Ever feel patriotic for another country? George Orwell observed a phenomenon among some writers that he named "transferred nationalism." According to Orwell, the unique problem of transferred nationalism is that it allowed one "to be much more nationalistic — more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest — that he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge."
Some communists became transferred Russian nationalists. G.K. Chesterton, who was a little Englander in his home politics, developed a crush on French military valor and believed French peasantry to be happy in a way others were not. More recently and closer to home, some Irish-Americans could be vulgar supporters of terrorism during the Troubles for this reason. Even some evangelicals look on Israel as a kind of Crusader state standing athwart Dar al-Islam.
But there is another form of transferred nationalism that isn't politically toxic — and the World Cup seems to bring it out.
I don't even like "the beautiful game" all that much. But something happens every four years. In 1994, the Irish inflicted revenge on Italy (which sent the Irish home in 1990) by beating them 1-0 in their first-round head-to-head. An epic match. My father immediately sent over T-shirts from across the sea, printed directly: "Ireland, 1994 World Cup Champions." That wasn't to be, but I loved wearing it.
In 2006, I was trapped in a bar in Sydney. I was then much more interested in Roger Clemens' return to professional baseball. But in Sydney, it was wall-to-wall "soccerroos" leading up to the game against Italy in the round of 16. Played in Germany, the game was set for midnight Sydney time. A perfect setup for getting soused.
Everyone we spoke to had been given permission by their bosses to come in late the next day. And so these crazed, yellow-and-green-bedecked Aussies kept passing us pints of Toohey's New. As the hours passed, the crowd sang "Waltzing Matilda" over and over. More shocking to me, at least, was that they also sang Men At Work's 80's hit "Down Under" at a pitch meant to reverberate across Eurasia.
After a sickening flop by Fabio Grosso in the 92nd minute, Italy got a penalty kick and won the match 1-0. Instantly, the entire city emptied out of bars and casinos and into the street. The hushed returns home were incredible given the backslapping and Men at Work marathons moments earlier. We had heard a nation, a whole people, cheer and then gasp in horror. And ever after I've had this little unbidden twinge of pleasure whenever I see a nice economic report on Australia.
Benjamin Franklin said, "Every man has two countries: France and his own." But it doesn't have to be France. There is something human about finding a few other little dots on the globe and wishing in some way for mutual adoption.
Perhaps one reason is that the mythologies of a foreign country can endlessly fascinate — the long-suffering Irish, the beautiful French — but the burdens of that mythology never weigh upon the guest or the arriviste.
Politics, too, plays a role. A foreigner can receive another country like a gift, but without the responsibilities implied by the trust of citizenship. There are things to dislike in the abstract about every nation: Ireland's medieval bankruptcy laws come to mind, or Australia's bizarre relationship with Aborigines. But as a foreigner, they are not in any way your moral responsibility.
You don't even have to go abroad to find the joy. Major cities are peppered with bars where expats gather to watch their teams in the World Cup, or in other sports. You can be surrounded by the English in D.C. Or Quebecois in New York. A France is waiting for you somewhere.
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