Expat Life: Watching the Olympics


Unless you have been living under a rock on some sort of a media fast lately, you can't have missed the fact that the London Olympics are presently in full swing.

Son#2 and I were still in the US for the Opening Ceremonies, and managed to juggle our frantic social schedule enough to catch at least part of the excitement, as well as a few hours here and there in the following days (yay, Gabby Douglas!) as we wrapped up our 6-week visit.  We both fully expected to increase our Olympic viewing quota once we returned to Seoul and didn't have anything nearly as much to do.

Naturally, in the process of hatching these plans, we had both realized that the coverage we'd be watching back in Seoul would be in Korean, on Korean television.  We reasoned, however, that one didn't need too much language to figure out what was going on, and that we'd still be able to watch the events and figure out who had won without too much trouble.  After all, MrLogical (who had returned to Korea several weeks ahead of us) had mentioned that he'd been watching regularly, and he didn't speak much Korean either, so it shouldn't be a problem - right?

Not exactly.  What MrL had failed to mention was that, while there is certainly Olympic coverage here in Korea, it's not quite what we're used to.  And not just because of the language.

Yes, there are Olympics on here, round-the-clock, just like in the US.  However, what all of us had failed to take into consideration was that there are numerous events taking place at the Olympics, at any number of venues, and television broadcasters have to make decisions about what they will show their audience, based on - and this is the important part - the tastes and interests of their viewers.

"Well, of course" you are saying to yourself, "it stands to reason that different cultures would have different interests, MsCaroline.  What did you expect?" 

Alright, I'll admit it: what I was expecting was more or less exactly what I'd watched back in the US - only in Korean.  You know.  Beach volleyball, lots of gymnastics, basketball, track and field, Michael Phelps. Which is -of course - not at all what I got.

It might interest you to know, for example, that badminton and table tennis are of extreme importance to Korean viewers, as are shooting, archery, fencing and judo (since I'm displaying my ignorance already, I might as well seal the deal by confessing that I had no idea that there even was judo at the Olympics.) Yes, they show the other stuff, too - at least a little bit -  but the emphasis is certainly on different sports than we are used to. Where, in the US, there might be lengthy coverage of beach volleyball followed by a short clip of the final seconds of the winning badminton match, you will find the reverse is true in Korea.

And, naturally, the announcers don't get excited and start shouting when an American wins the heat/match/game, which is reasonable - but still feels odd when you're cheering your head off and the announcer matter-of-factly states the winner in roughly the same tone he might tell you what the temperature is.

In hindsight, I shouldn't have been surprised about this.  After all, this is the type of thing we mean when we talk about the way living in another country changes your viewpoint and your perspective. We're living in Korea, and we're learning (and sharing) what's important in the culture, which includes the sports.  And so, we've been watching badminton, and table tennis, and tae kwon do.  We shared the delight as Yang Hak-Seon won the gold in Men's Vault  and you can be sure we'll be watching when  South Korea plays Brazil in the football(soccer) semifinals this evening.

 Granted, we won't understand the commentary - but we'll know who to cheer for.


Trish said…
We watched the Olympics all last week in Sweden. What was interesting was how chilled the Swedes were: back in the UK for a night and the commentary is so hyped-up and excitable. But at least they showed the things we wanted to watch.
dkuroiwa said…
i about OD'd on judo....not knowing very much at all about that sport, i asked enough questions that i'm just really confused. (^-^) but i loved it. fencing, archery and good lands, the pinkpong....we've had it happening big time here.

here in japan, NHK (the public broadcasting station) is also live streaming whatever sports just happens to be live at that moment...with NO ANNOUNCING!!! it's wonderful!!! (if you want the internet link, let me know and i'll send it to you!!). i actually watched a handball game (that's an olympic sport??) between denmark and someone else. very interesting.

just for the record....i'm going to be quite torn watching the women's soccer final....japan vs. the u.s.....in my heart, of course i want the u.s. to win, but...i "know" the japanese team...i'll probably be cheering for them, too!! (equal opportunity cheering?)
We've given up the US coverage, and are just watching BBC now. NBC doesn't show anything good live (even Usain Bolt), and tape delays it all till the evening, at which point there is a four hour programme consisting mainly of beach volleyball and gymnastics as far as I can see. I much prefer the British coverage! Funny that national preferences really come out in an event like this.
My biggest worry here is: What on earth are we going to do next week when it's all over?! The atmosphere and excitement in the UK is incredible - and I can't believe I've been in the right place at the right time, for once!
BavarianSojourn said…
I have been a little jealous of everyone in London to be honest, but at least we have English TV here I suppose! What did you make of the opening ceremony? :)
MsCaroline said…
@Trish: yes, the commentary in Korea is considerably more reserved, too...and the table tennis is growing on us!

@dkuroiwa: HA! Sounds like the tastes are definitely the same - right down to the handball - I had never seen it played before and all I could think of was 'soccer with hands' when I first saw it. I completely understand about being torn, although we've only been here for a year. We were so excited when S.Korea got gold in the Mens' Vault!

@NVG - Yes indeed, it's kind of bizarre how the US condenses the whole Games into a nightly 3-hour Prime Time package, isn't it? And as far as the Beach Volleyball and Gymnastics (with a bit of swimming thrown in) go - well, let's just say I have finally had the chance to learn about some of the other sports in the Olympics. I'll probably never view the Games in the same way again.

@Circles: Yes, I remember that feeling from past games - it's a terrible letdown after 2 weeks of intense excitement - I can't even imagine the charge in the atmosphere if you're right in the middle of it - enjoy it!

@Emma - I only caught parts of the opening ceremony, but I was pleased to say (although embarrassed for some of the US commentators, who did not) that I 'got' nearly all the UK pop culture references! I didn't quite get why Sir Paul chose to sing 'Hey Jude' but I did love listening to the crowd take over the refrain - I suppose the words 'Na, nanananananaaaa' are easy for people of any culture and language, so maybe that was why...?
Karen said…
I have to admit, that while I have been keeping track of certain sports in the papers and on the computer, I have watched very little. That is partly because hubby mainly controls the remote, which means baseball, and partly because I have hurt my back again and find sitting uncomfortable. That situation is getting a bit better but not really to the point that I feel like sitting for a very long time. I definitely enjoyed the "overseas" perspective, though. Lots of stuff I never really thought about! I do love ping pong....
MsCaroline said…
@Karen: So sorry to hear about your back. Hope you are back to 'normal' before you have to start working on your classroom! I have to say, watching the Olympics is not quite as fun when you don't understand the commentary, but I still like to have them on in the background. MrL and I both agree that the Olympic versions of ping pong and badminton hardly even look like the same stuff that we play in backyards or basement rumpus rooms - lightning fast!
broken biro said…
I was just talking to a friend about how partisan British coverage is and if other countries do the same - I thought they would! So I would expect lots of focus on S. Korean medal-winners (and there've been loads haven't there?) but it's interesting that there's less excitement. It's bonkers here in the UK but it's carrying everyone along on a wave of euphoria (that it isn't a total shambles, which some had feared). I've got tickets for some Paralympic events and am interested how much coverage they get - I heard they might even sell out, which is unheard-of!
Karen said…
Yes, the ping pong is amazing, it is so fast! The back is better, should be in shape for the classroom...just figuring out now when I will go in for preliminary work. Katie has said she will help so I will put her to work on bulletin boards and decorations! I got smart this time and booked an appt. with the doc so that visit should help, too.
Enjoy the rest of the Olympics, the way baseball is going around here I may wrestle the remote from hubby and switch to the final events!
BTW, I laughed at your comment at enjoying the events less 'cause you don't understand the commentary. Even in English I never really get the commentary anyway....sometimes it's better that way!
MsCaroline said…
BB: Well, in all fairness, since I don't speak Korean, it's possible that everyone's exploding with excitement, but the commentary (which I can't understand) still sounds pretty calm and reserved. Re: the Paralympics - it's been big news (at least online, where I get most of my news) in the US media, and there is a HUGE amount of interest. Lucky you to get to go! Look forward to hearing about it!
MsCaroline said…
Karen: Yes, the commentary can definitely get annoying at times, but it would be nice to know, for example, who's the favorite going in, or if any of the competitors have anything interesting going on (yeah, yeah, I know, stupid human-interest stories - can't help it: I just like them!) We watched the women's semifinal track events last night and it was kind of strange to just watch without any additional input.

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