Patriotism

A European friend of mine was recently naturalized as a United States citizen and an intimate brunch was planned in his honour.

The gracious hosts tactfully and judiciously adorned their modern home with patriotic décor – just enough paraphernalia to clearly set the celebratory theme but well safe from being labelled as, for lack of a better word, “cheesy.”  Mark my words:  they decorated with flair, not with flare. There is a very fine line between the two and it’s far too easy to border on kitsch.  We’ve all seen the hideous displays of rampant Americana:  Uncle Sam garden crafts, star spangled wind chimes and table skirts, Stars and Stripes’ chip & dip trays, the Confederate stuff, etc.  My friends are too classy to succumb to such depths of despair.

Party decorations were downplayed and limited to small flags lining the delicate roof edge and red, white, and blue balloons floating at the ceiling.  It was the guests who generously contributed cliché gifts, their thoughtful gestures mostly tongue-in-cheek:  a cake in the form of a flag, a straw mat with ‘Welcome’ inscribed, a jar of Marshmallow Fluff®, a small burgeoning tree, the book A Patriot’s history, and various ‘catchy’ bumper stickers.

To commemorate the special occasion, the newest Yankee made a touching speech to the invitees.  Right afterwards, one jovial guest broke into song, rousing the small group to belt out the national anthem, “America the Beautiful”, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  I could feel a strong sense of pride resonate through the bunch. 

Listening to them strike even the high notes, I got to thinking that national pride never leaves you.  I get goose bumps when I hear my anthem, I am thrilled of (our) accomplishments big or small, and I’m embarrassed when we make a faux pas, especially on an international scale.  I’ve unwaveringly defended my Canadian roots whenever someone teased me or my beloved homeland – often for no other reason than ‘to get a rise outta me’.  I have been proud to distinguish myself while living in Boston this past decade.  To this day, retailers and cab drivers [here] still ask me where I’m from because they pick up on an accent, subtle because I don’t even notice it.

The Olympic Games in Vancouver brought out my Canadianism, big-time.  In all honesty, I was concerned from the get-go that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off.  Watching the grandiose spectacle in Beijing in the summer ‘08, I heaved a groan, knowing full well we could never ‘up’ the Chinese’s performance.  Suspending my disbelief, I eagerly watched these XXI Winter Games’ opening ceremonies that turned out to be lovely.  Perhaps not matching the levels of ‘awe-inspiring’ as Beijing or Athens – our budget was but a fraction – but we did our version:  the unfolding of Canada’s story.  Sure, some mishaps ensued but you can’t expect it to go off without a hitch.  It was reaffirming to hear the crowd’s deafening response to the athletes walking in the Parade of Nations.   And for many of them, who had no hope of ‘medaling’, that was their podium. I gave a cheer when athletes from the little nation of Latvia – my mother’s country – entered the arena, only to be disappointed that that was precisely when the television network chose to go to commercial.

During the Games, I joined a Canadian Expat Meet-up group here in Boston to watch a few events, most significantly the final hockey match.  It was almost as good as being home for the big game and we geared up to watch Team Canada take the gold.  Standing elbow to elbow with 80+ of my countrymen, none of whom I actually know, yet all of whom had also made a point of wearing maple leaf red, we cheered and fretted in unison.  High drama indeed – you couldn’t have scripted a more gripping finale to the Olympics.  My cohorts were visibly entranced by the event as Canada narrowly beat the USA in a match painfully drawn to overtime.  FULL-ON PRIDE.   Stephen Colbert said it best when he noted that “losing a hockey game is anathema to the Canadians, considering it’s our national past-time”.

Those two weeks passed far too quickly.  I had looked forward to watching events nightly, hearing of the international success stories, controversies, and record-breaking.  Friends of mine also admit to being recovering Olympic Games ‘addicts’, now finding themselves in withdrawal.  After all, there’s something pretty awesome about nations coming together to celebrate the human spirit.  The closing ceremonies were alright, albeit a curious cultural selection.  They were light-hearted with a cavalcade an appropriate amount of Canadian cheese:  inflatable Mounties and oversized beavers and moose, to name a few.  Hey, we’ve got our fair share of that too.

Interestingly, I have heard the word ‘Canada’ uttered on television more times in these past 2 weeks of American Olympic coverage than I have in 11 years here.  I’m just sayin’…..

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