On Sunday afternoons in my first year of college, you could find me sitting in the living area of our dorm, wrapped in a giant Roma flag and staring intently at the T.V. The game was on, I was focused, and I had plenty of things to say to the players on the screen.
“MA CHE CAZZO FAI?! NO LO VEDI CHE C’HAI UNO LIBERO DIETRO?!” “SPACCAGLI LE GAMBE! VAI! VAI! NOOO SEI NA SEDIA CAZZO!”
Occasionally, my roommates would enter and catch me in these moments. Feigning concern for my sanity, they would creep up to me and say “You know the people on the T.V. can’t hear you, right?”
Invariably, my reply was “You’re lucky I’m not taking my eyes off this game or I’d get up and smack you. Now leave me alone”.
I have followed soccer less and less over the past years, partially because I do not have any time, partially because it is very difficult for me to have access to games, and partially because no one around me, including my boyfriend, follows soccer. I can no longer name all of my team’s players and positions, and unless my father fills me in, I rarely know the score, or where in the championship they are. None of that matters though, if you sit me in front of a soccer match. It might be four years since I have watched a single game, but if I care about the outcome of the match, I will become a foul-mouthed, loud-mouthed, classic fucking Italian. The only Italians who do not bellow at the screen, or bellow even harder at the pitch, are the ones who do not give a shit about the outcome and/or are only there to make their partners or friends happy. I don’t do this out of trying to seem like I care, or wanting to fit in, I do it because I cannot help myself. When I was watching the World Cup by myself in a pub in a strange new land, I was muttering through my bitten tongue.
It has been clear to me for some time that it is not culturally common for sports fans to act this way in many countries. When I went to the States and we went to see my little cousin’s soccer match, my mother warned me not to act Italian. “People are polite here”, she told me, “We’re supposed to encourage both sides and be nice if we win. No gloating, and no telling the players to go for the ankles. People wont know you’re joking, and your aunt has to interact with these people”. I rolled my eyes. “O.K. fine“, I said, and I spent half of the match trying to dissect the contents of my hot dog.
Never, though, has this cultural difference been more apparent to me than when I went to see a rugby match here in Germany.
I went to see my friend’s boyfriend playing in a tournament game. I called my friend, as I did not know the way to the rugby pitch. I hoped she would be able to hear me, and was expecting her to answer the phone shouting over a crowd of cheering. “crys” she whispered into the phone. “Oh shit”, I whispered back, “did I mistake the day? Are you in a museum, or at the movies? Where are you?” “No, no, we’re here at the pitch”, she replied, “Just go down, take a left….” I figured she was in the changing rooms, or near the players as they were getting their pre-match pep talk. I tried to follow her directions, figuring that I could follow the cheers when I got close to the pitch.
There was silence. I must be lost. This can’t be the way to the pitch. Just as I was taking out my phone to call her again, I heard a very 300 Spartanesque AUU! AUU! OK, that sounds like rugby players, I might be in the right place after all.
There were about 100 people watching the rugby match. I sat down on the grass next to my friend and watched. Her boyfriend’s team won, and there was a smattering of polite applause from the crowd, the kind you see at golf tournaments on T.V. The players received their post-match talk from the ref, then clapped for each other and towards the crowd who applauded them. “Good game, huh?”, the boyfriend said. “Yup! Good game” my friend replied. He went to get changed. That was it.
I was amazed. I have never seen anything like it in the context of a team sport. It made me feel like a bit of a neanderthal, but at the same time I wont be able to change my behavior and integrate on this one.
When the European championships start this year, surround me with Italians, because I am just not ready for polite society.