Saturday, July 03, 2010

Wave Your Flag - 4th of July & The World Cup

“Wave your Flag” sing K’naan and Nancy Ajram, and let me tell you, this summer, Germany is waving its flag. Out my window, a parade of vehicles – BMWs, Motorcycles, Mercedeses, Volkswagons and even tractors, all of them decorated gold, red, and black, are honking their horns and driving for joy. Fans hang out the window or stick out sunroofs waving their flags. Germany just beat Argenta 4-0 and every win here is followed by a victory lap (or 10) through the city. Those of “us” who don’t have cars stand on the streets and wave, singing “So sehen Sieger, sha-la-la-la-la, So sehen Sieger, shaa la-la-la-la-la!” (This is what victors look like!)

Tomorrow, the United States will celebrate the birth of its independence with backyard BBQs, fireworks, and parades. In this county, where one seldom sees a German flag and the word “patriotism” is held at arm’s length like a dirty diaper (let’s not forget Germany’s history, folks), the World Cup has given a thirsty nation, and even its immigrated residents, a chance to rejoice in who they are. The victory chants are sung with gusto by a people who know they are only allowed such a celebration with due cause.

Below are a couple pictures from the last win, against England. I watched the game with nearly 100 others at a public viewing hosted by the Y. There are public viewings everywhere. At the Y, at church, in outdoor cafés, in bars, in the ice hockey arena. Summer here is being outside, watching soccer, celebrating and mourning together with a beer and a bratwurst.

Which makes you wonder, why isn’t this going on in the US? It can’t be the lack of our outdoor cafés – when I was in Africa, last time the World Cup was being played (in Germany, of all places – smart move, right?) there were significantly less outdoor cafés, but in their place, crowds of boys sitting outside local grocery stores – 50 huddled around a 13-inch TV on one lonely extension cord – eyes glued and dreams big. Everyone was watching.

I mean really, what could be more American than a beer, a dog, and sports? And this for a month long! If the rest of the world, from Germany to South Africa, is glued to their TVs watching sports, what’s going on America? Why aren’t you in on the game? Is this just like the metric system? The rest of the world realized it makes more sense, but we’re too stubborn to give in?

Now with all due respect, the US gave a good fight this year, and I’ve heard statistics that over 50% of Americans are following the World Cup. This is progress people, I’m proud. All the same, John Cleese has something to say about why Americans are out of the loop when it comes to soccer which is not only good but also hilarious. In all seriousness though, I wonder if soccer is not exactly fit to the American psyche? It’s a long-suffering sport. It requires patience to watch, and one is seldom immediately rewarded. You’re let down a lot in soccer. Hundreds more goals are shot than scored, and a fan’s job is attentiveness to each shot, so that she’ll see the success when it comes. And when it comes, is through teamwork, strategy, and concentration over time – things we understand, but perhaps could work on a little bit. What do you think? What would American sports be like with fewer beer commercials and more concentration?

And now that I’ve witnessed the World Cup twice from abroad, I’m thinking: America, are we avoiding being a part of the world’s game? It’s interesting, how Esslingen, for that matter, Germany – is suddenly unified by its battle for victory. And even more interesting, the passions expressed through the fight: glory, honor, power, might, pride, unity, surrender, victory. It’s not a coincidence that I use these words. I think sport is a key to peace. Watching the Japan/Paraguay game was like a sociological experiment in conflict. Two sides at peak fitness, the weight of honor on their shoulders. South Americans, who are known to express their emotions loudly and vividly, against the reserved and quiet Japanese. It’s like war – the same virtues are on the table, er, field – there’s just a tad less bloodshed. If only the settling of Europe could have been played out in soccer.

People need to fight. We need to stand together for a cause. I think we need to fight for our glory and be celebrate it. So come on America, get in the game – why don’t you wave your flag?