June 11 began the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. For the next two and a half weeks, the world will sit on the edge of its collective couch/rug/bar stool/desk chair at work to see who will claim the Cup from 2006 champions Italy.
The World Cup affords a fantastic opportunity for people across the globe to unite in celebration of a shared passion for one month every four years. This year, it also affords a fantastic opportunity for day drinking thanks to the time difference. But most importantly, global unity. Yes, unity. Although countries are competing against one another, the entire World Cup month is a chance to commune with fellow sport fans from around the world, as well as proudly wave your country’s flag high.
In the U.S., however, flags don’t usually have to wait four years to make an appearance. Here, you can barely drive one minute in your over-sized SUV carrying your family of ten without seeing the ol’ red white and blue. During my first visit to the UK, one of the first things that struck me was the lack of British flags suspended from virtually every surface like I was so used to seeing in the States.
I soon learned the reason for this from a beloved professor and it has stuck with me ever since: After two World Wars, Brits and Europeans learned just how detrimental the effects of nationalism can be. That is not to say that they do not have great senses of pride in their countries, quite the opposite in fact. Anyone who has traveled in the UK and Europe knows that their inhabitants take their national histories, cultures, and traditions very seriously. But they also don’t go around saying that their histories, cultures, and traditions are better than anyone else’s. Their sense of national pride focuses on their country as its own entity, not because they see it as better than everywhere else. This was all an entirely new concept to me. In the States, I was used to hearing that we were and had the best everything.
From my time living in London I also learned that sport is a hugely important outlet for people to express their pride in their home country. Through cheering on their nation’s football team in the World Cup, citizens are able to show their pride in and support for their country without any ‘mine-is-bigger-than-yours’ warfare.
So grab your vuvuzela and tune in to share an experience with your fellow human beings that doesn’t involve tanks and bombs. With both England and USA playing this weekend, there is a lot to look forward to, whether you’ll be cheering from an American sports bar or British pub.