Work in Sports
A septic in Sydney
By Luba Vangelova, Special to CNNSI.com
"I thought everybody liked Americans," lamented my friend Gordon on his recent visit to Australia.
He'd been mixing with travelers from a host of nationalities up in Queensland, and they - surprise, surprise - didn't consider the United States the greatest country in the world. Some even had the nerve to say so.
As an American who's been living in Sydney since last year, I know where I stand. I'm a septic tank. It's more than rhyming slang for Yank; it also hints at the resentment that Australians - and many, if not most, other nationalities - feel toward the United States. They may admire many things about us, and enjoy our movies, music and fashions, but something about us being a culturally dominant superpower rankles them. People can be so touchy.
As a result, I've had to tone down my cheering (I've learned not to call it rooting - that's what Australians accuse New Zealanders of doing with sheep) for my home team during these Olympics. I'm not exactly in enemy territory. But as Anthony, the Aussie dry cleaner down the street, admitted today, "Nobody cheers for Americans." Except other Americans, and they've been pretty thin on the ground at the places I've turned up.
Nobody else was that hostile, I'm happy to report. And I was even allowed to live after waving my flag to celebrate the American team's entrance into the stadium. Perhaps the crowd was distracted by the other one or two small pockets of American supporters in the plaza. Or maybe they were happy just to boo the American team, as many of them did. (Boos were also heard when the Brits entered the stadium, but Australia's love-hate relationship with the mother country is another story altogether.)
At least no one booed the American team during the men's beach volleyball matches I attended a few days later. But the crowd overwhelmingly cheered for the U.S. team's opponents, the Canadians. There were a few dozen Canadians in the stands, sporting red and white shirts and waving large maple leaf flags. There were also about half as many Americans, dutifully showing the red, white and blue, albeit more reservedly. What was most interesting was how another 9,000 or so people became honorary Canadians for the duration of the match.
This time I was sitting, by chance, in a row of Americans. Our occasional "U-S-A" chants were cancelled out by the simultaneous "Ca-na-da" cries of our northern neighbors in the row behind us. (North Americans certainly won't win any medals for original chants.) But it was all in good fun, and the Canadian fans were quite happy to talk with us afterward. Then again, maybe that's because their team had won the match.
Later in the afternoon, we experienced probably the one circumstance under which non-Americans will cheer for U.S. athletes: when they're playing Germans. It seems even fewer people cheer for Germany than for the United States (per John Cleese's entreaties in the classic Fawlty Towers episode, I won't mention the war).
Given crowd sentiments and my status as a distinct minority, I've decided that for the duration of the Games, I'll steer clear of the pub down the street, which is completely decked out in green and gold ribbons and balloons (green and gold are Australia's team colors). I'd probably have to buy a lot of rounds of Victoria Bitters before I gained the right to wave any red, white and blue in there.