Thousands Practice Olympic Smiles

Every Olympic city embarks on a hospitality campaign to welcome visitors. In Beijing, they're doing it on a China-sized scale. Tens of thousands of volunteers are cleaning, polishing, providing directions, and helping foreign visitors learn a little Mandarin.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. When a nation has more people than any other country in the world, it's got a huge labor force. China has a history of mobilizing its masses for a common purpose.

BRAND: Recently, there was the huge rescue effort after the earthquake in Sichuan Province. Now, with Beijing poised for tomorrow's beginning of the Summer Olympics, a full-fledged hospitality campaign is under way. And from Beijing, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: This is Olympics number eight for me as a reporter, and even though the countries and stories change, there has been one constant. Magnificent athletes soaring to heights unimagined? Sure, there's that, but actually, I'm talking about the McDonald's at each Olympics in the main press center cafeteria. The Micky Ds always have friendly natives to serve up a double cheeseburger and Coke, but I have never encountered a McDonald's greeter.

Unidentified Woman (McDonald's Employee, Beijing, China): Hello sir, welcome.

GOLDMAN: Hi, thank you.

Nor have I ever seen the counter-help, a dozen strong, break into a well-rehearsed cheer.

(Soundbite of Chinese cheer)

GOLDMAN: The chant, "we really hope China wins," doesn't exactly jibe with the one world, one dream motto of these Olympics, but it's just part of the show at the Beijing Press Center McDonald's, Mai-Dong-Lau (ph), as it's known here, where the mood is infectious, according to this one NBC employee who didn't want his name used.

Unidentified Man: You're excited to come over.

GOLDMAN: Yes, you actually seem happy to be here.

Unidentified Man: We walked all the way across the street. Yes, they're happier to be here than we are, than some of the athletes, probably.

GOLDMAN: There are more than 10,000 athletes expected at these Olympics, more than 20,000 journalists. It's a whopping number that is absolutely dwarfed by the nearly half a million people organized here to help and charm Olympic visitors, many of whom come to China wary of the country's authoritarian regime. Ms. WANG-CHEN-SHONG (Volunteer, Beijing, China): Now, this street is very beautiful, and many foreigners are here, yes.

GOLDMAN: And then in Spanish.

Ms. WANG-CHEN-SHONG: Spanish? (Spanish spoken).

GOLDMAN: And then in Japanese.

Ms. WANG-CHEN-SHONG: Japanese, OK. (Japanese spoken).

GOLDMAN: And then in Korean.

Ms. WANG-CHEN-SHONG: Korean? (Korean spoken).

GOLDMAN: She and her friends wear white shirts that have written on them, China loves you. Aside from the plainclothes police who hauled the street vendor off the mall and into a nearby building a few moments earlier, that love is evident. And what the natives would like out of the Olympics is a little bit in return: international acceptance, respect. For China, once called the sick man of Asia, those are big.

Up the street, one of the city's many volunteer booths is staffed by eight young people who don't have as good a command of different languages. They all speak simple English, says a woman named Ling. She describes the marching orders for the thousands of volunteers who roam the streets of Beijing in their trademark blue and white shirts.

Ms. LING (Volunteer, Beijing, China): Smiling, friendly, and, you know, hospitality.

GOLDMAN: Which sometimes, says Ling, gets a little tough with all the negative press about her country.

Ms. LING: Maybe we will be, you know, angry about this matter because, you know, we can do the best, but the feedback is not good.

GOLDMAN: The Chinese are hoping the feedback improves, as they hope the gray, polluted haze over their city lifts, so the smiles from thousands of helpers can stay as genuine as they are now. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Beijing.

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