Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The American presidential candidate may not understand that for Britons, complaining is a way of showing you care.
London might not have what it takes to host a successful Olympics, suggested Mitt Romney yesterday. The Republican presidential candidate, currently visiting Britain, questioned both London’s Olympic readiness and its levels of enthusiasm in an interview with NBC news yesterday. In remarks reported by The Telegraph newspaper this morning, Romney commented that "It's hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging."
As former chief executive of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Games, Romney certainly knows about hosting the Olympics, but the remarks will do little to boost what is being seen as a slightly off-kilter charm offensive. Romney advisers have already done him few favors with comments (also reported in The Telegraph) on Romney and Britain’s shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage”, which were not only interpreted as a dig at Obama, but also sent out an exclusionary message to the millions of Britons who (like myself) aren’t Anglo-Saxons at all.
Still, it's not like Romney’s worries haven’t been expressed many times already in the British media. More smarting is his sniffy-sounding appraisal of the British public’s enthusiasm for the Games. "Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?" he asked. "That's something which we only find out once the Games actually begin." Perhaps he’s right to doubt British enthusiasm – if there’s one thing Londoners have learned in the past few months, it’s that pre-Olympics preparations will turn any city into a bear garden. Beijing’s and Vancouver’s games prep seem to have been no less rocky, while months before Athens' 2004 Olympics, the press was swearing nothing could possibly be ready in time. Until you’ve directly experienced the level of chaos, money-grabbing and mishap a pre-Olympics city contains, it’s hard to say whether or not you’d be transformed into an arrant anti-Olympics NIMBYist.
At the same time, there may be a cultural mismatch here. The press, both national and international, has commented widely on Britons’ crankiness, but the fact is criticism in Britain is a way of showing you care about something enough to want it better. While the British might seem grouchy and hardened, the ability of some Americans to be grindingly upbeat in the face of contrary evidence can look like a form of cynicism from this side of the Atlantic. But now that we’ve done our complaining, Romney can be assured, Londoners are getting ready to sit back and enjoy.
Top image: Jason Reed/Reuters