Dress for (Olympic) success

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OK, so how many of you guys wear white socks with black shoes?

If you are planning on coming to Beijing for the Olympics, you had better snap out of such gauche habits or your Chinese hosts will snigger at you.

Beijingers know that black shoes call for dark socks because they have been told so in an etiquette booklet that the government has handed out to four million households in the run-up to the Games.

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They’ve been told a whole lot of other things too, in the authorities’ desperation to show what they think is China’s best face to the world. Such as don’t go out of the house in your pajamas and slippers.

Old people here often pop round to their neighbors in their pajamas on a hot evening, and why shouldn’t they? Men sometimes pull their T-shirts up around their armpits, and hike their trousers up to their knees as well, for a bit of “Beijing air conditioning.”

It’s all part of what makes Beijing Beijing, but the powers-that-be want the capital to look “modern” during the Olympics and for them that means “Western.”

So despite the fantastic social service they provide, we wont be seeing any of the city’s recyclers during the Games: the phenomenally bulky assemblages of plastic bottles or cardboard boxes that they balance on the back of their bikes have been deemed too “Third World,” so recycling centers have been closed down for the duration.

The city fathers’ drive to sanitize Beijing has also involved the removal of shop signs all over the capital, and their replacement by standardized signs that all have the same “harmonized” design.

Beijing is a modern city – you have only to look at some of the most daring architecture in the world on the skyline to see that – but it is a modern Chinese city, and by my lights there is nothing wrong with that.

The honchos at the “Spiritual Civilization Guidance and Development Commission” clearly don’t agree with me. They are the outfit that published the etiquette booklet, the same bunch that a couple of months ago issued rules on how Chinese fans should clap and cheer at Olympic events (complete with illustrations).

Incidentally, there is one fellow in Beijing who could probably use the Commission’s advice on dress sense. Xi Jinping, the man tipped to be China’s next president, was caught on camera wearing (gasp) white socks with black shoes shortly after he was elected to the nine-man Politburo last year.

He won’t be doing that any more, I’m sure.

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