Wednesday afternoon I am sitting in my room working on some emails and enjoying the quiet. Suddenly an eruption from my downstairs neighbors – clapping, yelling, whooping loudly. What the hell? Then the deep voice of a older man shouts over the clapping: “Goooooooal!” Ah. Must be a fútbol match. Whatever, back to work.
I don’t do fútbol. I fear this phrase alone may be grounds for deportation from this very country. Truthfully, I don’t find it interesting. I’ve never seen a soccer match en directo (live) but I imagine it would be far more exciting than watching the wide expanse of green on television. You must understand that this is not normal here in Spain. The nation splits across very clear boundary lines: Real Madrid? Barca? Sevilla? Betis? My students ask me all the time who I cheer for. My best (and safest) response is … I don’t!
I may not like the sport but I do appreciate the near religious fervor for the game. After all, I know passionate Pittsburgh Steelers fans, and die hard Boston Red Sox fans. I myself love baseball, college basketball and of course – volleyball. I can yell and scream and insult the referee with the best of them but I just can’t get excited about soccer. Excuse me, fútbol. As my friends and family know, if I want to find out more about something, I reach for a book. I brushed up on my soccer terminology with some children’s literature, reading Keeper by Mal Peet. This is the baseball fan’s Fever Pitch and the football fan’s Rudy. A beautiful story that conveys an intense passion for the sport. Perhaps this will delay my deportation?
Last summer I watched the World Cup finals with a group of international students. Faces painted, flags flying and throats hoarse from screaming, I cheered for Spain because of my own personal history. I got caught up in the madness of it and was yelling “campeooooones” (champions) by the end of it. Then I come to Spain in the fall and realized that they are still cheering about it. In fact, they mention it all the time. They are the smack talkers of the world!
One of the easiest ways to fire up a classroom full of lethargic Spanish students is to use fútbol in your examples. When our students study superlatives, I say “_________ is better than _________” and a reaction is guaranteed. Let me be clear it is not a quiet, subtle reaction – “Kelly, por favor.” It is a full-on screaming match. One side yelling “SEVILLA,” another group pounding on the desks, the others waving their Betis pencil cases. It makes me laugh every single time.
Just this past week we received another batch of pen pal letters from the United States, which usually results in the same sort of hilarity. We also watched a video about our sister school in the US, and the students were blown away. Some were so intimidated by the wealth of the school that they immediately denounced their own, upsetting both the instructor and myself. We stressed that one is not better than the other, just different. The students protested and hollered about having a swimming pool on school grounds and finally Ana caught their attention by banging on the table. “Differences are good,” we told them, “you shouldn’t be embarrassed about anything!” It was here Ana added, “and at the end of the day … Spain still has the World Cup.” In the frenzy that followed, they forgot all about the swimming pool.
In leaving this fútbol crazy country, I will take with me not only the memory of my students going ballistic over sentence structure but also a very local image. In our barrio there is an ancient cafeteria that is never quite full but also never empty. The patrons are nearly as ancient as the café itself, and they set up as though for a photograph every time I walk by. The front window is full of religious regalia and piles of old magazines yellowing with the sun. The floor is freshly-mopped white, in stark contrast to the black chairs and basic tables. The TV is mounted high in the corner on the opposite wall, and the old men cluster beneath it. They stare up with near reverence at what appears to be a screen full of glaringly bright green. The bartender has abandoned his place behind the bar and perches on the corner, concentrating hard. Faces tilted toward the screen they sit on the edge of their seats and occasionally gesture in its general direction. When at long last one of the figures does something commendable, the three men burst into applause, shouting encouragement and slapping the table with their open palms, threatening to spill their warm Cruzcampo. Only then can they push back from the table and light up a cigarette just outside the door, taking a celebratory time out with their team.