Olympic Games in Beijing
I ate lunch today at my favorite sushi place. While I savored my selected delicacies, I was thinking about Beijing and the Olympic Games beginning there Friday night.
I know, I know. Sushi is of Japanese, not Chinese, origin. But anytime I am struggling with a pair of chopsticks I am reminded anew about our obsession with cultural sensitivity. I love sushi, but I know I would love it more with a knife and fork, and I am sure there are quite a few Hollywood liberals who’d argue that I would “offend” the Japanese by taming my sushi with blatantly Anglo-Saxon utensils.
I am going to make a prediction about the Beijing Games, even while extracting chopstick slivers from my tongue. I predict that we will observe a steady procession of American Olympic athletes, coaches and officials issuing apologies for misguided words and deeds that are obviously offensive to the warm and humanitarian people of China.
It has begun already. Apparently, the mainstream media intend to treat the Chinese like one billion Barack Obamas. Even the hint of criticism will be strictly off limits.
Just yesterday I had to send an email to a journalist friend scolding him for his characterization of four U.S. cyclists arriving at Beijing’s airport. Writing for NBCOlympics.com, he observed that by showing up in surgical or hygienic masks they were guilty of “one of the sorriest breaches of good manners any American Olympic athlete has displayed.” And, as we live in an era when Americans are increasingly embarrassed, if not downright apologetic, for being, well, American, my friend further ranted that our Olympians must be “sensitive always and in all ways to the ways in which Americans can be perceived overseas.”
To be sure, Americans have demonstrated poor judgment and behavior during the Games in recent years. I will grant that. In Seoul in 1988, there were the swimming Olympians who removed a lion’s head sculpture from a hotel lobby. In Nagano (Japan) in 1998, American ice hockey players trashed a few Olympic Village sleeping rooms on their way out of town.
“Duh, they’re hockey players,” didn’t seem an adequate explanation for the Japanese.
As there seems to be trouble in Olympic years ending in 8, perhaps we know why U.S. Olympic officials required every 2008 American qualifier to attend a series of cultural sensitivity seminars. It is not only criminal stuff like stealing or pillaging they’re worried about. Of equal concern is that one of our louts will inadvertently hug a Chinese person. They don’t hug. Which is sad, really, in a nation where so many downtrodden, neglected people appear to be in desperate need of one.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the seminar includes a warning to America’s finest athletic ambassadors to avoid “spearing” food items with chopsticks. Try to explain that to the javelin or fencing guys.
As for the mask-shrouded cyclists, their lungs were clear but U.S. Olympic officials later decided their consciences need a good scrubbing, too. They strong-armed the athletes into issuing a public apology for drawing attention to Beijing’s absolutely horrendous air quality. Some media members were particularly upset that the masks were worn indoors, inside the airport terminal. (Indoor air is pristine, apparently).
“We deeply regret the nature of our choices,” the apologetic statement read, in part.
I deeply regret that the U.S. Olympic Committee made the masks available to any and all team members who asked for them, then immediately made an example out of four who elected to wear them. I regret that somehow it has become culturally insensitive to hammer away at a country that has demonstrated blatant disregard for its air quality, that has no emissions standards, and that had the nerve to present itself as a worthy Olympic Games host in the first place.
Just wait until an American athlete takes a baiting media member’s sashimi morsel hook, line and sinker and goes off on the myriad human rights abuses that seem to be as much a part of China’s fabric as democracy is part of America’s.
The idiots in the U.S. House of Representatives believe American should apologize for the part of its past when citizens owned slaves. But we dare not so much as raise an eyebrow at a Chinese government that enslaves activitists by throwing them in prison and enslaves citizens (living far outside of the Olympics’ bright lights) by ensuring they endure unthinkable poverty.
Please, slap the hands of Olympians who go into a foreign country and mock the language, or the clothing, or the food, or who commit immature, even criminal acts. Send ‘em home. Call ‘em out.
But let’s not spend the next two weeks apologizing because someone wears a mask (Asians wear them quite frequently as a practical defense against smog and germs), or observes that, wow, your pollution really sucks, Mr. Hu.
It is not a question of if, but when, a well intentioned American kid fumbles a piece of fish on a minor chopstick infraction in the Olympic Village.
My advice: Ask for a fork and tell your Chinese hosts the apology is in the mail.