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The Vancouver Games: U.S. and Canada Are Neighbors, Not Twins

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To the Canadians reading this, I have some shocking news:

Canada and the United States have a lot in common. At least, NBC thinks so.

After an opening segment paying homage to Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died when he lost control during a practice run in Whistler earlier in the day, NBC made its best attempt to return to a celebratory tone for its first night of Olympic coverage. A six-minute video highlighting Canada's "very unique relationship to the United States" cheerily discussed our trading relationship, geographical parallels, and similar immigrant history.

"We share our continent and so much more," Tom Brokaw narrated, in a jolly, educational tone familiar from high school science or history videos. The video highlighted the historical moments when Canada lent a hand to the United States: in the 1979 Canadian Caper in Iran, in the days immediately following 9-11, and in the war in Afghanistan. "In our darkest hours, Canada has been with us," Brokaw continued.

While my heart warmed at such unabashed praise for Canada, the video felt a little off to me and the two fellow Canadians I roped into watching with me. Although it's obvious -- or perhaps because it's so obvious -- that Canada and the United States are similar in many ways, Canadians almost never talk about it.

In fact, we defensively and tiresomely detail the ways in which we differ from our neighbor to the south. For instance, a hugely popular Canadian beer commercial from 2000 in which "Joe Canadian" rants about misapprehensions of Canada contains pointedly references some of the differences between Canada and the U.S.:

I have a prime minister, not a president, I speak English and French, not American... I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack, I believe in peacekeeping, not policing, diversity not assimilation, and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal. A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch, and it is pronounced Zed, not Zee!

In a country that has long had trouble defining its national identity, it's much easier to explain what we are not than what we are. And with the U.S. being so close, so similar, and so culturally dominant, we spend the majority of that effort finding the points where Canadians differ from Americans.

So, to have a television segment focusing on the similarities between Canada and the United States -- well, it was shocking for a Canuck in an "emperor-has-no-clothes" sort of way.

Luckily for any Canadians on the verge of an identity crisis, the next moments of the telecast confirmed just how different we really are. Tom Brokaw chuckled bemusedly as he reported that Prime Minster Stephen Harper went in front of British Columbia's legislative assembly on Friday to urge Canadians to engage in what he called "an uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism." Brokaw contrasted this with American fans, who he said would be "unfurling the Stars and Stripes at every opportunity."

Later, as the Canadian athletes entered B.C. Place stadium during the Opening Ceremonies, Matt Lauer and Bob Costas seemed perplexed over the controversy that Canada's openly aggressive hunt to lead the medal count has generated within the country among people who see the attitude as "un-Canadian."

"I don't see anything incompatible with saying, 'Hello, welcome, we're very friendly, we're glad you're here, enjoy yourselves and now we would also like to kick your butt," said Costas.

But Canadians do. So maybe not quite so similar after all.

Previously in this series:
The Vancouver Games: Will the Media Get it Right?

Next in this series:
Olympics Obsessed? You're Not Alone

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