What They’re Saying About Us

It seems obvious now, but I hadn’t appreciated the impact the Olympics would have on our country. Sure, a bunch of finely-tuned athletes would win medals, and Vancouver would benefit from thousands of tourists dropping millions of dollars on anything with the word “Canada” on it, but I hadn’t anticipated the way it would ignite feelings of patriotism that normally lie dormant until July 1st.

It was also a rare opportunity for the international media to pay attention to our country and cast judgement on who we are. The critiques ranged from scathing to glowing, and each day I’d veer from rage to pride to puzzlement at some of the commentary. Here are a few of my favourites from the past two weeks.

“People are often puzzled by the seeming discrepancy of Canadian niceness with the rock-’em-sock-’em aggression of our national sport, but the truth is that Canadians are not really nice. As one who has lived among them for most of his life—even in New York, still connected by family and in-laws—I can assure you that Canadians are not nice. They are just socially graceful, which gives them the appearance of niceness while actually covering over considerable reserves of disgust and disapproval, particularly at those who lack the sensitivity Canadians possess by national training.”
Adam Gopnick, The New Yorker

“Canada has not come of age in Vancouver 2010. Canada has regressed into a sneering but ultimately impotent adolescence. It’s been — well, rather unattractive on the whole…The Canadian shenanigans in Vancouver have alienated the entire world.” Simon Barnes, The Times.

“Talk like this, so nakedly ambitious, makes some Canadians uneasy. Theirs is a vast country that in many ways is run like a small town, with small-town values, and it has a highly developed culture of modesty, if not a collective inferiority complex. The athletic record in general is a little underwhelming, and some Canadians think that is because their countrymen prefer that, considering a good effort just as valuable as a trunkload of trophies, maybe better.”  Charles McGrath, The New York Times

“We all know Canada has problems with the future lines drawn on Arctic maps and we all know Canada lives in the shadow of its larger neighbour to the south. The abject cruelty shown by Canadian soldiers in international conflicts is scantily referred to, as indeed is the utter incapacity of this county to host a major international event, due to its inferiority complex, born of a trauma being the skinny and weakling bro to a beefy United States and a colonial outpost to the United Kingdom, whose Queen smiles happily from Canadian postage stamps.  Maybe it is this which makes the Canadians so…retentive, or cowardly. ”  Pravda, Vancouver:  Mutton Dressed As Lamb

“If Canadians have an Olympic fantasy, it’s this;  we’re neck and neck in the medal count and it all comes down to the final event, men’s hockey. Canada and Russia are tied, 2-2, in the third, and Sidney Crosby knocks in the winning goal in overtime.”  Gary Mason, Vancouver-based columnist for The Globe and Mail, speaking to the New York Times on February 10.  Not a bad prediction – substitute “USA” for “Russia”, and you’re golden.

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