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Relationship with Canada has deep roots

If this keeps up, my wife is afraid we will have our border-crossing privileges revoked. And neither one of us wants that to happen.

There has been lots of back-and-forth since my column last week noting that some Canadians got hockey-obnoxious here during the recent World Junior tournament. Irate e-mails flooded in from the True North. Interview requests ranged from Alberta to Montreal.

Time for a little perspective. Prolonged exposure to a red-clad horde over an 11-day tournament left behind -- predictably -- some frayed nerves and hard feelings. But it was a cross-check. Not an international incident.

This is Buffalo. We usually have warm sentiments for our cross-river neighbors. So it was telling that we felt little sympathy at the sight of downcast Canadians trooping out of HSBC Arena after the gold medal game. It is tough to get teary-eyed when arrogance gets its comeuppance.

Which is precisely the point Canadians made this week in a blizzard of e-mails about Americans and our monumental superiority complex. It was a little grating for them to hear that Buffalonians took exception to their red-clad visitors' overbearing sense of hockey entitlement. I get it. Americans patented that sort of arrogance. Canadians just borrow it for hockey. Point taken.

But there is a larger point here. Buffalonians' commonality with our cross-river neighbors breeds, I think, a relationship that is bigger than any extended-visit chafing. As I heard time and again this week, Canadians feel like they live -- unfairly -- in the shadow of the self-impressed, self-absorbed superpower to the south. America demands attention, yet most of its citizens cannot name Canada's prime minister. Similarly, Buffalonians feel like the runt of the American litter, an easy punch line for everything from blizzards to a busted economy.

In our shared sense of defensiveness, I think Buffalo has a kinship with our Canadian cousins. We both know how it feels to be overshadowed and underappreciated. We even celebrate the bonhomie with an annual ode to binational fellowship, the Friendship Festival -- an event that would be nauseatingly cheesy if we did not live in a world blistered by conflict.

Unlike most Americans, Buffalonians' sense of Canada comes from more than a Labatt's ad. It comes from years of everyday encounters with people who (usually) are not wearing hockey sweaters. Southern Ontario sits on our shoulder. In many ways, I think of it as an extension of Buffalo (and not, hold your e-mails, in a proprietary sense). The proximity and mutual connectivity breeds a camaraderie that crosses borders.

Most Canadians I have encountered are unfailingly helpful, engaging and, yes, good folks to knock back a Molson with. The Canadian character, to my view, values communal civility over individual expression, moreso than in the States. Maybe that impression reinforces an image some Canadians would rather shed. But, to my mind, "polite" does not translate as "subservient." And nobody I know thinks it does.

Buffalonians get the best of what you have: Beaches on "the Canadian side." Day trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Weekends in big-city Toronto. In return, we give you the world's best chicken wings, the Albright-Knox, 4 a.m. bar closings (for better or worse) and the cut-rate bounty at our malls. It is a mutually agreeable arrangement that recently took a hit. But we'll get over it.

It will take more than a hockey tournament to drive a wedge into a long, comfortable relationship. I hope that the message resounds across the 10 provinces, all the way to Stephen Harper.


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