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Disillusioned by northern neighbors

It is a good thing that the World Junior hockey tournament did not last any longer. Another week, and we might have had a border war.

Even as it was, I think we saw a different side of the normally placid, polite, patient good neighbors we thought we knew. Buffalo was invaded by a sea of red. The tide has receded, leaving behind some hard feelings, shattered stereotypes and an aftertaste as bad as the backwash from a warm Molson.

Whatever happened to the polite, humble, rule-respecting folks we thought we knew? Where were the civic-minded citizens who dutifully wait at the street corner when the traffic light is red, even when no cars are coming? Wherever you are, we want you back.

I am not sure if it was the insufferable sense of hockey superiority, or the pre- and post-game beers, but this tournament brought out the inner lout in a lot of Canadians. Arrogant, loud, drunk, obnoxious -- if I didn't know better, I would have thought that they were, well, Americans.

From the guy arrested for punching an American fan at the USA-Canada game, to the sea of red that adopted any team that the USA played, to the drunken red-clad louts at the New Year's Eve ball drop (staggering, middle-aged, red-clad lady I saw clutching a half-empty bottle of vodka, this means you), to the legions of lousy tippers at bars and restaurants -- a lot of Canadians wore out their welcome long before Russia shattered their gold medal dreams. Believe me, there were not a lot of Buffalonians crying over that outcome.

It was, well, dismaying. I have always enjoyed the peaceful co-existence and mutually advantageous relationship we have with our cold-climate cohorts.

Buffalonians like our weekends in big-city Toronto. We enjoy the better side of Niagara Falls. Many of us appreciate cross-border culture, from the Shaw Festival to the Canadian ballet. We relish pounding on Toronto's hockey team, one of the Sabres' few longtime whipping boys. And we forgive Torontonians the sterile Rogers Centre, as it is the closest viewing site for WNY's legion of Yankee fans. We even overlook their use of "eh" as punctuation and their affection for the underwhelming Peace Bridge.

In return, Canadians like our 4 a.m. bar closing and our wings and the bargains at our malls and our City of Good Neighbors affability. As a demonstration of our generosity, we even share our football team with Toronto -- although as gifts go, it ranks with the holiday fruitcake.

Make no mistake, we were more than happy the past couple of weeks to have Canadians sleep in our hotel rooms, eat in our restaurants, drink in our bars and shop in our malls. We love the uncommon smell of outside dollars. All we ask is that you do not be obnoxious about it.

In some cases, it was too much to ask.

I talked to workers at a downtown bar/restaurant that will remain nameless, to protect the place's cross-border business. By tournament's end, they had disdain for all things emblazoned with a Maple Leaf. The main complaint, and this is not new, is a lot of Canadian hockey fans are awful tippers.

"They would have a few beers and leave like a quarter or 50 cents," said one bartender, who for job security reasons asked that his name not be used. "Servers said they were getting two-dollar tips on a $25 check."

OK, chronically bad tipping is not cause for a diplomatic crisis. But multiply it by a few thousand visitors, and you leave behind a lot of irritation.

So I think it is a good thing that this thing is over. I look forward to getting back to our usual, cozy, mutually beneficial relationship. Aside from everything else, it is tough to stay mad at the nation that gave us Molson's and Labatt's, eh?


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