A Bit of Flag Waving

The two weeks of the Olympics finished today with a bang. I really have to say way to go, Canada, you really impressed me.

First of course there are the athletes, and the medals won.  The team might not have succeeded in the “own the podium” goal in the eyes of some, given that we finished what, third overall? But come ON. We broke the record in number of golds for one country at any Winter Games … ever. Look at the stories behind some of the medals, the ones that got publicity: Alexandre Bilodeau and his brother; Joannie Rochette and her heart-wrenching experience; Cherie Piper’s return after injury and anguish. I was never a stunning athlete, but I did get to train with some way-back-when, and know enough to say that every athlete out there has a story to tell of sacrifices, hard training, pain and injury. Congratulations, and thank you, to all of you.

Way to go, Vancouver, for pulling it off. I had a supply company rep sitting in my office last week, and we of course chatted briefly about the games, the price of tickets, the long lines to see anything. Then she said firmly something along the lines of, “This has to be the worst Olympic Games ever, what an embarrassment!” I stared at her blankly. Because I cannot disagree more. Yes, there were difficulties that went beyond the well-publicized lack of snow. Tickets to practices are traditionally free, but in Vancouver cost almost as much as the events themselves. Cypress reportedly ran out of food on more than one occasion. But did those things make mainstream media? Of course not. So how do we know that Turin, Salt Lake, Albertville, and all the others didn’t have similar problems? No. Vancouver dealt with the snow problem (okay, by trucking in snow, building runs up with hay, even shoving dry ice into moguls). The threat of constant, violent protests never really materialized. We cleaned up and prettied up, and threw parties all over the city.

But who I really want to congratulate and laud right now are just Canadians in general. Overall we’re not a flag-waving bunch. We keep our pride in being Canadian mostly to ourselves, and tend to express it in such quiet ways that many, even some Canadians, question its presence. Once a year we haul out our Canadian flags and wave them, paint our cheeks with maple leaves, and wear red and white. The last two weeks have been like an extended Canada Day celebration magnified by a hundred.

Downtown was filled with people wearing red and white, the standard  official ones bought at the Bay, the pricier but easier to obtain Roots gear, or any old red T shirt from the closet. Business people added touches of red to their office-tower uniforms – red ties, shoes, scarves. There were spontaneous cheers, flags waving in hands and hanging from balconies and office towers, outbursts of “GO CANADA,” even street-corner gatherings of strangers clustered together to sing O Canada … then depart with cheerful handshakes and hugs. Freaking bizarre and rather disconcerting, compared with the regular downtown behaviour. And yet despite all of this Canadianistic behaviour (woo, spellcheck didn’t like that one), the general nature of Canadians showed through. “Where are you from?” was something I heard lots on the street and in coffee shops, often followed by the Canadian offering greetings in the visitor’s language, or asking how to say hello, or inquiring about some aspect of life wherever the visitor came from. So, overt flag waving, but not in your face we rule you drool behaviour. Cool!

Canadians turned out en masse for the events that didn’t feature Canadians, like the other country’s hockey games. Good naturedly they cheered for the underdogs or their favourites, picking sides often based on their own family’s background. “Oh, I’m rooting for Canada of course,” I’d hear from a number of people, “But I’ve got Norwegian/French/Swiss/whatever background, so yeah, I’m cheering for them too.”

Oh, and then the events that did have Canadians playing! Good lord, that’s when we really shone. I was stunned by the audience at the curling matches – yes, curling. Normally it’s reserved and quiet, a gentleman’s sport of concentration where the audience doesn’t dare speak beyond a whisper. Well, Canadians raised the roof with cheering. A sea of red and white did the wave (the wave! Did you read that this was at a curling match? CURLING!), singing a heart-warming rendition of O Canada, cheering with all their might for our team. Okay okay, and booing the competition. We’re a hockey watching country guys, and a lot of those seats were sold to people who couldn’t afford tickets to the hockey game. Kudos to them for choosing an alternate sport and still cheering with all the gusto they would’ve used at hockey. Speaking of which, wow! Did you WATCH the gold medal games, Mens’ and Womens’? WOW. Not just the players and the game (though I swear I held my breath for half of the mens’ game today), but also the sheer volume of the cheers from the audience, the endless expanse of RED up there, flags waving everywhere.

This wasn’t just a Vancouver phenomenon, by the way. Watching the TV, cities across the country had celebrations downtown that were packed today after the Mens’ hockey final. My mom mentioned that the streets in Ottawa were empty, no traffic, everyone was watching the game. She was in a large grocery store when Canada scored in overtime to win, and she said that the goal was announced over the speaker system of the store, and was greeted with enthusiastic cheers.

I’m amazed, and impressed, by my fellow Canadians. Now, the games are over, and almost without a doubt the flag-waving and red-wearing will disappear.  I’m sure that a big part of it was that people are essentially sheep, and will dress to blend in. When in Rome, and all that. I’m sure though that many of us will carry with us a little bit of that happiness, the excitement of hearing, “Another gold for Canada,” the chill of hearing our anthem played again and again, and most of all the pride of being Canadian. I think that being the host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, our athletes performing so well, and our expression of national pride will become a little piece of our Canadian Identity.

I’m proud to be Canadian, for many reasons.

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