Friendliness, unity, spirit abound in Olympic Vancouver

There are few opportunities to be caught in a collective mania so pervasive that it touches everyone.

Vancouver winter olympics (photo credit: AP)
Vancouver winter olympics
(photo credit: AP)
VANCOUVER – There are few opportunities in a lifetime to be caught in a collective mania, a hysteria so pervasive that it touches every man, woman and child in the street.
Yet here in Vancouver, the frenzy is one of amity and gleaming goodwill. (I kid you not. The unforgivably treacley motto “with glowing hearts” is pasted on every scoreboard.)
Vancouver has indeed been pained red – often in the shape of the maple leaf that graces Canada’s flag – to celebrate an international sporting competition that attracts 2,600 athletes and an estimated three billion international TV viewers.
Houses boast flags on poles and awnings, storefronts proclaim their support for the national team and even dogs in Canadian hockey jerseys can be spotted on the street.
Meanwhile, locals line up for hours to get into tents featuring displays on the country’s diverse cultures and open-air projections of the competitions being held at nearby venues.
And they wait just as long to get into stores selling souvenir mittens – the hats, scarves and jackets have largely sold out.
Downtown, the streets are jammed with locals brimming with civic pride and the Olympic spirit. Riding a media van, I found out that my driver had taken two weeks vacation from his job as a supermarket checkout clerk to shuttle around journalists. His compensation: a complimentary ticket to the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremonies last Friday night. That’s it.
He noted that as a blue collar worker he couldn’t afford to buy tickets to any of the actual sporting events, but he wasn’t complaining.
The real reward, he explained, was meeting people from all around the world and getting to represent his city to them.
The bright-eyed exuberance can be a little overwhelming to someone who has spent many years absorbing cynicism in the Middle East, but the sheer earnestness helps temper what could elsewhere be an aggressive nationalism. Instead, it seems a pure expression of civic boosterism, no more, no less.
And that is as it should be. Though the Olympic games pit countries against one another, they are meant to enhance cooperation rather than antagonism.
They are, at root, a feel-good exercise. In most international venues, being nice – a cornerstone of Canadian national identity – often doesn’t get one far.
But for once, geniality and civility are getting their due. And so far, two gold medals.