The Winter Olympics -- Cough -- Welcomes You

Despite many admirable qualities (including ferocious loyalty, universal indignation at injustice and healthy contempt for politicians) Canadians generally are not very generous or warm people. They also have a poorly developed sense of humor which is why our best comedians -- wacko Jim Carey, for example -- leave for America.

The weather is partly to blame, of course, but so is the national aversion to risk-taking which keeps our economy, our population and our souls so small.

Canadians will eagerly tell you this is why America is now hurting while Canada is only in a downturn. This will appear like rudeness, but Canadians call it "straight-talk." They will be dumb-founded if you take offense. (But please note: because of the poor sense-of-humor thing, Canadian straight-talk is not a two-way street.)

If it were, we'd understand that recent decisions concerning the well-being of "visitors" (read "Americans") to the Winter Olympiad in 2010 make us look cheap and mean. Richmond, where I live, will host the speed-skating events. It's an overlooked island suburb still hanging off the skirts of its busy mom, Vancouver.

The Chinese minority has grown to a majority in the 15 or so years I've lived here. The rest of the town is mainly comprised of lower and lower middle-class white people who appreciate irony and sometimes now refer to it as "Lichmond, nyuck - nyuck." They also have "sensible" ideas about the value of a dollar.

For the Olympiad, Vancouver combined with Richmond and the province (B.C.) to build an elevated train to bring people in from the international airport (YVR) which is located in my small town. Come September, you no longer have to mortgage your house to pay for the cab ride into Vancouver. This is a good and long-overdue thing.

Richmond also built itself a beautiful, state-of-the-art arena (the "skating oval") that is really something to see. The problem is that the elevated train doesn't go anywhere near the skating oval. Next February, our visitors are expected to take a frosty -- and probably wet -- 20 minute walk from the closest train station to the Olympic venue OR to patronize the local taxis that will lose considerable business when the elevated train finally opens up.

So, I warn you. Smallness is what to expect of your Canadian hosts, and this is why tourism in this beautiful country is still a shabby disaster. (Since the gold-rush B.C. has all-but institutionalized the tradition of stiffing newcomers). Short-sighted people miss big opportunities when they gouge and scramble on a personal level for what are really, very small bucks. Utah, after all, used the Winter Olympics to re-brand itself. It is no longer simply the capital of Mormonism, and it has been enjoying increased tourism every since.

Well, Richmond had considered establishing a shuttle service to ferry our guests to the Olympic site, but there's very little political will to do it. Few local pols grasp that a free shuttle service -- one that not only takes tourists to the Olympic skating events but also allows them to visit Steveston, our historic and picturesque Japanese fishing village -- would result in tourists being charmed, spending more money and maybe even revisiting at a later date or recommending the place to their friends.

Canadians want to accumulate, of course, but they'll never speculate to do it. They're also slightly averse to the concept of fair-value. Duh.

This is the big difference between our two countries. Other than that, Canada is just a much larger and much less flamboyant version of Alaska. But since we've never had, and never will have a Sarah Palin, it's not all bad.

Anyway, I want you to enjoy our Olympiad. Please, tolerate our small town attitudes with Jon Stewart's or even Steven Colbert's good American humor (which, up here of course, is spelled with a 'u').

HUMOUR, eh? Canada-style. Learn to love it.