I was on a flight between London and Johannesburg the day that the FIFA World Cup started. I knew it was serious business (most of the passengers on the plane were wearing country-specific soccer–oh, I’m sorry–football jerseys) and wasn’t surprised that the captain gave the cabin regular updates on the England vs. USA score. I actually love that kind of enthusiasm. Total sucker for it. Each update would elicit groans and cheers–though we Yankees were very much outnumbered by the Brits.
From Johannesburg I flew to Windhoek, Namibia, neighbor to the north, where the first shipment of vuvuzelas were already sold out city-wide, and the day of South Africa’s first match was essentially a national holiday. Needless to say, this part of the world was the perfect place to steep myself in football fever. I knew that I could watch soccer three times a day, pretty much every day, which is what I did when my schedule allowed.
The French team had issues from the beginning. The quick recap: inflated egos, combined with a less than effective coach and a strong competitor field, had France exiting after the first round. This was widely reported and quoted back in La France as a “national disgrace.”
Now, as relatively recent World Cup champions, I can understand a nation’s serious disappointment. But talk turned ugly, and specifically, started to target the ethnic make-up of the team and questions about how “French” they really were. (Funny how the reverse was true 1n 1998 when France won the whole shebang–the Benetton ad of a team was heralded as a shining example of the “new France.”)
Jamie Schler, who writes from France, has a great piece in the Huffington Post that approaches this national hand-wringing and narrow-mindedness head on, and sets her argument squarely on France’s dining room table and the threads of culinary history that run through the country thanks to immigration patterns. She, rightly, chalks up France’s hasty retreat from the 2010 World Cup to poor management and behavior, and uses dishes like couscous to illustrate the ability for immigrant populations to contribute and assimilate to a new culture, while at the same time preserving their ethnic identity and traditions.
I want Sarkozy to hire her. Then again, he’s got bigger problems than Schler can likely fix.