Service With a Smile

Editor's Note: Jodi Noffsinger, an American living in Beijing, is filing regular updates on the scene at the Olympics in The Beijing Blonde column on

Besides the athletes making history at these games, it's the Olympic volunteers whom anyone attending these games will remember. From the information booths around the city to the venues, they're everywhere, eager and ready to help.

Of course, every host city needs volunteers to pull off the Olympics, but in China they've gone above and beyond. Living in China, I'm not all that surprised by the number of volunteers. It's a common experience here to be outnumbered by the staff.

Whether it's in a restaurant, salon or clothing store, there is never a shortage of people wanting to help. I once had a haircut with four people assisting -- one to hold my hair, one to clean my forehead, one translating and, finally, the stylist who actually cut my hair.

Even the small entrance to my apartment building has five people greeting me. And I often find it impossible to just browse in a store, since sometimes there can be as many as three store clerks to every customer.

I could go on and on with examples and I'm not complaining. It's something that makes living here feel incredibly indulgent to your average American. But in my experience, unfortunately, quantity hasn't always meant quality when it comes to service. And that's what's setting these games apart.

Beijing's blue-shirted Olympic volunteers are incredibly knowledgeable and have been trained well. They're also young, reflecting the changing face of China. And while they're big in numbers, they're also big on smiles. At each of the venues I've been to, security has been tight and, dare I say, pleasant, as smiling security volunteers waved the metal-detecting wand over my body faster than I could say ni hao ("hello" in Chinese).

Just as I made it through one line, there was another smiling volunteer greeting me to point me in the direction of my seat. At one venue I was slightly confused by the ticket section and just seeing the expression on my face prompted three volunteers to offer help.

Many of the volunteers speak decent English as well. And Wednesday night, as I took my seat with 50,000 other spectators at the soccer venue, a lively blue-shirted cheer captain with a beaming grin eagerly welcomed me. When she saw my husband and young son sitting in a crowded section, she helpfully moved us to an area of unused seats and then seeing my camera asked if we wanted a picture together.

OK, we said, somewhat surprised by all of this personal attention. We were waiting to see if she'd ask us if we needed any refreshments next, but by then the match had started and she was standing at her cheering post leading the fans and, of course, still smiling.