A sure fire way to get into the spirit of your new country is via national pastimes and sports. Unfortunately for me, that meant football (*ahem* soccer). Journalists and loud-mouthed “experts” alike will hypothesize for hours and hours…
Moving to Germany with no job offers and even fewer plans was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I quickly learned how different cultures can be; although many people in Germany speak English, everything from humor to manners can be anything but transparent to outside eyes looking in.
An ex-pat’s real life experiences
A sure fire way to get into the spirit of your new country is via national pastimes and sports. Unfortunately for me, that meant football (*ahem* soccer). Journalists and loud-mouthed “experts” alike will hypothesize for hours and hours (or pages and pages) on why soccer is not popular in the United States. The U.S. team’s recent stellar, albeit short-lived, performance at the World Cup in Brazil has reinvigorated this conversation from all sides. Writer for The Atlantic Derek Thompson quips that while “Americans love the world cup, [they] still don’t care about soccer.” And WSJ journalist Mathew Futterman wants to know if America is ready to take its relationship with soccer to the next left. Ug, I think not.
As a fully American, fully apathetic soccer fan (?), I can honestly say that before the U.S.-Germany game that saw the American team advance into the semi-finals (am I even using this jargon correctly?), I had never seen a game. Not. One. Single. Soccer. Game. Ever.
So what’s a lone, soccer-indifferent American expat to do during the World Cup?
When in Germany (Rome?), do as the Germans (Romans?).
Get into the game
This advice comes too late for this year’s World Cup, but if you’re an ex-pat living in Germany (and to some extent, Switzerland), you can jump in on the fun of soccer fever quite easily. The public viewings are a must; experience the euphoria of thousands of drunken people cheering for the same team! Buy a jersey, paint your face and grab a beer with fellow fans- this works for local pubs and larger public viewings alike. Getting in on the
national sport of your new country really helps you to integrate and to experience the culture first hand!
Such, such are the joys
In the States, our national pastime is Baseball. Though, football (proper, American, football 😉 and basketball are hugely popular as well. So, I dug down deep and called upon all my drunken, rah-rahing, tail-gaiting, face-painting sports experiences and channeled those toward soccer. I found out: Germans really know how to tailgate. Their tailgate parties are just bigger and missing the pick-up trucks.
The German Fanmeile is a giant combination of outdoor game viewing, boozy party, and fan fest. See this for an idea of the mayhem that ensued in Berlin when the Weltmeister (read: world champions) returned home and showed off the 2014 World Cup trophy. How many fans are in that photo? I heard a number in the two-million range thrown around (Berlin’s population is only 3.5 mil btw).
Whether you live near a Fanmeile or not, sleeping in earnest is not really possible when the Germans win a game. Germany’s crushing 7-1 defeat of Brazil was literally deafening; sirens, horns, screams, fireworks, and music rang out the entire night!
As an ex-pat from an almost anti-soccer country, I must warn you to take my analysis with an iceberg-sized grain of salt. After watching my first (ever) soccer game, I can report that the experience was just as gut-wrenching as watching a World Series game go into extra innings or game seven of the NBA finals go into overtime. My German friends remained as poised as can be expected throughout the whole World Cup ordeal (read: not at all). I felt the baited-breath of an entire nation; a sort of cautiously optimistic fervor, ultimately bubbling over post-Brazil smack down and finally exploding with the razor-thin win over Argentina.
But I also saw a nation, one famously divided and phobic of nationalism, come together in such a positive way. The mood on the ground as Fanhansa (the German national team’s aptly (re)named Lufthansa Airbus) flew low over the city was priceless: one nation, made up
of a multitude of ethnic and cultural admixtures, united together in pride, accomplishment and common thread.
Americans may still hate soccer, but that feeling is certainly something we can relate to.