US contingent run though a ‘Miss Manners’ style crash course before reaching China
NEW YORK: US Olympic officials are hoping for exemplary behaviour from their athletes, especially in light of the “ugly American” image abroad, stoked in part by the unpopular war in Iraq.
The US Olympic Committee, for the first time ever, ran all its 596 Olympians through a crash course in Chinese culture prior to travelling to Beijing.
Jen Pan, a Chinese-language teacher taught the US athletes some vocabulary, social customs (Chinese do not hug), eating etiquette (Do not spear the food with your chopsticks), and drinking habits (Chinese don’t really drink, except at banquets), reported the “Wall Street Journal” on Wednesday.
Pan also had a nugget of wisdom to share on Chinese practices: “If Chinese say they are not quite sure, they are probably saying ‘no’ to you.”
The two-day course held in five cities across the US included role-playing and group games.
The course, nicknamed the “ambassador program” taught US athletes to go along with rituals that might seem whimsically clownish.
In one game, called “energy ball,” athletes formed circles and passed around an imaginary ball. The participants had to say “whoosh” when handing it to the right or left, while an imaginary throw across the circle required a “zap.”
If someone wanted to hold the ball for a moment, he had to say, “groove-alicious,” the cue for the circle to break into a little jig. Just in case you are wondering why on earth Olympians need to go along with such silliness, a New York executive coach
“We want to help them with things that make them uncomfortable,” Cathy Salit, whose New York firm, Performance of a Lifetime, was hired by the US Olympic Committee for the program, told the “Journal.”
“If they are going to be ambassadors, they have to be attuned to what’s going on around them and be able to respond,” she added. Salit’s clients typically come from the corporate world and she said she found the US athletes sporting.
“Compared with the folks at Citigroup, they were very good at getting into the groove of it,” she said.
The US has had its share of “ugly American” moments. In the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney US swimmer Amy Van Dyken spit into the lane of Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn before one of their races.
The “Journal” recalled how members of the US men’s track team apologised after excessive celebrating following their win in a relay race, including flexing their muscles and sticking out their tongues. This pales in comparison with US hockey players in Japan trashing their hotel rooms during the 1998 Games.