoid staggering home drunk across the Halifax Common late at night. Halifax is a friendly town, but every place has its dark corner. Use your common sense here.

And finally, the latest news: With Halifax now having sewage treatment, the bacteria count in the harbour has been reported to be lower than in some lakes. Mayor Peter Kelly took a dip recently, as have several journalists covering the story. Numbers aside---I was an arts major---all I can think of is that the toilets of Halifax have been flushing directly into the harbour for 250 years. The science may be there, but you won't catch me in those waters. Geh.

Wise Up
1. Avoid asinine assumptions about local culture.
2. Curb your cosmopolitan 'tude and wear sensible shoes.
3. Be canny about the rougher areas of town after dark.
4. Think twice before you jump in the harbour, no matter what the mayor says.

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