"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Are you ready for the football?

The University where Mrs. Toast works as a librarian is hosting an international seminar this week on data archival. (Some people take this very seriously - while my idea of "data archival" is opening the closet door long enough to throw something in, and then closing it really fast before a previously-archived object falls on my head.)

Anyway, in connection with this, Mrs. Toast had to drive to the airport and pick up a couple of visiting professors from Mexico City. On the way back here, they stopped at an Applebees restaurant to eat dinner. Like many "casual" restaurants, Applebees has strategically-placed TV sets showing sports -- and to the shock and horror of her foreign colleagues, these televisions were showing a baseball game, and not the biggest sporting event in the world.

Yes, in virtually every corner of the globe other than here, at this very moment sports fans are going nuts over the 2006 World Cup matches being held in Germany. In cities all over Europe, giant screens have been erected in public squares and in the windows of stores and pubs for fans to watch the games. Daily life grinds to a halt when critical matches are played. However, even though the United States participates in the World Cup, and has this year fielded perhaps the strongest team in our history, most of America is totally ambivalent about the games. Here, football is football, played with a ball shaped like -- well, a football -- on a 100-yard field with end zones and goal posts. The games being played in Germany this month are something called "soccer". Across the pond, they refer to our style of play as "American football", and there is always disagreement over which version requires greater skill and physical ability.

World Cup fans are passionately enthusiastic about their chosen team, and it is not uncommon for fights and near-riots to break out at some hotly contested matches. Footballers can be notoriously violent, and thugs and hooligans are sometimes eager to assault fans of opposing clubs. Fortunately, there have been no such incidents so far, likely due to the tight security at the games. An army of police and stadium guards met tens of thousands of partying soccer fans when the event opened; helicopters buzzed above the crowd, officers on horseback patrolled outside the stadium, and others mingled in beer halls.

Speaking of beer, many Germans are quite upset that Budweiser has purchased the rights to be the "official" beer served at World Cup stadiums. Germany practically invented beer, and makes some of the finest brews in the world. To them, Bud tastes like beer-flavored water. "It's Spuelwasser!" (dishwater) cried one fan in a boisterous Munich beer hall. Having myself visited the famous Hofbrauhaus during my travels through Europe in 2002, I can say that the beer there was the best I have tasted in my life, and I understand why some fans are indignant.

Another interesting sidelight to the World Cup is the giant brothel that opened last year in Berlin just steps from the Olympiastadion, in anticipation of heavy traffic from randy football fans. Artemis features plush red curtains, leopard-print cushions, gold fixtures, a champagne bar, a restaurant, gym, swimming pool, two cinemas, and lavish suites that can be rented by the day or hour. Try to imagine a similar facility being built adjacent to a sports stadium in this country for the Super Bowl. And you thought Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction was controversial! (Caution: Above links NSFW.) Ironically, the Greek goddess Artemis was also known as the eternal virgin, making the name a bit odd for a brothel.

Prostitution was legalized in Germany in 2003, and hookers from all over the continent have converged on the country to get in on some World Cup action from the more than ten million fans who are expected to attend. This has prompted concern about human trafficking, and the possibility that some women may be brought in against their will to serve as sex slaves. The German Interior Minister has joined forces with the country's Federal Criminal Bureau in an attempt to stamp out the problem of illegal prostitutes operating in the country during the event. The Ministry for Family Affairs recently wrote to the German Football Association demanding that it "rally behind police and the authorities in their efforts to combat forced prostitution and people trafficking," adding, "the world will be watching Germany and it will judge our integrity on a daily basis." However, the very fact that prostitution is legal and regulated will enable authorities to control such activities to a much greater extent than if it was totally illicit.

According to Artemis spokesman Norman Jacob, "Football and sex go together extremely well." Regardless if the shape of your football is round or oval with points on it, I think many men on both sides of the Atlantic are likely to agree with that statement. Don't forget the beer, either.

Let the games begin!


  • At 6/17/2006 04:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    For Americans, what the rest of the world calls "football" is the sushi of sports. Despite being told how good it is, it just doesn't "look" right, so they won't bight into it. The game is fast moving, requires a great deal of skill, and is easy to understand. I got into it when I lived in France and first watched the world cup games. Just watched USA draw with Italy, a far superior team; good stuff. Try it; you'll like it.


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