Souhan: Cheers to Games' beautiful, brilliant host

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 13, 2012 - 12:37 AM

Language barrier and mystery food aside, London and its people charm their guests without overpowering them.

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A British military marching band performed during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London on Sunday.

Photo: Sergei Grits, Associated Press

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LONDON - England is quite a place. It's atmospheric and beautiful and, at least during the Olympics, it seemed quite civilized. It's like Canada -- only with history and people of color.

There are only a couple of problems with the place. For a country with such great taste in literature and music, England has no taste. Or at least, no taste buds.

Have you ever tried English food? No? Well, there's a reason for that. I'm sure there have been British restaurants in America, but they probably closed faster than "John Carter.'' The British try to make up for their lack of understanding of what is appetizing by tossing in random ingredients chosen while blindfolded and drunk.

That cheese-on-wheat sandwich lacks punch? Add turnips! Or "red tractor.'' I've been here a month and seen "red tractor'' listed on menus, and I not only have not tried it, I'm afraid to ask what it is. Or "rocket,'' which is a popular ingredient here, one that I have eaten and still have yet to identify. It seems to be a hybrid of arugula and turkey.

What the Brits lack in tasty food, they make up for with mayonnaise. Lots of mayonnaise. If mayo were crack, the entire country would live in cardboard boxes under bridges.

It wasn't just the sandwiches that featured strange combinations. There is a pub near the Tower of London called "The Walrus and the Carpenter,'' making me wonder if Craig Stadler and Jesus shared a couple of pints there.

Ah, the pub names in England make you feel obligated to drink. The problem here is finding a pub. Sometimes, to locate just the right place, a pub with atmosphere and character, you have to walk all the way outside.

I love London. It's the largest and most beautiful city I've ever seen that isn't dominated by steel-and-glass skyscrapers. Unlike in New York, you don't feel overwhelmed. London is 8 million people living in quaint old buildings packed around cute little town squares.

My main problem with London is the language barrier. The Rosetta Stone English-to-English course did me no good here. The English they speak here is a little like Latin -- I can recognize the roots of words, just not the usage.

I'll give them this: The English words I do recognize are, as they would say here, "brilliant.'' Their version of English seems to be all adjectives. I swear a standard sentence during the Olympics has been, "Absolutely fabulous, cracking, brilliant, cheers!''

London has had its problems with social unrest and terrorism. I don't know how anybody can be angry when every sentence you hear ends with "Cheers.''

Olympics are immense undertakings, and while I've heard from fellow writers that nothing beats a site like Lillehammer, I can't imagine a better Summer Olympics than the one London produced, and we'll never have a better theme song for an Olympics than the Clash's "London Calling.'' If the United States had hosted this Olympics, we would have heard a lot of "Call Me Maybe.''

This was my fourth Olympics, and the constant is the volunteers, the locals who put on those gaudy, ubiquitous outfits and keep the Games running.

The volunteers are amazing, and not all of them find themselves receiving a fist bump from Usain Bolt before the 200 meters. Most work long hours in undesirable locations for some cool shoes and a feeling of inclusion.

Early in the Games, I was standing in an overcrowded interview zone under the Aquatics Center, packed in with a particularly ripe group of journalists, waiting for the athletes to wander by, wondering if I'd get my work done in time to catch the bus that would get me back to the hotel before 2 a.m.

A young volunteer was standing nearby. She was perspiring. She had been on her feet for hours. Her reward for volunteering was holding a microphone near Michael Phelps' face and running errands for anyone who asked.

I asked her whether, given the chance, she'd volunteer again. "Oh, yes,'' she said. "This is the best thing I've ever done. It's been brilliant.''

Goodbye and thank you, London. (English-to-British translation: "Cheers!'')

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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