Expat Life: Watching the Olympics
Unless you have been
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
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.