Monday, August 6, 2012

Thoughts on the London 2012/Rio 2016 Olympics, from a Brit in Brazil

In the UK the build up to the London 2012 Olympics have gone on for years, so it’s strange to think by the end of the week, I will no longer be reading articles on The Sun online in the British media, speculating on things like, will London be ready? Will the games be a success? Can we really afford to host them?

As the Olympics approached, I’m sure I wasn't the only Brit intrigued by the answers to these questions.

Of course, being overseas meant that I would be doing all of my wondering from abroad.

Over here in Brazil my local bar has a happy hour from 5pm-8pm, and this timing worked out pretty well for me on the day of the opening ceremony. So I sat there with my cheap ass beer watching it all unfold on the big screen. I have to admit, I REALLY enjoyed it! Getting the Queen of England, Dizzy Rascall, JK Rowling, The Arctic Monkeys and Mr Bean together for the same show was, for me, as random as it was inspired! 

As I looked on from the comfort of my bar stool, I couldn't help but feel that it was VERY eccentric, and VERY British, which made me wonder just how well it would have been interpreted by an international audience. So I’ve been quite interested in hearing how the Opening ceremony, and indeed the games themselves, have gone down with my Brazilian students.

As you can probably imagine, the Queen diving out of a helicopter was received well by them, as too was the Mr Bean skit. 

One of my students commented on how ‘rock and roll’ it all seemed, citing the clips of The Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols and Amy Winehouse to prove his point.

Things like the NHS segment went over the majority of my student’s heads, which didn’t really surprise me. But then there were a number of British references during the ceremony that were evidently not meant to cater for an international audience.

Talk of the ceremony invariably then brought us onto the subject of what the opening ceremony in Rio might be like. “After watching the ceremony in London, I’m worried Andrew”, one student said to me.

I looked at him….like he was CRAZY! (Go on, just imagine my face!)

“Seriously, you guys are famous for your carnival, you know you are going to put on an amazing show!” I said, almost surprised that we were having this conversation.

Whilst he agreed, he argued that because Brazil has come so far economically in the past few years, it would almost seem like a step backwards to showcase the country simply in terms of stereotypes, like the carnival and scantily clad women dancing to samba. “There is nothing wrong with these, but this will be our chance to show the world what we are about. We have a strong business world here now, and I hope we don’t waste our opportunity to showcase this”.

This is indeed true, and in four years time I will be very interested in how Brazil will be representing itself…

I’d put my money on that carnival theme though!

I have to admit: the Brazilians I’ve spoken to are far from convinced the games here will run smoothly. I actually had one student tell me that she was pleased to hear the North Korean flag had been mistaken for the South Korean one during a football match in the UK. “It makes us feel a little bit better to know you guys are messing up a little, it takes a little of the pressure off us! I doubt the games here will be so well organised.

Being well organised isn’t really the Brazilian way of doing things!”

I've been quite surprised at the lack of confidence some of my students have about Rio’s ability to cope with the games. But having said that, just a few weeks ago I too wasn’t exactly singing the praises of the UK.

Why? Well, let me explain; last year I returned to the UK for six months. Within just two weeks of being back there, I was watching live coverage of rioting unfold on my TV screen. If you’re not familiar with what happened during the English summer riots last year, basically over the course of about three evenings people took to the streets of London (later these riots spread to other cities in England) to vandalise shops, to steal and to generally cause havoc.

As I watched these images, there was little doubt that in the five years I’d lived abroad, the country had changed significantly. I’d returned to the UK in the middle of a recession and jobs were scarce. I doubt I could have picked a worse time to make my return…Britain was a pretty bleak place, a shell of its former self.

Yet fast-forward a year and London is being portrayed by the media out here in such a vibrant light. The venues look immaculate, and visually, having the London skyline as a backdrop to the games is stunning. It’s easy to see that the people of the UK have really got behind it too. 

What I am seeing is crowds of supporters who have come out to fill stadiums and to line the streets of London. And they look like they are enjoying themselves. What I’m getting through my TV screen is a real sense of positivity in London right now. And I can’t help but think, good!

Olympic fever was really at its peak last Saturday, when Ennis, Rutherford and Farah won their gold medals within minutes of each other….I know this because I’m on Twitter and Facebook (that’s right people, I’m down with the kids!) These sites were filled with comments from Brits on how proud they felt to be British, and how inspired they were by these athletes. A refreshing change to the comments I was reading on the same sites just over a year ago.
As Ennis stood on the podium to receive her gold medal, and the British national anthem began to play over the stadium speakers, right there and then I felt a sudden pang of homesickness.

I’ve been living abroad, on and off, for years, and have rarely felt like this. “Wait a minute, what’s the hell is going on?” I contemplated. “I’m in Brazil, and I’m loving every second of my time here”. Just seven months ago, I boarded a plane and couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the UK, yet here I was, wishing I was back home and a part of what was going on.

This feeling surprised me, but then the more I thought about it, the more I began to realise why I felt like this.

To explain why, let me digress.

Just over a year ago I went to a (cough) Black Eyed Peas (cough) concert here in Sao Paulo (I know what you must be thinking as you read this, but bear with me!) I fought so hard to not like this band, not only because their songs have been overplayed to the point of nausea, but because they have a singer called Will.I.Am.

Will.I.Am? No mate, your name is William, stop it!

Anyway, I agreed to go to this gig, my first stadium concert here in Brazil. I’d love to say I hated it, but I actually REALLY enjoyed it. Midway through, William put down his auto tune machine for long enough to talk about how he felt about Brazil.

“I love coming here” he began, “whenever I come here, I feel like I’m here at such an exciting time. Your people are so optimistic about your country, you know it’s getting better and better, and this optimism is infectious. You are rightly proud to be Brazilian, and I am excited for you guys. I love you Brazil” he gushed.

After he said this I hated him even more realised he’d just summed up exactly how I was also feeling about Brazil. There IS a feeling of optimism here, the economy is booming, you just have to look around to see that buildings are being constructed daily, as are the new subway lines. And the people are generally proud of their country too. Many are quick to point out the country has its faults, but on the whole there is a whole lot of love for Brazil from it’s people. 

This is one of the things I appreciate so much about living here, as its one aspect of Brazilian culture that we didn't really have in the UK. We generally aren't very good at being proud of where we are from anymore.

Yet as Ennis stood on that podium with the stadium cheering for her, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out on something special. As I checked Twitter and Facebook it was clear that what I was missing out on. 

British people feeling the same way. They were proud of how their country was being represented.
"Hey guys, I'm BACK!"

Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone is fully aware that the country is still in the midst of a recession, and the government still has a lot of work to do….but it’s been a long time since British people have had the opportunity to feel pride like this, and for that reason alone I would love to be back there right now. I would love to get my expat ass back on a plane for the remainder of the games.

As the majority of expats will be able to tell you though, homesickness comes in waves. I’m expecting this yearning to pass…roughly about the same time Geri Halliwell screeches out her first note during the closing ceremony!

But then it would appear that even the shrill of a middle aged Spice Girl can do little to dent the feeling of national pride in London right now, so fingers crossed then that this continues long after the Olympic torch has gone out….

Because I'll be REALLY pissed off after all this, if I have to sit through another couple of evenings watching rioting on my TV screen when I eventually make it back!

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