The World Cup Turns New York into a Model U.N. Conference

Slate's Culture Blog
June 15 2010 9:42 AM

The World Cup Turns New York into a Model U.N. Conference

Every colorful capital city—every epic Rome or grand London or wackadoo Tallahassee—is a busy circus set. In such a place, the public square is an electric arena of political and cultural performance even on the mellowest morning. Every Diet Coke-fueled breakfast meeting and every bout of park-bench gossip is a moment in a festival. Capitals are great stages of power. Question: What happens in the capital of the world when the World Cup is on? Answer: New York City gets more brazen than usual and pumps up the jam on the drama, producing a vivid civic extravaganza.

Here we discover tribal behavior at its most gaudily theatrical. The streets are bright with football jerseys, the most retina-wrecking of which are the yellows—South Africa’s bold marigold and Brazil’s blazing canary. Some people wear their Adidas tops as if they were party costumes, others as if they were gang colors, others yet as camouflage. Here and there you see grown men holding a soccer balls at their hips, and you decide that, as accessories go, they definitely beat man-purses. A tragic few are out there standing around in public with U.K. socks and shin guards protecting their patriotic tibia.

Identity and status dance around giddily, not unlike the wine-soaked waitstaffs of the livelier brasseries and T.G.I.French bistros. The party brings together immigrants without papers and plutocrats with diplomatic plates, expatriates and vacationers, people rooting hard for the country of their ancestors’ origins and people rooting even harder for whoever the hell's jersey they put on. In these early days, the mood is one of benevolent nationalism and communal celebration, as at a Model U.N. conference where the kids are excited to hang out both before and after curfew. Everyone’s being jubilantly collegial.

On Friday afternoon, just after South Africa and Mexico had fought to a tie, I headed over to a South African restaurant in Brooklyn. I decided not to go in, partly because I was still feeling like a sucker for ordering the ostrich carpaccio appetizer last time I was there, partly because it was so crowded that I would have needed to find a roof entrance. There I was alone on the sidewalk—just me, two local camera crews, and a heaving overflow crowd rejoicing at the tie like it was  V-J Day in Times Square , almost. A marigold circle of fans kicked a ball around. In my peripheral vision, I saw the ball rise with a funny spin and arc toward the side of my face, but someone diverted it with an agile header, and I was spared. With a stretching gesture and a schoolteacher’s smile, a bystander held her hand up for a high-five.

This is, to my mind, the very definition of jubilant collegiality— high-fiving a stranger to celebrate that he did not get hit in the face with a leather ball . There is a party in the streets. Like any good party, it will eventually get out of control, and that’ll be fun too. I can hardly wait until things start to bubble over, and packs of hooligans get to belching at the sunrise, and the traffic thickens with the kind of flag-waving, stereo-pumping, rooting-tooting-horn-leaning motorist who believes that his country’s victory has conferred upon him a license to drive like a goat’s ass. Heads up.

/blogs/browbeat/2010/06/15/the_world_cup_turns_new_york_into_a_model_u_n_conference/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.