Friday, June 20, 2008

Le foot

Soccer to us, football to the rest of the world, and le foot to the French. Whatever you call it, it is currently keeping Europe's mind off Ireland's veto of the Lisbon Treaty. Unifying treaties may come and go, but football is sacred. Two proposed European constitutions have been vetoed since 2005, but the European Championship only comes around once every four years.

(To think that like most good Americans, I used to see soccer as merely an adjective that modifies "mom," an after-school activity that mainly interests girls, or a quaint Old World custom.)

For a few weeks in summer the continent is obsessed, and the phenomenon fascinates me. I first experienced it during the 2006 World Cup, when France was defeated by Italy in the final match. It is the strangest sensation to know that absolutely everyone in the country is sitting, just as you are, in front of their televisions and biting their nails.

You hardly need a television to follow the score, just an open window. The neighborhood erupts in a collective cheer or groan when a goal is scored, and if France wins, car horns and inebriated shouts of glee continue until the wee hours of the morning.

The farther France progresses to the final, the more everyone becomes a football convert. Back in 2006, my husband's seventy-something aunt suddenly had her theories about Zidane's performance, while I searched desperately for a French flag to hang from our balcony. The day after France ultimately lost the country shared a rotten mood and a football hangover.

This year there was none of that build-up of excitement, for France was eliminated in the first round after once again losing to the Italians. We're stuck watching a dull match between Croatia and Turkey, shrugging our shoulders and waiting for the next World Cup in 2010.

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