Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independent Day

As I awaited the arrival of my large, toasted almond flavoured Turbo Ice at my local Crackin' Donuts, one of the servers asked the lad next to me in line, "Are they on today?" I sneaked a look his way and was immediately aware of the topic of discussion, albeit not explicitly expressed. The young guy was wearing a T-shirt replica of the Italian World Cup team; I recognized it instantly. "Yeah, the game is on at three," was his excited response. I knew at that moment how I'd be spending the next few hours of my afternoon.

Italy would be playing host Germany in a semi-final match, the winner of which would move on for a chance at winning it all on Sunday - Must-See TV, in my opinion. As it was only around 2:30, I scrolled through the broadcast listings and saw the program description Copa Mondial on cable channel 17, the Spanish language Univision in my area. I pressed the 'enter' button, the television screen flickered, and the tuner settled on two in-studio broadcasters going through highlights of previous World Cup action.

As ABC and ESPN are covering the tournament, I pulled up the guide again to see what, if any, Cup coverage any of the group of networks was airing. Much to my expected disappointment, ABC was airing a soap opera. ESPN, a ubiquitous, recorded poker show of some sort. Only immediately at game-time would ESPN have any World Cup coverage - namely, the game, itself. So, I stuck with my Spanish speaking amigos at Univision and enjoyed a half hour of delightful highlights and inspired commentary.

It didn't matter that I'm no where near fluent enough in Spanish to understand much of what was being said. However, being familiar with the sport, the teams, and the tournament results to this point it was easier to pick out a few things, here and there.

It reminded me of a line in a movie I watched this past Friday night. In The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, two men are attempting to bring a man's corpse to Mexico to be properly buried in his hometown. On their way, they come across a shack in the desert and approach it, hearing the sounds of a Spanish radio station coming from inside. There's an old, blind man living alone in the shack and when one of the travellers greets him with, "Buenos días," the hermit says, "I don't speak Spanish but I like to listen to this Mexican radio station. I can't understand what they're saying but I like the way Spanish sounds, don't you?" "Yes, I do." is the traveller's response. Well, so do I.

When the game finally began, I had no intention of switching over to the English broadcast on ESPN. Sorry lads, you've lost this consumer, err, viewer. Two hours later, Italy was celebrating a 2-0 victory after scoring a quick pair of goals in the final five minutes of the second 15 minute extra-time session. And, yes, both goals came with the requisite, "Goooooooooooooooooooool!" exclamation from the excited announcer. An excellent match, all around.

This all got me thinking. I've heard and read alot from people about how they just "don't get this World Cup thing," in some manner or other. I can't understand that sentiment. There's nothing to get. It just is. It's a sport tournament pitting the best players from 32 countries against each other for nothing more than national pride. I'm sure players receive compensation of some sort but the essence of it is that they play for their country. And want to win for their country.

As we celebrate Independence Day today in the United States of America, I couldn't help recognize the eery analogy. The reason most Americans don't "get it" is as plain as the holiday we celebrate today. We are independent. Or, in other words, alone. Aloof. Isolated. Insulated from the rest of the world. Sure, we've got our immediate neighbors to the north and south of us. But we scarcely bother to interact with or, sometimes, acknowledge them at all.

This isn't true of our distant European cousins across the Atlantic, or our extended Asian family beyond the Pacific, to a lesser degree. I thought of the four remaining teams in the tournament - Italy, Germany, France, and Portugal. Putting all four of those countries together, I still don't think they'd approach the size of the U.S. - in square miles or population.

In our isolation, we lose much. How different would our lives be if the U.S. was divided into different countries of various size, like Europe? New England could be Scandinavia. Larger swaths of land out west divided like France, Spain, and Portugal. Mix up the Midwest like the smaller countries of Eastern Europe. The southern coast mimicking Greece, Italy, and Croatia in the Mediterranean area. Each area of our country already has unique qualities, much like the unique qualities of the multitude of European countries. It's not a stretch to see the resemblance. Furthermore, these are countries from which our ancesters came. Shouldn't we hold some closer tie to them? Have some interest in what they've been up to recently, like a second cousin you haven't seen in years?

Instead, we go it alone. The U.S. is like a giant yacht anchored a mile from shore. We can see the shoreline with all its activity, yet we venture no closer. Our yacht fully supplied for a life at sea without any need to dock, we peer through our binoculars viewing the smaller sailboats, fishing boats, surfers, etc. and bemoan, "I don't get it. Why would anyone waste their time with all that trivial interaction when we're perfectly happy floating out here... a mile from it all... alone?"

"I've got my shuffleboard deck. My playing cards for playing Solitaire. Enough frozen pizza to last a lifetime. How could I possibly need anything else?" we ponder, as our behemoth vessel pitches ever-so-slightly in the barely existent waves this far from shore.

It's not just the World Cup, it's the world itself we're wont to ignore. In no way am I anti-American. I'm proud to be a natural born citizen of the good ol' U.S. of A. But I'm also curious about what our long-lost cousins have been up to. Who's doing well, who may be having some troubles, and what they are doing for fun and excitement.

People often wonder why everyone "hates America." I don't think the majority of those people "hate" America, it's just difficult, sometimes, to have anything good to say about someone who couldn't care less about you. If we were more in-touch, as a nation, with what is going on around the world, we may better understand how our country is viewed by those abroad. Perhaps enhancing some of those views in the process.

It's time we docked this ship and spent a week on shore... to see what all the commotion is. You never know, you may find something to your liking.

With that, I'll admit to this being a somewhat hypocritically ironic post, this evening... as I've been quite enjoying my holiday here at home... alone.

Happy Independent Day!


emetic sage said...

muy bien hecho, amigo!

i remember the last time i went to argentina i was talking to my uncle about why everyone hates america, and he said it's part unacknowledged jealousy, and part amazement at our foreign policy.

they like the people for the most part, it's the government -- mostly bush -- they can't stand.

excellent post...

Viszlát Sjáumst said...

Muchas gracias, mi amigo emético!

That has mostly been the sentiment I've heard in my travels, as well.

Which is why it annoys me so much that our country is so egocentric. I just think we'd be better off if we opened up and listened a bit more...

Road to the Isles said...

Great Post. My 2 cents here - sure we can listen, but i believe the majority of middle america don't care enough about their own ancestry or their own politics to begin to care about Italy or Germany's love for anything. (The best political discussions I've had are always with those that don't live here in the states.)

Pog and I are still waiting for more on your Icelandic excursion #2...

pog mo thoin said...

Great post! I have a lot of thoughts on this subject considering that I am officially an ex-Pat now. And the reasons I am are totally personal and career oriented - not for any political or cultural reason. There is tons to learn by totally immersing yourself in another culture, even for a short period of time and it is definitely something everyone should do but the most interesting thing that I realised by doing it is that I have learned more about my own country and my own culture by removing myself from it.

And, I am happy to report, its not all bad ;-)

Viszlát Sjáumst said...

Thanks Road 'n Pog ! I wholeheartedly agree with both your thoughts. One of the things I enjoy most about travelling abroad is the conversations with the local citizens. I always come away with some new knowledge of their own land and interesting points to ponder about mine.

Sláinte !