Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Passion of Orange

I must say that I am doing everything possible to avoid involvement in the World Cup.  I have never been interested in watching sports, I am not even interested in big American sporting events unless a team from Pittsburgh is involved, and even then, I mostly don't watch the game, but just buy the t-shirts and capitalize on the glory.

The FIFA World Cup, the once in 4 year competition for soccer's (I should call it football, but the evil in me enjoys annoying Europeans by calling it soccer) greatest title, except for the other great soccer championship which happens in alternative 4 year increments.  But today's topic is the World Cup so I am not even going to bother to ask my husband what the name of the other one is.

Needless to say that during the World Cup, people become very nationalistic and I get it, American sports fans are as nuts as European sports fans.  Sports mania comes from our innate love of competition and nationalistic pride and from our very human desire to feel a part of something.

I have never been a sports fan, although I can appreciate that people do love sports.  I grew up in a family where women were in the minority and therefore on weekends the television was tuned to sports and we girls just had to put up with it in the background, that is when I wasn't dragged by my dad to see a Penguin or Pirate game in person (I can definitely credit sporting events as one reason why I was so well read as a kid, one of my greatest achievements was finishing the book The Good Earth from cover to cover during a Pirate Game which went into extra innings).  Still, I can appreciate the love of sports, particularly if it involves the love of competition, national pride and is not all about money and endorsements (as unfortunately much of sports is today).  I still get tingly when I think of weekend afternoons at my parents or grandparents house hearing Jim McKay's stoic voice talk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the opening of ABC's Wide World of Sports.  If you want some nostalgia or want to know what I am talking about check it out here.

This year's World Cup is very exciting (so far) for Holland.  They have made it to the semi finals, coming from behind in a surprise defeat of Brazil to move forward in the competition.  Needless to say Dutch people are extremely excited and feel very proud of their team.  I must say that while I do not have any interest at all in the mania, the games or the hype.  For example, yesterday at my office, they announced that people could watch the game either in the office or leave the office early to watch it.  I was one of about 5 people in the office who actually worked during the world cup.  Those who chose to stay around watched it from their computers via live video stream, having fun, sipping beer and doing what little work there was in between.  At the very end of the game, I together with another colleague decided to go downstairs to where people were watching the game and we caught the last two minutes and witnessed the unabashed jubilation of my colleagues when Holland did the unlikely, beat Brazil and knock them out of the competition.

I must say while I really don't care about the World Cup or who wins or loses, and in my less tolerant moods, think another win just means more madness.  In some measure it is nice to see Dutch people wear their passions on their sleeves for a change.  In more than 8 years of living among them, I have seen that the Dutch are indeed a very proud people, proud of their heritage, their culture, their seemingly small country playing such a prominent role in the development of the modern age.  Still, by and large they are a reserved people.

When you live in a country different from the one you are born in, one of your favorite pastimes is comparing and contrasting your new home with your 'home'.  Invariably no matter where you are and where you go, there are some things which are better than where you came from and other things worse than where you came from (maybe with the exception of places like Chad, Darfur, Afghanistan, etc.).  It's just the way of it, you are always comparing, and I even more so since I have emigrated to not one country but two in my adult life.What can I say, it's a hobby.

The Dutch are indeed a reserved people.  It's hard to explain but while the Dutch are very pleasant and kind people, they do not show a lot of emotion or passion for things.  Also, there is a lot more similarity in how you should do and approach things.   It's difficult to pinpoint what I mean but I think the best way to say it is that the Dutch seem to live life more 'at arm's length' than other people. While they have a deep and abiding respect for differences, in terms of the right way to go about things for many Dutch people there is not a lot of variation.  One example which springs to mind is that when Maya first went to school at 4, she was expected to walk in the classroom and shake hands with her teacher.  And actually they made a very big deal of the fact that she didn't do it or would not put her hand out.  To me, this seemed silly, to expect a child of four to extend her arm for a handshake in a very adult manner.  But in Holland they start early, since it is socially acceptable as an adult to shake hands, then kids need to shake hands too.    They also are very consistent in their routines and show a discipline about everything, even about the kind of food they eat. And their reactions to things are so similar that sometimes, to those of us from other places, they have an almost scripted feel to them.  And it is not that they are rude or don't care or not nice or anything, the Dutch are a very kind people, it's just that they are reserved.  As an American we are taught first and foremost to be individuals, sure we must conform with society's laws and basic social rules but beyond that we are encouraged to exploit our individuality as much as possible.  Dutch society stresses conformity.  Even children are expected at a very young age to conform to adult social norms and rules (except when they are outside playing or engaged in other completely childlike activities).  At school during lunch Maya eats a sandwich and when I first sent her to school, I was called in to speak to the teacher because at 4 or 5 years old Maya didn't eat her sandwich with a knife and a fork (the Dutch eat sandwiches wiht a knife and a fork which is quite funny).  I had to explain to them that I still cut Maya's food for her because she was 4 or 5 and I didn't want her to cut herself and that sorry, Maya eats her sandwiches with hands.   They immediately set out to correct this.  She got a sticker chart and every day for two weeks she got a sticker if she ate her sandwich with a knife and a fork. They asked me also to do the same at home, for which I said, "of course I will" and  of course I did nothing of the sort.   I mean, really, will she not be able to live a satisfactory adult life if she eats a sandwich with her hands, is that why I am not an MD now?  One way of doing things.

The Dutch are also very predictable in their social interactions and reactions to things.  I remember once someone telling me that I had character (actually the Dutch word is karakter).  It essentially means the same thing (although unlike the English word, it is not both a noun and an adjective, but only an adjective).  After talking with this person I started to get the impression that he was not exactly paying me a compliment, as he told me, that I was loud and a little bit too strong with my opinions, etc. and I remember saying, "from the way you are talking it doesn't sound like having karakter is a positive thing".   He felt embarrassed having realized what he had said and after some mealy-mouthed double talk said that it was not considered to be an overly positive quality.  Funny thing is, a few years later when we put Maya in school, they told me the same thing about her.  Having karakter goes against the Dutch idea of being reserved, minimalist and accepting and quietly determined. 

Many immigrants that I know, including me at times, characterize the Dutch as dry, cold, without passion and very literal because many Dutch people and their social interractions mimic so many others and that there is on a superficial social level a lack of individuality which people from other countries often interpret as coldness or dryness. Even holidays seem very cookie cutter, people do the same things, they eat the same things, they follow the same routines day in and day out.  There is very little unpredictabilty to Dutch lives, unpredictability is something to avoid in Dutch society.  Therefore they are kind, pleasant, predictable in their minimalism.  . 

That's why it has been so refrshing and downright life affirming to see the  unabashed enthusiasm during the World Cup.  People jumping up and down, cheering, hugging each other.  Yesterday during those last two minutes people were hugging, jumping up and down and literally squealing with delight.

It was only two minutes, but it was nice to see.  I hope Holland wins the World Cup because I'd like to see it some more.

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