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Vancouver: Canada in Miniature?

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Earlier this week, Stephen Colbert, the enthusiastically patriotic and clueless character played by Stephen Colbert, television star, interviewed Ujjal Dosanjh, the Member of Parliament for the riding of Vancouver South.

Colbert leafed through papers and performed exaggerated vocal warm up episodes while Dosanjh waited patiently.

"Ok, said Colbert, looking around. "I'm ready... Can we get the Canadian guy in here please?"

Dosanjh, who was born in India and who represents a riding that is 45% Chinese-Canadian and 13% Indo-Canadian, smiled as a (scripted) staffer explained that the MP was sitting in front of him. "I'm so sorry, I just thought I'd be getting some guy who looked like his name was Gordon. So this is also Canadian?" said Colbert. "This is also Canadian," replied Dosanjh firmly.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have based their success on spot-on skewering of the American media, so I guess it's not surprising that Colbert made a point that much of the NBC coverage has failed to broach: that stereotypes of Canada don't necessarily apply to Vancouver.

Mounties, back bacon and references to the Arctic abound in the "local color" segments on NBC morning shows and between events. And sure, most Canadians embrace these stereotypes as symbols of our culture, but it bears mentioning that they apply to a greater or lesser extent depending where you are in the country.

In much of the coverage of these games, Vancouver and Canada seem almost interchangeable. The city is being presented as the paradigm of Canadianness, when -- in non-Olympic years --we're often seen as the "least Canadian" of the major cities.

The rest of our country scoffs at our new-age, yoga-loving lifestyle, for instance. Way out on the West Coast, we've been left to develop our own culture, one that skews left, and laidback. "Less plaid, more Lululemon," wrote a friend from Montreal when I asked, via Facebook update, about the difference between Vancouver and the rest of Canada.

And, of course, our winters are laughable compared to anywhere else in the country, several others piped up. (The American coverage has actually done a decent on this one, largely because the lack of snow on Cypress Mountain and the beaming sun, daffodils and cherry blossoms in the city made it impossible to ignore.)

Other Canadians I asked noted the lack of Tim Hortons in the city, or the fact that Vancouver is less francophone than many of the provinces, and has a much stronger Asian cultural influence. Actually, people had no trouble at all listing several ways in which Vancouver differs from the rest of the nation.

Of course, I understand that Olympic Games operate at the level of nations, not cities. And I understand that the relationship between host city and country is one of synecdoche: a part standing for a whole. But I find my civic pride and national patriotism butting heads. On the one hand, I'm proud to see Vancouver being presented as a symbol for Canada, but on the other, it's strange to see these internal frictions suddenly wiped away.

As a friend from Toronto recently told me when I asked him if he felt proud to see the Olympics in Vancouver:

"Yeah I guess. But it's kind of weird, since I grew up hating the place."

Next in this series:
The Vancouver Games: The Spotlight Goes Out


Previously in this series:
(Hockey) Pride Comes Before a Fall

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