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THE DISPLACED Q: As an expat, do you ever get confused about which team to support at the Olympics?

The long-anticipated Games of the XXX Olympiad, also known as London 2012, are now in full swing. Some members of the Displaced Nation team are looking a tad bleary eyed after staying up late several nights in a row to watch their favorite events (gymnastics, anyone? or how about some synchronized diving?).

Maybe we’re getting grouchy from the lack of sleep, but we’re beginning to engage in some surprisingly heated debates — surprising given how much we looked forward to the arrival of the Games.

Or perhaps it’s not surprising given that most, if not all, of us residents have confused, hybrid nationalities…

In any event, here’s my displaced question for YOU: What if an athlete or team from your native land ends up competing with one from your adopted country?

Now pay heed, because this could be important.

I studied in Cardiff, Wales, where this sort of thing can be a matter of life and death. I’m English y’see, and while Wales may be part of the United Kingdom, it’s also its own country. For which I can hardly blame it…

Historically, Wales and England have not been the best of friends — in fact in one English city, it’s still legal to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow at certain times of the year.

For some reason it’s one law they just keep forgetting to appeal…

To say the English have treated the Welsh unfairly is…well, fair. We were utter bastards to them back in the day, as we were to pretty much every other civilization with which we came into contact. That’s why they all rose up and threw us out at various points in time.

Unfortunately, we haven’t learned our lesson — that infamous stiff upper lip isn’t the only national trait we’re known for. Yes, we Brits are an arrogant lot — legendarily so — and never more so than in the arena of international sport.

Luckily we’re not very good at most of it, or we’d have been involved in even more wars.

The art of living dangerously in a country of sore losers

But the Welsh, alas, aren’t much better; on the contrary, they have a horrible habit of being even worse than we are. Rugby is supposed to be their game, yet we English keep beating them at it. And if you’re the only English bloke in the immediate vicinity shortly after such a humiliating defeat occurs…well, the Welsh aren’t known for having a magnanimous, forgiving nature. They are known, rather, as barbarian tribes so unruly that even the Romans couldn’t subjugate them.

I never once tried to subjugate anyone, but in my three years at university I was on the short end of a serious subjugation every time the Welsh lost to England. Which was depressingly often.

So, herein lies the dilemma: You’re an expat. Your birth-home team is playing your adopted-home team. Do you:
a) Cheer for the local team to curry popularity — even if you’re dying inside with every goal scored by the locals?
b) Cheer for your native country’s team to show character, and honesty, and that you’re not afraid – even if, inside, you are actually terrified at what the locals may do to you afterwards?
c) Find a nice, comfy hole to lie in for a week or so until all the excitement dies down? (Note: Not for heroes. I’ve been known to adopt this tactic.)

Both a) and b) are seriously risky strategies. When questioned by a drunk and excitable Welshman, approximately five feet tall and about the same girth — along with ten of his veteran drinking buddies — it was always something of a lottery. Declare for my homeland, and pray I was in better shape athletically (or at least less drunk) than any of them; or declare for Wales, and risk getting beaten up anyway because they thought I was taking the mickey.

My answer varied (like my patriotism) with the number of pints I’d drunk.

(Note to self: Singing “God Save The Queen” loudly in response is almost never a good idea, even if you are drunk enough to hardly feel a thing. And especially when you haven’t even bothered to learn the words…)

The art of not having an opinion

Thankfully, I have since come up with my patented Ultimate Solution™ to this problem, after years of suffering one way or the other — or sometimes both ways simultaneously — at the hands of my ancestral foes.

I don’t cheer for my home team. Either of them. Because to be honest, I don’t give two figs about a sport unless I’m actually playing it, and then if I win, at least I’m dressed in the right gear for running away.

Let’s break this strategy down a little more.

PRINCIPLE #1: CHEER FOR THE WINNERS, REGARDLESS OF NATIONALITY
Taking this approach means you can celebrate every goal. If “your” team loses, you’re not too heavily committed, having cheered equally for both sides in their best moments.

Indeed, no one will be 100% sure which side you’re on, and as you’ve shared at least a few cheers with their side, they’re bound to feel more kindly disposed towards you than if you’d been screaming obscenities at their favorite player.

The second, and even more important part of this strategy is:

PRINCIPLE #2: BE THE LOSER!

As Leo “The Lip” Durocher, manager of several Major League baseball teams, once said (in 1946):

Nice guys finish last.

It doesn’t matter who wins in the end. No, really, it doesn’t. That’s the whole point of the saying “It’s only a game!” — because it is.

And while some people honestly admire a winner, and are happy to let them enjoy their well-earned celebration, in my experience most people have a bitter spot in their hearts for those who beat them — or their team. And it’s not a healthy place to be for anyone — basically, they can’t stand someone who beats them.

But everyone loves a loser.

If your birth-home team loses, be the humble eater-of-pie. Congratulate your new-found compatriots and maybe let slip — in an unguarded moment — that you knew they would win anyway as you’d had a horrible feeling that they were actually a much better team.

And if your adopted-home team loses — join them in commiserating. Because let’s face it, people from your home country are a bunch of so and sos — except you, of course. Which is why you’re here, and not there… “They” never play fairly. One day, hopefully soon, the local team will show ‘em who’s boss. And until then, well, you might as well drown your sorrows with the rest of the losers…

Either way it goes, you get points for being a good sportsman. That’s what I call winning by default.

* * *

Okay, readers, now it’s your turn to weigh in on this vexed question. Do you ever feel confused about who you should be rooting for at the Olympics, or is this a moment when blind nationalism sets in, and it’s your home athlete/team or nothing?

Tell me what you think!

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, another in our “expat moment” series…

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14 responses to “THE DISPLACED Q: As an expat, do you ever get confused about which team to support at the Olympics?

  1. giddayfromtheuk August 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Q: As an expat, do you ever get confused about which team to support at the Olympics?
    A: No. It’s Australia all the way!

    Nuff said…

    • Tony James Slater August 5, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Ha! You have a distinct advantage though. Firstly, the Aussies always win against the Brits (we won’t talk about the Ashes), and second, the Aussie expat community can band together and give as good as they get! Whereas I, the lone voice of Englishness surrounded by barbarians… well, let’s just say I get to spend a lot of post-match quality time stuffed into wheelie bins… :0)

  2. Helena Halme (@helenahalme) August 2, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Ok, first of all, I find the Brits annoyingly even-handed and not at all arrogant about sports. We sat in front of rather enthusiastic Team USA supporters at the women’s gymnastics Olympics final on Tuesday and my eardrums are still not quite recovered. Just saying.

    Living in the UK as a Finn, I firstly support Finland (my country of birth) when they are playing (winning or losing), second Sweden (where I lived as a child) when they are playing, and thirdly Norway and/or Denmark because they are part of the Nordic countries. I also support England and Team GB as my first team if none of the above are included in the sport. Easy beasy…Thankfully these four countries rarely come into contact on the field as it were.

    Although today Sweden and Team GB were head to head in shooting and I did support the English guy (he was actually English rather than Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish). So, I may have shifted the order just a little for the Olympics.

    Great post!

    Helena

    • Tony James Slater August 5, 2012 at 9:26 am

      That’s a vert carefully organised hierarchy of loyalties there!
      I still stick to the premise of ‘support the team also supported by the biggest guys in the room’. It may not be particularly patriotic, but it keeps me in one piece! Mostly. :0)

  3. Helena Halme (@helenahalme) August 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Oh, I meant five countries. It’s been a long day of watching the Olympics here in the UK. :-)

  4. ML Awanohara August 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    @TJS
    Your post made me think of New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks’s recent piece on the Olympics, the premise of which was:

    The Olympics are a peaceful celebration of our warlike nature.

    Brooks did not put it this way, but basically he sees the opening ceremony — celebrating the virtues of unity, friendship, equality, compassion, and care, the kinds of qualities that permit us to live in a global village without killing each other off — as the yin. And the athletic competitions, “the grim-faced games” — these celebrate tenacity, courage, excellence, supremacy, discipline and conflict — as the yang. One is win-win, and the other is win-lose. We need both, he says.

    I wonder if the Olympics are the time when we expats find out that we, too, have a bit of both? And we therefore face the challenge, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once put it (Brooks quotes him), of holding two contradictory thoughts in our minds at the same time? Most of us global voyagers have the impulse towards open-mindedness and cooperation, or we could not live in other people’s countries and survive. But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a victory by our own sometimes — as evidenced by Kim’s “nuff said” and Helena’s hierarchy in the comments above…

    • Tony James Slater August 5, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Wow! That’s pretty deep. It goes way beyond the level of analysis I tend to go for, which is ‘who wears the prettiest team colours’…
      But if we can let out some of our competitive urges, and bask in our victories, and rub the loser’s faces in it – all legitimately – that can’t be a bad thing! If only we could solve all our competitive urges this way. Got a dispute between two countries over a small strip of land? Who needs war, when you could have beach volleyball instead?
      Jut sayin’
      :0)

      • ML Awanohara August 5, 2012 at 2:55 pm

        LOL on the team colo(u)rs. At least you didn’t say who has the prettier costumes. I can’t say I’m all that enamored of any of the costumes I’ve seen — despite all the blood, sweat and tears that went into creating them (nowhere more than in the U.S., where the official team outfits became a matter of controversy because of having been made in China!). I also can’t get used to seeing the women swimmers in Speedo’s Fastskin3 suits — though I noticed that some of them are jazzing up their looks with elaborate fingernail art. Maybe they should take a leaf out of Ryan Lochte’s book and try a tooth grill that sparkles with red, white and blue diamonds!

        On my “deeper” points, just sayin’ that I think we can all be tribal. :)

  5. Spinster August 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    This is a great post. Re-blogging this, and may do my own post at a later date about this conundrum.

    As for my short answer, I’ve been cheering for both, along with other countries.

  6. Spinster August 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Spinster's Compass and commented:
    This is a really good post that I’ll have to elaborate on at a later date (depending on my medical issues). My short answer is that I cheer for my home country, as well as my resident country, and a few other countries. Stay tuned for my elaborations; they may come sooner rather than later.

    • Tony James Slater August 9, 2012 at 10:46 am

      Cheer for everyone! Just do it quietly, under your breath perhaps, and then deny all knowledge if asked. Much safer! And it fits in nicely with my level of personal bravery… :0)
      Look forward to your elaborations!

      • Spinster August 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm

        I can say this much for now: I feel more comfortable cheering for different teams here than I would back home. Americans are American-centric to the point of irrationality sometimes. :-|

  7. Adventures (@in_expatland) August 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Great post TJ – you clearly have given the issue much thought (and experience). It’s truly a crosscultural conundrum. I usually go for the birth country (US) but it isn’t all that often that birth country plays current country (NL) so I’m generally safe. I like underdogs, too. I enjoy watching sports so I tend to remember athletes, so I’ll go with someone who I’ve watched before, especially if I recall them being an underdog in the past. In certain sports I’ll go for favorite countries I’ve watched (after birth and current); in other sports I’ll go for whoever my husband or teens aren’t cheering for, to help make it fair. (Because I think the team will know that I’m doing it for that reason and appreciate my efforts.) I have been known to cheer for the colors or a friend’s country or even gorgeous athletes (hence my affiliation with Fernando Torres beginning in European Cup 2008 and continuing to this day). Now that I’ve clarified my stratification of support, I’m going to go lie down as I’ve got a headache…

    • Tony James Slater August 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

      Yeah, that’s some complex loyalties! You might have to keep a pen and paper handy to work it out in particularly complex situations. What about underdogs playing the hot athletes that your kids are supporting? Oh-oh – I can smell burning! I know – we could all cheer for both teams equally, that way we get all the fun and none of the upset!
      Or, if you’re me, it means both teams’ supporters decide you’re taking the piss, and they combine their efforts to stuff me into a wheelie bin…

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