Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Chinese Whispers

BBC News has had stories about the effusive welcome that the Chinese have been ordered to give to visitors to the Olympics. One of their reporters was subjected to several dozen welcomes just crossing the hotel lobby.
The Chinese have been given instructions on smiling. Apparently they must display between six and eight teeth when they smile and use chopsticks as a training aid to force their mouths into a smile.
(It's just as well I don't smile much. You wouldn't want to see my teeth, unless you were a dentist trying to raise the money for a villa in Portugal).

That degree of fabricated bonhomie would probably make me homicidal. It would also make me nostalgic for the routine surliness of Britain.
I often complain about the rudeness of many shop assistants, bar staff and others in this country and their refusal to reply to a greeting. But one appreciates those who do acknowledge one's existence all the more. As I've said before, the teenage shop staff hereabouts are far more likely to be friendly than the older ones. They tend to greet you in their own vernacular - "all right, Mate?" - but I've no objection to that. It's preferable to both silence and the standardised, corporate training programme garbage.

We use the term 'fashion police' jokingly here. But Chinese citizens have been told they mustn't wear more than three different colours while the Games are on.
And they mustn't pop next door to borrow some noodles whilst wearing their pyjamas.
Unbelievable isn't it?
But hang on. My local library now has a sign saying you cannot enter if you're wearing a hoodie. Some areas now have blanket evening curfews that require young people to stay in their homes.
So there's more to globalisation than economics. In the area of personal freedom, the line between totalitarian states and liberal democracies is becoming increasingly blurred.

I'm looking forward to the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. Totalitarian states tend to be better at those. One of the best I've seen was for the World Cup in South Korea.
The Athens Olympics opening ceremony started well but then degenerated into a banal parade of carnival floats.
One of the worst was when the USA hosted the World Cup, a tacky, Disney-style show.
Most unforgettable, for all the wrong reasons, was the the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Who could ever forget that parade of Morris Minors in torrential rain with two Coronation Street stars stepping out of the front car? Iconic British images was the supposed theme but what some of the overseas visitors made of it God only knows.

An opening ceromony needs to be both spectacular and classy. Few achieve that. They tend to be either tacky and cheesy or resort to impenetrable symbolism that requires commentators to read from pages of explanation - "the blue squares represent the sea and this country's maritime heritage and the yellow squares represent fields of corn. I'm not sure what this young man in pink Lycra descending from the roof represents.......probably best not to ask."

I expect the Chinese ceremony to be tasteful, not to say tasty, but a few hours later you'll probably be wanting another one.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger cello said...

I was very impressed. I tried hard to be cynical (and am not surprised in the slightest to hear that the footprints were digitally added)but I was seduced by it almost immediately. Fireworks, plus massed ranks of smiling performers, plus vivid costumes, plus cute children, plus more fireworks. The music bits were all pants, mind you, and I was appalled to see Sarah Brightman involved.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

cello: I loved it too, probably because I love theatre.
Had an argument with Lupin Senior who said he hated it but then admitted he slept through most of it.
I think the shmaltzy bits must have been a concession to the West but they really jarred with the rest of it.
One dreads London's short display at the closing ceremony: a London bus, David Beckham and Boris. Crikey!


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