Since becoming an expatriate, I’ve had countless “delightful” debates over the years—usually with Europeans, Englishmen mostly, but also with the occasional “Continental”—about our respective societies and national sports. I remember this one guy though, a chap from Northern England who really had it in for the States, and he let me have “what for” over a number of his pet peeves he had against my country of origin.
I met this guy while relaxing in the pool at the Swagman one late afternoon. For descriptive purposes, he was whiter even than me, which I didn’t think was possible; but with my Scottish and Irish heredity, of course I gave him a run for most pallid. (Actually, no; his girlfriend was pastier than both of us combined!) But what really highlighted his Northern European ancestry was his huge head, closely shaved, evidently to disguise an advanced case of male pattern baldness. After several days in the tropics, the sun had given his smooth pate a painful-looking pinkish glow. I’ll bet that sunburn made it even worse for him to keep it shaved.
It’s funny, but I think he was a little angry at himself for apparently finding me less than despicable in spite of the fact that I’m from a country that he truly despises. Even so, it thoroughly amused me how he hated virtually everything about America, and with such practiced vitriol. I could tell that he and his mates must have had an anti-Yank discussion or two while throwing back a few stouts in the pub.
I asked him if he’d ever even been to the United States. His answer was spat more than stated, “Never. You couldn’t pay me to go!”
His hatred amused me because of its irrationality. I asked him if he could logically explain why my country filled him with such loathing, and he went into an obviously oft-repeated diatribe that mostly castigated us for the world-wide ubiquity of detestable American franchises like McDonalds, not to mention our international arrogance and meddling (only a “few” of our countless sins!), but of all things, what really caused him disgust was our apparent blasé attitude toward sports, especially our almost universal disregard for THE ONLY sport as far he was concerned—Football, or soccer, as we “contemptible” Americans refer to it.
He used his own passion as a benchmark for how a “true” sports fan demonstrates love for team and sport. He explained that he lived and worked on the continent, in Belgium if I remember right. Just recently, he had made the trip across the channel back home to England see his team in a crucial competition, and although he had not been home to see his parents in months, he bragged that he went straightaway to the stadium. Furthermore, after the match and post-match celebrations, he directly returned so as not to miss a day of work. THIS, he claimed, was concrete proof of his genuine devotion. I shook my head in wonder and agreed with him, remarking that he certainly seemed to have unique priorities.
Nodding my agreement I grinned and said wryly, “You’re right buddy; because I would have found a way to get home to see my family. As far as I can tell, YOU’RE love for soccer far outstrips most any American’s love for THEIR sports teams!” I don’t think he caught on to my sarcasm; I gave sincerity my best effort.
“You definitely take the cake mate!” I laughed, shaking my head.
I attempted an explanation of the supposed tepid interest that WE, “Mr. Soccer’s” distant cousins from across “the pond,” have for our professional sports teams:
“First of all, our sports interests are seasonal, and now a days we have a lot of different types of sport to choose from and throughout the ENTIRE year. It used to be we had baseball in the summer, football in the fall, and basketball and hockey in the winter through spring. Now our time and interest is pulled in all sorts of directions, like pee-wee leagues, little leagues, college sports, bowling, track, softball, winter sports, NASCAR, golf, tennis, women’s fastpitch; Damn man, it’s almost limitless. Dude, we love our sports, but most of us just aren’t as into any particular one like you guys are. That could also explain why we don’t have baseball hooligans like you have in Europe!”
I laughed delivering my last comment, but he didn’t see the humor.
We continued our back-and-forth—he denigrated, and I explained and defended. I developed a strategy of asking pointed questions, specifically to find out the true source of his dislike of all things Americana. I soon detected that most of what he thought of as “bad” about us was based more on generalization than on fact. I told him:
“Before you permanently make your mind up about us based on all these skewed impressions you’ve apparently picked up from the BBC, you really need to go look at the country with your own eyes. The U.S. is huge…you can’t imagine how big until you’ve driven it. … Americans do not have a SINGLE mindset, because we ARE such a varied people. You really can’t say that Americans are this and Americans are that—there are too many of us to nail down the whole lot of us, or even most of us, to a single mindset. We have millions of viewpoints and hundreds of subcultures! About the only single thing ALL of us share is a love for freedom and opportunity, aside from that WE are YOU! Hell, most of my genetic makeup is from the British Isles. If you hate us, you hate yourself man…”
I don’t know if I changed any of his negative vibes about us, but it was fun trying. I know I did change his mind about one thing though, his notion that ALL of us know nothing about anything outside of the USA. When we discussed issues involving history and geography I argued rings around him.
But what really won him over, at least partially, was when they started up the karaoke and I got up and did my rendition of “House of the Rising Sun”. He shook my hand after I finished singing saying, “Anyone who can nail that song can’t be ALL bad!”
The fact that I bought most of the rounds didn’t hurt either…