By Joshua Benton
SALT LAKE CITY – Attention, Olympic volunteers: It’s OK to have fun.
According to the training manual given to the 30,000 volunteers at the Winter Games, volunteers need to “consciously remember” to enjoy themselves, lest they become too serious.
“A lot of people, especially around here, have trouble enjoying things,” said Ed Switzer, a retired civil engineer volunteering at a security entrance. “People are often a little more serious about things than they need to be.”
Excitability and unbounded glee are rarely among the many stereotypes thrust, fairly or not, upon Utahns. And since volunteers’ performance in the day-to-day tasks of running the Games are pivotal to Salt Lake’s perceived success or failure, officials have been training them for months.
As a result, volunteers were instructed in the ways of customer service, to always smile and say thank you at the end of conversations. They were told what to say when certain topics come up, like the bribery scandal (“There were some challenges in the past, but we all are now focused on staging very successful Games.”).
And they were also told to have fun, even if it goes against their natures. Under the heading “Enjoy! Have fun, celebrate, laugh,” the volunteer training manual warns: “You may think that this attribute is so natural that we don’t need to talk about it, but the reality is that we all will need to consciously remember it.”
As an example, the manual looks to volunteers at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It quotes approvingly from a magazine article citing Sydney volunteers’ habits of turning “train directions into ditties, crowd control into dance routines, manure cleanup into synchronized skipping and scooping.”
After cataloging the ways Australian volunteers had such a good time, it notes that folks in Salt Lake may have a tougher time enjoying the moment. “We Americans tend to be a little more serious, particularly when we are feeling responsible. Perhaps we feel joyful, but we don’t express it as well as other cultures. Team 2002 – you have permission to ENJOY! – to laugh, to celebrate, to have a good time.”
Enjoyment was even enshrined as one of the official “expected traits of every Team 2002 member,” alongside things like being helpful, respectful and gracious.
“They really did emphasize enjoying it,” said Teresa Hartvigsen, a stay-at-home mom when the Olympics aren’t in town. “We were told to remember to have fun.”
Salt Lake organizers flew in two Sydney volunteers to talk to the new recruits about how to have fun working at the Games.
“The Australians just told us to relax and have a lot of fun,” said Shari Faulkner, a paralegal helping coordinate transportation at the Games. “We are reserved. We’re just a different type.”
Volunteers differed on how much Utahns deserved their reserved reputation. Some think it’s overblown. “Personally, I don’t have to make any special effort to enjoy all this,” said Pam Jolley, a comptroller for a pharmacy chain. “We read in the paper that we’re very serious people …. Maybe they don’t see the same people I do.”
“A lot of the foreign visitors have these ideas about Utah, and when they get here, they like it more than they expected,” Hartvigsen said. “I want to tell them, ‘See! We are a fun state!’ But I can’t.”
Volunteer training discourages that sort of talk.
But some others suggest there may be some truth to the reputation. “I’ve seen some volunteers who haven’t enjoyed themselves,” Switzer said. “It’s just a long, boring job to them. It’s just the type of person they are, having a hard time relaxing and enjoying things.”
“We’re not the type to be jumping around yelling ‘woo hoo!'” said Kirsten Cox, a middle school teacher who arranges transportation for media. “We’re more laid back, more Western. But I don’t think that makes us too serious.”