At the risk of offending someone, I will admit that I never attributed much importance to the World Cup. March Madness, the World Series, and the Super Bowl have already claimed what athletic championship passion I possess (which admittedly is not an overwhelming amount), and so I never gave the World Cup much thought. It only happens every four years, which means that I easily forget it.
The French are another story.
The day before the Word Cup started, the girls I babysit went shopping to get their France jerseys, shorts, and socks. The family doesn’t even care that much about soccer, but their children will represent national pride at school. I did not initially know that the games had started and was left unprepared when ambushed by students at school who wanted to know my thoughts on the American team. I tried to find an eloquent way to express that I had none. But because I too have a France jersey, I have been working on getting on board with this soccer mania. Sadly, my France jersey did not see many games as before they were eliminated. The whole country seems disgusted with their playing, even the players themselves. In case anyone forgot that these athletes were French, they reminded the world of their roots by going on strike from training in response to decisions made by the coach. That’s right, the French players went on strike during the World Cup. Perhaps they saw they couldn’t win and decided that they may as well go down fully exercising their rights.
The World Cup does bring out many interesting national sentiments. The littlest girl I watch burst into tears today when her older sister announced that she would henceforth be cheering for the US. I tried to explain that it was fine because they hadn’t played against each other, but this only made her cry harder, sobbing that France was shamed before all the nations.
Very few of my students come from a family of two French natural born citizens. Aulnay-Sous-Bois is populated by many who see themselves both French and Algerian, Moroccan, Romanian, etc. On a small scale, this means I get a picture of the struggle France is dealing with as she faces this new era where her national identity, her social demographics, are shifting. And naturally, the World Cup brings these tensions to the surface. I asked one little boy if he was wearing France jersey (he had a jacket on and France had played poorly the night before) and he proudly and loudly stated that he was for Algeria and he would die before he would wear a jersey for France. The teacher heard the comment and started yelling, calling this kid a racist, and admonishing him to “look around and realize what country he chose to live in” before making those statements. At first, I thought that this tirade sprung from frustration at how France had played the night before, but the more I thought of it and mentioned it to French friends later, the more I think something more was at the heart of his anger. His is a frustration and a fear that France will fill with people who refuse to embrace being French, will instead wish to retain all of their old lives in this new one. His is a worry that a day will come when little French children don’t eagerly wear their national pride to school and weep over their nation’s defeats.