The first time the World Cup ever registered anywhere on my radar was in 1998. Not because I knew anything at all about soccer, but because I had just started dating a European. I had mentioned to him that, while working in D.C. that night, suddenly a lot of cars were driving down M Street, honking and waving flags from Ecuador or Paraguay or Morocco (I didn’t know my flags then like I know them now). He told me they had just won their world cup match. To which I’m sure I replied something along the lines of, “Silly Ecuadorians”. Little did I know just how seriously they took it. Little did I know just how seriously the rest of the world takes these games. Silly American.
But now I know. Now I have lived through the first half of a World Cup tournament in a country that has a fighting chance of making it into later rounds. Man, oh man, is this stuff a big deal here in Belgium.
In the United States, flying the American flag is the norm. Most houses have flag poles. Schools, movie theaters, the town square. They are everywhere. In Belgium that isn’t the case. Maybe someone will hang a flag out their window for the national holiday on July 21. But probably not. Unless it’s a government building, it probably isn’t flying the flag, and maybe not even then. But right now, they are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Draped across storefronts, shoved onto dashboards, drawn on faces. If you couldn’t tell the difference between the Belgian flag and the German flag before, you can now.
Belgium is doing very well in the tournament. They just made it out of the first knock out round by beating… the Americans. The Americans! “Who are you rooting for?” was a popular topic of conversation around SHAPE and within our family as we have so many Belgian-American unions. My answer? The Americans, with an asterisk. I have to root for the Americans but I’m really enjoying how happy people are over here now that Belgium is winning.
Most larger towns have been showing the Belgian games on a large screen downtown, Mons included. We have been getting together with 15,000 friends and neighbors to cheer on the Red Devils. I have never seen so much red, black and yellow in my life.
And it’s not just the Belgian games we’re watching. Every night the tv is tuned to whichever game is on, and a certain someone doesn’t actually go to sleep until all the games of the day are over, usually around 1:00 AM.
Belgium plays again Saturday and we’ll be back downtown again, cheering them on. Argentina won’t be hard to beat, right?
Allez les Diables Rouges!