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Canada and Boston

A lot of you may have seen some of the sniping and wise assed comments coming out of Canada recently, and may be wondering what’s going on… Well, I think I can shed some light on the situation. That’s because I’m from Boston, a city that lives in the shadow of New York.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Boston State-house is the hub of the solar system. You couldn?t pry that out of a Boston man if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crow-bar.” He was being sarcastic. But Bostonians, not realizing they were being made fun of, adopted “The Hub” as the nickname of their town. Hometown pride rides high, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear. Especially when the much larger New York City is just a few hours drive away.

Every other big city I’ve spent time in, Chicago, LA, NYC, or even Atlanta, seems to act as a magnet for young people looking to move to the “big city.” Boston doesn’t do that, because even though it’s a top metropolitan area, it lives in the shadow of a bigger city. Young people may come to Boston to go to college, but they then graduate to New York if they want to live in the real big city. While Boston has its advantages and its industries at which it excells, New York is bigger and dominant in most every way imaginable. Whether it’s financial, cultural, or industrial, New York has it in larger and greater quantities than Boston.

The Bostonian feeling of inadequacy is most acutely observed in the world of sports, especially baseball. The Red Sox and the Yankees have had this “rivalry” ever since the Curse of the Bambino. But I am a child of the 1980’s, and to me growing up, while the Yankees were the perinnial enemy, I could never forget what happened in 1986, when the Red Sox barely lost the world series to the Mets. So when I found myself living in NYC during the subway series of 2000, I was in a dilemma. Who should I root for? While I knew that the traditional position would be to root against the Yankees, I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for the Mets. So I quietly hoped the Yankees would win, and raised a drink when the Mets lost.

Now to me this was a matter of extremely minor concern. It really has no relevance to my life as a whole, and really fit into the context of sideline entertainment for me. But I was shocked to come home for a weekend and see the utter despair in Boston over the fact that New York was destined to win the world series, no matter what. It was as if reality were crashing down around them, and they could no longer live in the fantasy that Boston was the Hub of the universe. If any city was, it was New York. And that truth was unavoidable. The Boston Globe had written an article (you’ll have to pay to read it in the archives) which I’ll never forget, entitled, “SUBWAY SERIES RATTLES THE HUB,” by Joanna Weiss on October 21, 2000. The opening line was, “Could it get any worse than this?” And it amounted to a long lament about having to face the reality that had always been there.

The interesting thing for me was, that from the prespective of the average New Yorker, there simply was no rivalry. Sure there’s always a small rivalry in sports, but there can’t be a rivalry where one side consistently loses. And New Yorkers certainly see no rivalry in any other aspect either. The rivalry, it would seem, is a one-way rivalry. And a one-way rivalry is nothing more than a cover for self-loathing.

So that brings us back to Canada. Two quick stories to illustrate the problem. My friend Adam was telling me, after Bush’s speech to the congress after 9-11, about how Canadians were so upset after Bush failed to mention Canada as our best friend, especially because it was the second snub he’d given Canada. When asked what the first snub was, he replied that meeting with the Presdient of Mexico as the first foreign head of state upon taking office, rather than the Prime Minister of Canada, as had been tradition for the past 100 or so years. Now I ask you Americans out there, did you have any idea that this was tradition? Could you possibly care?

Second story: Friend of a friend is taking a college course in Canada. He’s the only American in the class. The professor is ranting and raving about how Canadians dislike Americans or are upset at Americans about this or that, and finally, as expected, the professor focuses in on the American, and asks him, “So, what do Americans think about Canadians?” to which he replied, “We don’t.” The class, professor included, was dumbstruck, and moved on to other topics.

See, the problem is that sometimes people, especially when they view themselves in the collective, have pride for things that aren’t there. Group pride, as it were. And more often than not, that pride is unwarranted, not based on real accomplishments. There are plenty of things that make Boston a good and unique city, but its never going to outshine New York, nor should it bother trying. Same for Canada and its relationship with the United States. Focusing on what’s real rather than on what’s imaginary will help everyone get along a bit better, I think.


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