SALT LAKE CITY - I have to admit that I came here with a warning on the ready.
Like everybody else who saw NBC's early promos for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the ones with the billowing-flag backdrop and the melodramatic orchestral score, I was hoping we wouldn't overdo these Games.
I had this terrible feeling that, given the current circumstances, this celebration in Salt Lake City was going to be turned into one big commercial for patriotism and that U.S.A would become little more than a brand name.
So I was thinking, maybe we should tone it down a bit.
Until the rest of the world started telling us the same thing.
That's been a big story in Salt Lake this week. International media has been arriving here with attitudes as large as their luggage and with fingers wagging before they felt their first blast of Utah's cold air.
So far, American fans have been scolded, derided and basically told to mind their place when the competitions begin. The network showing the Games here has been instructed from abroad that playing host to the Olympics is not the same as owning them.
And the U.S. in general has been presented as some boorish bully in sports' little neighborhood, been told that we shouldn't cheer so boldly for our own and should show equal acknowledgement to athletes from all over the world.
Good thing we have such pleasant neighbors. I'd hate to think where we'd be without other countries to tell us how to act.
"Every time you come here, you see over-nationalism," said a story in Germany's L'Equipe sports newspaper this week.
"Now throw in the fact that U.S. television is going to tie in every American triumph with Sept. 11," said Canada's Toronto Sun, "and you've got a sure-fire recipe for nausea."
French reporters have bemoaned our provinciality and even the IOC stuck its five-thumbed hand into the mix, suggesting the American flag that flew at the World Trade Center should not be used during tonight's opening ceremony.
And who cares that some of these people might actually have a point, that we do tend toward insular here between our oceans. They still don't have a right to come around from wherever and dictate sports etiquette to us.
I mean, Canada? Please.
Any country that can screw up bacon has no business telling anybody else how to operate.
The French? They might be the world's authority on mistreating visitors, but that still doesn't give their arrogant scowls any special significance here.
Nobody needs to be dictating our behavior at a time when so many Americans still don't know how to behave.
Here's a thought instead.
Rather than lecturing us on being good hosts, maybe all these windbags should try being good guests. Maybe they should look around a little before walking into someone's home and telling them, "I just hate what you've done with the place."
But then, maybe we should just be used to this by now.
We're regularly accused in this country of being overly nationalistic, of taking a singularly American view at a multi-cultural world. At an Olympics in the U.S., our perceived self-involvement is alleged to be even greater.
But the Olympics are like that in every country. It's only called a problem when it happens here.
"I think the expression of patriotism is the prerogative of any nation that hosts the Games," said Lloyd Ward, chief executive officer of the USOC. "I expect to see flags flying and fans cheering and that pride needs to be expressed as part of the world community. Take pride in who you are, but respect and value those around you."
See, people here are actually capable of figuring that out. We didn't need any outside instruction on basic courtesy.
Nobody has the right to come here now and suggest we shouldn't be proud of where we live. Or that we shouldn't remember those who died.
Some people have had the nerve to try. And they say we're the rude ones.
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