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    Friday, February 20, 1998

    Paying a price for polite

    By CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun
      NAGANO -- It's the game within The Games.
     It's getting parachuted into a strange country and learning how to cope with deadlines (is it yesterday or tomorrow?) on very little sleep (mostly on buses) eating strange food (there's only so many Big Macs you can eat in three weeks and the number's about one) and dealing with different money (1,800 yen sounds like a lot for a pitcher of beer).
     Just about everything about this place has made the job less of a job.
     The people are impossibly polite. There has not been one person wearing a volunteers uniform who has been in a bad mood, made you feel like they were doing you a huge favor by acknowledging your existence or made you feel stupid for asking a question.
     They apologize for every inconvenience, real or imagined.
     They are enthusiastic fans of the events, oohing and aahing shots at the hockey games that crash into the glass.
     They are tireless, respectful, engaging, efficient, warm and civil hosts who have opened up their spectacular country to us.
     How about honest?
     There was money in the lost and found.
     Granted, the lost and found is a piece of cardboard leaning up against the cash register in the cafeteria at the Main Press Centre.
     "Lost" said the writing in black marker.
     Taped to the piece of cardboard was an American one dollar bill and a bunch of Japanese change.
     "Yep," you can imagine someone saying as they reach into their pocket and pull out some money. "Looks like mine. It goes with the rest of this set."
     That change would have come in handy for the vending machines that are everywhere.
     They're lined up on the street, dispensing soft drinks, 110 different kinds of coffee (in a can, nice and hot), beer, cigarettes, condoms, disposable cameras.
     That's pretty much everything you'd need for a heck of a party.
     Can you imagine how long a vending machine full of beer would last, say, on Rideau St.?
     If there's one frustrating thing, it's deciding not to wait another 20 minutes in the rain or snow for the next bus and then trying to hail a cab.
     There are lots of them, many of them often empty, and it seems the empty ones are always in the greatest hurry to get somewhere.
     It took us a while to figure out if the red light in the windshield is on, it means it's available. If the light is green, it's out of service.
     There is really no such thing as hailing a cab in the street. Try waving one down and you are likely to have the driver pass by you, eyes riveted ahead.
     If one pulls up to the curb and lets out a fare, there's very little chance you can just jump in and head out. More often than not, the driver will hold up his hands and cross his wrists to ward you off.
     After working at Aqua Wing for a women's hockey game, there were three groups of Canadian reporters, some looking to get back to Asahi media village, some heading out on the town.
     Cabs were called.
     When the first wave got outside, the three cabs were waiting. When the first group went to get into the first cab, the driver asked "Bob-san?"
     Nope, we replied, "Wayne-san."
     "Wayne-san!" shouted another driver and ushered us over to his cab, the third one in line. The names had to be matched up with the cabs.
     Then there's the doors.
     The drivers have a lever in the front seat that opens the back door. When the cab pulls up, the door comes flying open. The first couple of times you're not expecting and a kneecapping or a jammed finger is in the offing.
     The language is a problem. The other day a trip from the freestyle event at Iizuna Kogen to the Spiral bobsleigh run just down the mountain was necessary.
     The driver of the bus spoke no English; I speak less Japanese.
     "Spiral?" I asked. He said something I did not understand.
     At this point it is very difficult to not assume the classical foreigner tactic and that is to raise your voice and affect something akin to an Italian accent as though you were talking to a deaf Mafiso.
     "SPEERALLLLA!" is probably what it would come out like.
     There was nothing wrong with the man's hearing, after all.
     I jumped on and took my chances. Five minutes later, I was at Spiral.
     Then there's the food.
     Granted there are 24-hour Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, but you didn't travel 27 hours to indulge the Colonel's bank account.
     We've eaten a couple of times at local restaurants, but there is a cultural divide that is virtually impossible to cross and that's when the item up for discussion is "horse meat."
     As much as there have been times when having that nag that just finished up the local horse track sliced and diced seems like a good idea, the urge has never been there to have it put on a plate.
     "Horse meat" by any other name still gets a pass, thanks.