As a person not born in Canada, I have integrated pretty well, I think. I know the words to the national anthem in French as well as English. I can name the strengths and weaknesses of several politicians at the federal, provincial, and even municipal level. I understand some of the complexities of our love/hate relationship with our cousins, the Americans.
But I have completely failed to understand the national passion for hockey. I don’t get it at all. I am not a sports spectator anyway, though I have of course spent countless hours watching my children’s soccer and softball games — but that’s a parental requirement. Sport as such leaves me cold. And ice hockey is a particularly alien concept: fast, loud, frequently violent, and played in a cold and unfriendly environment.
I know there is something going on right now called the playoffs. Exactly what that is I couldn’t tell you, though I assume it’s some kind of end-of-season championships. But it means that even apparently normal Canadian men and women get caught up in playoff madness: needing to know the score, being elated when their team wins and cast down when it loses, criticizing players and debating endlessly what they should have done differently, and wearing hockey shirts, surely the ugliest garment ever designed, in public.
Pubs and casual restaurants that have big-screen TVs are intolerable locations during playoff time. But even if you avoid them, you are not necessarily safe. I have friends who have downloaded an iPhone app that gives them regular updates on game scores — I am lobbying to have the official list of Deadly Sins increased from seven to eight.
Of course, home is a hockey-free zone. But you have to be careful when going out. During playoff season so far, I have had to hide in artsy venues and the kind of restaurants where food and conversation are the twin priorities. I have:
- been to a performance of Ruddigore, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta, performed by the North Shore Light Opera Society at Presentation House Theatre;
- attended my daughter’s school play, an episode of Blackadder where she played Baldrick;
- listened to Marc Destrubé and Alexander Weimann play Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms sonatas, courtesy of Early Music Vancouver, at the Unity Church on Oak;
- listened to Jeremy Fisher and The Wailin’ Jennys at the Chan Centre;
- dined at Les Faux Bourgeois, the Avenue Grill, and Osaka Sushi.
And — success! Not a single televised hockey game at any of those locations.