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At national Olympic houses, civic and athletic pride on display

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  August 12, 2012 11:08 AM

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As an American in London, one of the most exciting prospects of crossing the Atlantic is getting to hear British accents. As the Olympics kicked off, that fun activity ended.

Walking down the street or talking to people on the Tube turns into a global exhibition because you hear accents and languages and see fashion from around the world.

With a phenomenon as unique as the Olympics, it is only proper to capitalize on the serendipitous cultural gathering created by the world’s love of sport.

As visitors from around the world convened in London, milling around the city and queuing up in front of Olympic sports arenas, the world’s largest cultural festival is happening right under their noses.

Countries have set up “national houses,” to have a place to display their culture. Created with the mindset that they would be a good place for athletes to come to feel at home during the Games, these houses also serve as a showcase for the world to see.

Many of the national houses are open to the public, with a range of activities to sample both national and Olympic culture. Everything from ice skating and performances to table tennis and partying can be found at these houses — in the style of that country, of course.

300africa.jpgWalking through Hyde Park, I came across the Africa Village displaying snippets of African culture in each stall with musicians, pamphlets about different countries’ initiatives and jewelry or clothing for sale. On the other hand, Russia opened an area for visitors to ice skate while the Netherlands is the mastermind of the Holland Heineken House — a bright orange castle in which to throw the best parties in London during the Games.

Exploring Brick Lane, hoping to find some Indian food or a good deal at a thrift store, I ran into what I came to find out was the Puma Yard — a Jamaican-themed building filled with Ping-Pong tournaments, Usain Bolt pictures and relaxed jams for people to interact and enjoy the Games.

300usa.jpgOn the other hand, the USA house, which is primarily used as an exclusive gathering spot for athletes and their families, shows off American consumerism at its finest. With only the USA Team store — fully stocked with Ralph Lauren USA apparel — open to the public, the sidewalk outside the house becomes the best place for wide-eyed Americans to wait for picture opportunities with athletes.

While everyone turns their eyes to London, watching marathons run through Westminster, past the Eye and Big Ben, they also inadvertently open their eyes to the rest of the world. Though sports are the focus of the Olympics, it would be wrong to ignore the cultural phenomenon these games produce.

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