Allez Les Bleus?

I’ve never been a soccer fan but the timing of the World Cup matches, especially in the knock-out rounds, matched meal times for the beloved infant pretty well, so I caught a lot of games. An all-Europe final four wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, but I loved watching Zinedine Zidane, loved his handsome intensity and his age and that great, great name, and I love France, so I plumped for them.

When it turned out they were facing Italy in the final, I questioned my choice. I have loved France since I was seven, but it’s not done much to love me back. In fact, loving France is hard a lot of the time. When I went to France at sixteen, my French was fluent and I was treated well—often mistaken for Swiss or Belgian, there was something not-quite-us-but-very-acceptable about me. In later visits, my French rustier and rustier, I was treated with more disdain. On my one visit to Italy, by contrast, I got off the train without a word of Italian and bluffed my way through with French and Sesame Street Spanish and was welcomed as a prodigy. Besides, two of my dear friends are married to Italians.

French racism is an uncomfortable mirror of our own: they mistreat their African immigrants and welcome African-American with open arms where we, as I heard a Haitian woman observe recently, are much more willing to accord a black person respect if we learn they are not African-American.

Watching Zidane head-butt the Italian player in the final moments of the final was heart-breaking. Now, speculations rage about what provoked him. Initially, I imagined the Italian player had just been trash-talking and, in the heat and fatigue and stress, he heard one “your mama” too many. While some speculate that Zidane, who is the son of Algerian immigrants, was called a “terrorist,” it seems that, my first guess may have been closer to the truth: the Italian player has admitted to making a crack about Zidane’s wife


One of the great pleasures of learning French, of loving France, of loving any other country is the ability to sigh wistfully on occasion and say, “Well, if we were in France, we’d be….drinking Lillet on the terrace…discussing Beauvoir and smoking Gitanes….enjoying oysters on a bed of sea salt…attending the opening of the new exhibition…instead of stuck being here in the U.S…” Of course, it turns out that loving France is a lot like loving the U.S.: it's not always an easy break from life's warty complexities. I still like Zidane and I still love France, but Sunday didn't do anything to nurture my affections.