I’ve suffered seriously mixed emotions watching the World Cup this past week.
On the one hand, I thought it was sad that four of the African teams crashed out in the group stages as this is supposed to be Africa’s tournament, but on the other I was thrilled to see how easily the continent’s fans set aside national differences to throw their support behind the sole survivor.
Then when the first knock out round got started Ghana had to defeat my nation of birth, the United States if they were to progress to the quarter-finals. Yeah, alright, I was 100 percent behind the States in that one and I was temporarily gutted when the final whistle blew, but once the dust settled I was quite happy for the African team and all their supporters; and to be honest I think playing well and bowing out in extra time was just about perfect for the USA as the level of support at home doesn’t compare with what we see in the rest of the world – although performances like this should help change that situation.
It has also been a welcome change for me to hear the commentators saying nice things about Americans in general and attributing some of the team’s success to national traits such as a willingness to go all out for the full 90 minutes, not complaining too much about dubious decisions and just getting on with the things they had some control over. That made me feel quite good – well, at least for a while.
You see, those aren’t really American traits: anybody can be like that. Lots of people in the States also believe it is an American trait to be hard-working and generous, but when I lived in California I knew loads of illegal Mexican immigrants who were working 16-hours a day and getting paid less than minimum wage by Yanks to do work no one else was willing to do so they could send money back to their families in Mexico. They were in fact the ones living up to that old American immigrant ideal – yes, I was sad to see Mexico go out as well.
Continuing with national traits, I started the tournament backing England and the States as my daughters hold both US and UK passports, and dead against the Italians and Germans as I’ve always thought the first group fall down too easily and complain too much, and the second are too mechanical, too boring and, well, too good. My father’s country lived up to my expectations and I was delighted to see them board their Alitalia flight home but my mother’s bloodline have won me over with entertaining imaginative play – and their Polish strikers and Turkish left wing – so I was actually pleased to see them advance at the expense of the overpaid, underachieving moaners from England.
Q: What was the difference between Germany and England?
A: Germany played Mertesacker in defence while England’s defence played like a Sack-a-merde. (French: merde = shit)
So what’s my point here? Well, I think competitions like the World Cup can be very positive events if they promote understanding between people from different nations, and I think the more we learn about other people the more we realize that while we may have cultural differences there really aren’t any deep rooted national traits – we are more or less the same; all countries have good people and all countries have their share of jerks.
Basically, what I’m getting at here is that I believe our nationalities are simply an accident of birth and I think helping people become aware of that reality is a whole lot more important than winning the World Cup.