Greetings from weepy-eyed post-Olympics London. A favorite British saying goes something like: ‘chin up, it could be worse.’ Imagine the confusion on the streets here with everyone instead thinking and saying: “could it have been any better?” On this final bank (national) holiday Monday for 2012, words don’t adequately express the palpable sense of elation and disappointment that still lingers in the U.K. after the closing of the XXX Olympiad. Elation that the 2012 London Games were such a resounding success, and disappointment that they are very much completed. In the possible words, if he spoke, of Mr. Bean: oh, bother.
Super size me
London managed to serve up a super-sized portion of ‘I say!’, between the weather (mostly) following instructions, the transportation network and Olympic Park suffering nary a hiccup and athletes, coaches, staff and fans all seeming to have had a very positive and fun 16 days. And Team GB surpassed all expectations by rocketing past their 2008 gold and total medal results. The British press ranks total golds over total medals, which puts GB at #3 in the medal table – not bad for a wee island nation – and fourth overall. Russia had third-highest total medals, bolstered by their large bronze take, which surpassed even Team USA. OK, enough ‘anorak’ (geek) talk.
Palo Alto’s Olympians did their level best in London: two more golds in tennis and beach volleyball, fighting shuttlecock spirit by Ben Lee’s badminton team and noble effort by Paly’s rising table tennis star Lily Zhang. Lee remarked to me that it had been a ‘wonderful experience’ contributing with the athletes in these games. And thanks to the kind offer of a shy friend, some fan-photos of Zhang competing in London have been added to the online picture gallery for this blog.
Paralympics to the rescue
With momentum (and pangs of yearning) strong following the Games, the 2012 London Paralympic Games kicks off this week and is poised to challenge for the honor of being the first ever sell out. Tickets, while admittedly much less dear than the Olympics, have already sold out for all Olympic Park events, with even day passes ‘snarked’ up. Paralympic athletes are, I think, especially looking forward to bringing much welcome critical praise for and public scrutiny of their respective prowess, as well as the downright exciting nature of these Games. Now bring on that wheelchair rugby.
BBC me, hear me
Live coverage in the UK of the London 2012 Olympics was a commercial-free feat of massive media proportions. Six TV and four radio channels provided near non-stop terrestrial coverage, while all competitions were viewable live online (as in the States), with the added bonus that everything was (and still is) available on demand post facto. Wow. Without the Beeb’s embarrassment of online riches, their abrupt signing off of wall-to-wall Olympics TV coverage would have been a short, sharp shock to the system.
Between living here, marrying into ‘the realm’ and my primary O-coverage coming from the BBC (no great hardship, I assure you), my awareness of and interest in Team GB is strong. Some of my personal highlights include Mo Farah and Victoria Pendleton, both multi-gold winning Britons who manage to pull on your heart and mind with their perseverance and poise.
Don’t be sorry, just say sorry
Remember the ‘separated by a common language’ saying? Whilst food is the way to a persons heart, language is the life blood of the human experience. If animals, etc. could talk, right? Well, we can. And I find an effective method of connecting with people in a foreign land is to make an effort with the local lingo. Sharing a language here mitigates the need to make much effort along this front, but even a few small steps help to better understand the British people and their intentions.
London shop and sales staff will not typically introduce themselves with a probing question, such as ‘is there anything I can do for you/anything you need?’ In the self-effacing vein of being non-intrusive, you’ll usually receive a simple: ‘are you alright?’ First time I heard this, my reaction was to think: yes, of course I’m alright. Somehow, over time I kind of get it.
How many words for ice?
Language says a lot about a people and culture. Some grammarians claim that Eskimos have up to 18 different words for ice – makes sense, even if it’s debated. And I find it telling that the stoic (and loving) British people say ‘sorry’ with amazing frequency. Didn’t hear what somebody said? Reply with a simple ‘sorry.’ Bump into someone on a crowded tube or pavement (sidewalk)? Sorry. Get bumped into? Sorry. Need someone’s attention or to squeeze past them on the Tube? Sorry. And of course the tried and true making amends: sorry.
Saying ‘excuse me’ can, I concede, be construed to imbue a certain air of superiority, which Brits decry. “Excuse me!” might as easily come from a demanding Lord as a humble servant. But nobody can question your humble intentions with a good, well-placed sorry. ‘Your welcome’ is generally replaced with some variant of: ‘That’s OK.’ Again, emphasis on not getting too personal, and putting the recipient at ease.
‘Can I help you?’ ‘Excuse me.’ And ‘you’re welcome.’ Replaced by: ‘you alright?’ ‘Sorry.’ And ‘that’s OK.’ Subtle differences which speak volumes about social norms and the values that infuse them.
Next up: Palo Alto’s pioneering civic ways reflected in London, and what’s all this about bad British food?
See David Vinokur's Olympics photo gallery