The Patriotism Of Your Average War

Party Time at the Berlin Fan Fest

After two and a half days, some very late nights (seriously, Berlin doesn’t really close), and an extremely good time, we have departed Berlin. We’re en route to Nuremberg, where we’ll take in tomorrow’s USA-Ghana match. Two thumbs enthusiastically up for Berlin – gorgeous city, lots to do, lots to soak up. Very glad we made it there.

Going to try to drop a little seriousness on you, and forgive my World Cup naivete. I’m American; we’re new to this.

We’ve been chatting a bit of late about the identity/ nationalism/ tribalism question here at the World Cup. I suppose the conversation started before the USA-Italy game, when we figured out we’d be sitting in the Italian section. A couple of us are half-Italian, and still have a bunch of family who live there. In other World Cups I’ve found myself pulling for the Italians, but it was clear that if they were playing against the USA, my allegiances were solidly with the Stars and Stripes. It doesn’t mean I don’t like Italia as a place, people, or culture; just a football match (“Solo calcio!”), and I was rooting for the team in white over the team in blue.

Of course, in the wake of that match, I will never root for an Italian team again. They were a disgrace, and I will cheer their eventual defeat at this tournament. But again, those are just sports feelings. And I’m a lot more comfortable with this whole thing remaining sports-focused.

I think we all had a little anxiety about being Americans at this event and having to absorb the occasional politically motivated taunt. So far, we haven’t heard a peep. Not a word. And for that, we’re very grateful.

But if politics have mostly been absent from the event, there’s still the odd undercurrent of tribalism that pervades the whole thing. When we shout our songs and chants, what are we rooting for? Are we rooting for teams, or are we rooting for nations? Or is it a culture that we’re rooting for? A people? Or even a corporation? We met some German girls last night who were enthusiastically rooting for Sweden (outfits and face paint included) – because they worked at Ikea. As for the German team, they only seemed interested in Klose and Podolski – because they are both ethnically Polish, like these girls.

How seriously do we have to take the group of drunk Aussies at the Irish Pub in Europa Center in Berlin last night who were singing songs about how they hate the English? That’s different from us hating the Italian team for cheating, right? Or from me harboring resentments against the German team for eliminating us four years ago – despite the fact that almost everyone we’ve met in Germany has been kind, friendly and welcoming, and I hope I can repay their hospitality at some point? But at the same time, we’ve also heard (from Germans) that they fel a bit awkward being so openly patriotic in public; for a while, that had been frowned upon here. And what of the obvious kinship we felt with the Irish dudes we met last night, who are probably the only folks in Europe whose default isn’t to hate America? With pro sports, it’s all a bit easier: hating the Cowboys as characters in the sports drama doesn’t mean I wish ill on the people of Dallas. But when nations are involved, it all gets a bit dicier.

We all want it to be only about the games (“Solo calcio!”), but it obviously isn’t. (I think the line of choice here is that these games “contain the patriotism of your average war.”) As Americans, though, it almost has to be, and it actually feels pretty liberating to be able to express yourself as an American in a nonpolitical context. We actually are underdogs at this event, and that feels nice; when we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” it doesn’t have the phony triumphalism that it sometimes does at other sporting events (especially Olympic Games held in the continental US). And mercifully we haven’t caught anyone chanting “G-D-P! G-D-P!” at any of our opponents. Just the games, please.

Be careful riding in the sunroof

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