Monday, March 1, 2010

Oh, Canada

I first visited Canada when I was 3 years old, traveling with my parents on a car trip from our home in the northeastern United States to visit with relatives in Ontario. I have been back to Canada many times since, written travel pieces about various parts of the country, crossed the enormous land on board a Canadian National train and lived in Canada's two greatest cities, Montreal and Toronto. At one point, I thought I might stay. I didn't stay, but I feel affection for Canada and have a history there. Count me as a fan.

Even given all that, I have to admit to a bit of ambivalence about Canada's performance in the just-completed Vancouver/Whistler Winter Olympic Games. Not the performance of Canadian athletes, who hauled in a record 14 gold medals, came third in the overall medal count -and won 'em fair and square; here's to them. I mean Canadian nationalists, who, while literally wrapping themselves in the flag, swaggered down city streets tanked up on beer, bragging and bellowing at the top of their lungs. At such times, Canadians resembled in their crude triumphalism the neighbors to the south they customarily deride for - right - crude triumphalism.

Of course, Canadians wanted a chance to cheer and be proud. And why not? They may not have owned the podium, but they did very well - hey, how about that men's hockey gold in OT? - and, as mentioned, won more golds than anyone. The last time Canada hosted the Winter Games, in Calgary, in 1988, the hosts won not a single gold. To be sure, there were just 46 events then, compared to 86 in Vancouver. The U.S. topped the overall medal count with 37, but the international winner on a per capita basis was neither the U.S. or Canada. It was Norway, population 4.7 million, which reaped 9 gold medals and 23 overall. Still, Canada came up big.

Hosting the Olympics and shining in competition against the world's best has got to mean something to a nation that is perennially unsure of its identity (not British, not French, not American), that seems on an eternal search for recognition, fears possible dissolution of confederation (the eternal Quebec question) and craves the world's respect. Canadians got recognition and respect from the Games, along with a dollop of self-respect.

So, what's not to like?

Just this: While Canadians' reputation for politeness (A typical joke: Canadians say thank-you to ATMS), was always exaggerated, it's not false. Civility is a fine quality, not to be scoffed at, as I am reminded whenever I visit Canada. Jingoism is just not attractive, no matter if it comes wrapped in the stars and stripes, the union jack, the tricolor, the rising sun or the maple leaf.

Bottom line: This may be a "Be careful what you wish for'' situation. Canadians wanted attention. They wanted woo-hoo, hands-in-the-air parties on Robson Street and Bay and Bloor. OK, done. In getting what they wanted, here's hoping Canadians don't lose what they had.

No comments:

Post a Comment