Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Internationally Patriotic?

Apologies to my thousands (not) of faithful (heh heh) readers for allowing this blog to be so dead lately.

I've had lots of good post ideas floating around in my head the past two months, but I always get them when I'm out walking or doing something, and then never get around to sitting down and typing it out and actually posting it.

One of these is a realization I had, during the Olympics. The realization that, growing up, I think I never rooted for American athletes or teams in almost any international sporting event. I don't think my brother and sister did either.

On the one hand, it's not that strange. My father is Czech and my whole family is very internationally- and foreign-minded (case in point: The three of us siblings are all living in foreign countries this year, learning and speaking three different languages. At Christmas, our family was spread across three continents.). I always just took it for granted.

It also makes sense because the US isn't very prominent in some international sporting events. Take the World Cup, for example. Who roots for the US? They usually get eliminated before anyone can start rooting for them in the first place. On the other hand, why would we root for the US even if they did make it, when we could root for Italy instead? That's what we did when I was a kid - one of my earliest sporting memories. I vaguely remember the 1994 World Cup, and watching the final on a VHS that our neighbor, who has cable, recorded for us, only to have the tape cut off before the end. Mom got the score somehow (did we have Internet yet?), and I still remember her sadly telling us that Italy had lost in penalty kicks.

Fast forward ten years, to the Euro 2004. Our family was in Europe that summer, driving a loop through multiple countries. Our favorites this time were France (as I had lived in Nice less than a year before and was still infatuated with all things France) and the Czech Republic (because, well... we are Czech.) We watched France beat England with Zidane's two goals in stoppage time in Normandy, the first half in a cafe filled with English tourists. We were the only people rooting for France and the goofy waiter literally fell to his knees when we told him this. We watched part of another game on the big screen in front of the Hotel de Ville with thousands of other people dressed in blue. (Big contrast to the 2008 Euro competition, when I rooted for the Netherlands on the main square of Middelburg and sang Dutch football songs at the five lone French fans in the city.)

When the Czech Republic lost in the semifinals, we were in a hotel somewhere - Slovenia? Austria? Or had we made it to the Czech Republic by then? - and some of us were pretty upset, particularly my brother and sister. (They thought I was a traitor as I had rooted pretty fiercely for France, before their elimination.)

Of course, in the Euro Cup, we don't even have the choice: The U.S. doesn't compete. But what about the World Baseball Classic? Haven't rooted for the US yet, because there are usually more Yankees than Red Sox on that team, and especially in 2006, the great Red Sox players were all playing for the Dominican Republic. Where I also happened to be living. Needless to say I rooted for the Dominican Republic that year. In 2009 I was torn between the DR and the Netherlands but as usual I went with the underdog in the end.

Then came the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is so interesting to see the American press coverage of the Olympics from afar! Medal counts are the most important thing, and the US wants to win the most medals. It's like aiming for quantity over quality. It's boring to root for the US in everything. "Oh... yeah... another medal..." They're kind of like the Yankees, in the Olympics.

Then, get a look at the commercials. They are so dramatic, full of this ridiculous rhetoric. "Uniting as one... celebrate the power, and precision.... the speed, and the grace..." In the voice of Morgan Freeman (or, for Canada, Donald Sutherland). Or the "to their moms, they'll always be kids" ad, which I still don't really get. How is that supposed to get me feeling excited (or even patriotic)?

But then take a look at a country like the Netherlands. Before this year, they had never won a medal off the ice, the whole point of the Olympics is speed-skating. Speed skating is so big that it's not called speed skating here, it is just called skating (schaatsen) - he OTHER kinds of skating have a descriptive word in front. Now, check out this commercial for soup that ran during the winter Olympics:

And then, check out this commercial for little orange lions that you got for "free" if you spent a certain amount of money at the Albert Heijn grocery store during the 2008 Euro Cup.

Now, which country would you rather root for? The overly-dramatic one, that tries to make these international tournaments extremely noble on the one and, while simultaneously reducing the competition to a medal tally on the other? Or a country like the Netherlands, who dresses up in orange and sings silly songs, drinks Heineken, and watches a really athletic sport, like speed skating, just because it is so amazing?

It's obvious which one I prefer...