Friday, August 10, 2012

The London Olympics, Mitt Romney, and the world’s opinion on the games

I must admit, I was one of the cynics beforehand, but from the moment that Danny Boyle’s incredible opening ceremony of the Olympics began, I have been enthralled by the whole sporting event.  As a expat Brit in Florida, I have been experiencing things from across the Atlantic in the USA, of course – but judging by the mixed, but overall favourable viewpoints expressed in the BBC’s article that I read on world opinion, it has been a great success.  It hasn’t all been plain sailing though, of course, though.

The Mitt Romney faux pas

Before the Olympics even began, there was the Mitt Romney faux pas on his trip to the UK.  My wife told me Romney committed the sin of not recognizing the fact that the Brits can criticize the Olympics but foreigners should stay out of it.  I can see her point, but I think that there are also other factors at play.

Yes, there were definitely problems with security and travel strikes in the run up to the start of the Olympics, but I think there was a cultural misunderstanding at the heart of the Romney faux pas.  Brits love to moan about things, we know that we are an organized country, but playing up problems into virtual epic calamities is almost a sport in itself and is seen as a strange sort of fun on some level – at least when expressed as a talking point: “Isn’t it terrible, you’ll never guess what’s happened now…” type of way.  The British media, politicians, and general public all collaborate. 

In the upbeat and optimistic US, the Olympic security and strike problems, rather than being played up, would’ve been handled as a “We’ve got it covered, it’s all going to be awesome,” situation.  Romney’s problem was that he interpreted the British moaning literally and then was shocked by the response he got.  Moaning can often be a casual thing in the UK, like talking about the weather and people will even invent stuff just to moan about – it’s a totally different mentality.  In the US, a positive attitude is de rigueur and every problem is there to be solved.

Then again, Mitt made his remarks in an NBC interview, maybe he just didn’t expect them to be reported by the British media…

The opening ceremony

It was just amazing.  I couldn’t believe the Queen’s parachute act.  I was worried that the ceremony might be too traditional or pompous, but if anything it was the other way - modern and full of humour.  I keep meaning to watch the whole thing again as there was just so much in there.  Some of it was pretty obscure unless you are British – the first lesbian kiss on Brookside, Ken Loach’s “Kes”, other classic quotes and clips from film, books, TV and radio through the decades.  It is incredible how much culture, be it pop music, Shakespeare, or Mr Bean(!?!) we have brought to the world!

World opinion on the Olympics

As I mentioned, it was interesting to read some of the feedback from other countries in the BBC article.

The criticism from the Russian reporter that "The average Londoner doesn't make a big deal about food - feeding the kids chips, pizza, toast and sandwiches…  cannot even begin to imagine what would happen to Londoners and city visitors if it wasn't for Chinese and Indian takeaways," is true in my estimation. 

There is lots of good food to be eaten in Britain, but the British public generally has no passion for good food and tends to prefer crap.  Unfortunately, the situation isn’t much different in the US – but they do know how to do customer service, at least.  Plus the US has the advantage of not having France next door, reminding them of their inadequacy.

Some of the other criticisms though, I take with a pinch of salt – biased refs (sour grapes!) and people not being interested in the games outside the Olympic Village - I mean you have to respect the fact that a lot of people just aren’t interested in sport, whether it’s the Olympics, the football World Cup, or the Wimbledon Finals.

There aren’t that many complaints though, it seems.  I know that the London Olympics have gone down well in America from noting the reaction of the media and my friends. 

Whatever its downsides (dirty, overcrowded, expensive, grumpiness, etc.) London is a world city and an iconic one.  Things generally seem to have run very smoothly and the staffing has been cheerful (which is an achievement).  Even the weather has been good by British standards and Team GB have won a few medals (Yorkshire did so well they would have made it into the top 10 if they were an independent country). The BBC also have impressed me with their coverage - every sport shown live on the internet!

I can’t wait for the closing ceremony now.  Apparently the Spice Girls are going to perform…


  1. Paul, Thanks for the film clip, I have a telly but don't have cable. You write so well and with interesting insights and details. Judy

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Judy. I do my best. :-)

  2. As an American in London I have LOVED every minute of the Olympics. Was lucky enough to attend a few events and the closing ceremony, too. One of the highlights of my time here. In a word- they were "brilliant!"

    1. Yes, despite all the last minute anxieties, the Olympics appeared to have turned out to be a huge success. A tremendous feat, given how busy London is, as you know! I am jealous that you got to attend some events and the closing ceremony! :-)

  3. You are right about Romney, but I think the English response was looking through an English lens. I *think* they saw him as a typical politician of the upper, privileged out-of-touch class as many politicians are in England. Nobody had heard of him before and the English are frustrated with their government on many levels right now. They put Romney in the same category as their own politicians even though they knew nothing about him. However, a few did comment that at least Romney had the guts to speak the truth, instead of being PC. And I think the security situation was globally reported as a problem, not just the English being English.

    An American asked me if I was worried about the security, and I told her that one thing England does well is security and I was sure they'd get it figured out. And they did! No incidents and the military (and police) did a great job at keeping us safe AND being really friendly. All the strikes and the rest of the concerns melted away with the Opening Ceremony success. I think everyone would agree that England did a GREAT job :)

    1. I never saw or read the comments about Romney being described as "courageous" in the britsh media - everything I saw was either negative, or poking fun at him. You would expect the British Left to dislike him, but what struck me was how much antipathy he seemed to stir up with the British Conservatives.

      The current British government is a weak one - it was always likely to be unpopular given the economic climate, but some of the incompetence, such as George Osborne's budget, was surprising. I suspect the coalition will probably stumble on until it reaches the next election, however, and then who knows what will happen.

    2. To clarify, the positive comments about Romney were in the comment sections after the news articles. So whatever it's worth, it came from the people, not the media.