Perhaps this is not so much of an Egypt story, but it does give a glimpse into expatriate life. Ever since the US loss in the World Cup I have been flirting with other national teams, finding myself gravitating to those playing the best soccer, namely, Spain and Germany. The presence of many Dutch in the office presented them as a viable candidate, but, eh, their style in the games I watched, even the victory over Brazil, left something to be desired. Perhaps to extend the flirting analogy, compared to vivacious Spain and buxom Germany, Holland had a nice personality.
Still, I would root for them over portly Uruguay, and the best venue for watching the match was to accept the invitation of my Nederlander colleagues at the Dutch Embassy. Non-Dutch from the office had joined them previously, and raved about the free fries and drinks, and a festive atmosphere capped by a folksy anthem played after every Dutch goal, oddly named Viva Hollandia. More important to me was the afternoon recollection that Julie’s ancestors were Dutch in origin (Van Dame), so why not cheer on family? It doesn’t matter how ugly your sister is, you love her anyway. Couple this with the newfound (and surely temporary, in all confession) belonging to the land of tulips, and I was suddenly eager to be adopted. Despite the relative distance between the embassy and Maadi, I boarded the metro, took a taxi, and arrived only a few minutes late, but to an unpleasant surprise.
As the World Cup was progressing with consecutive Holland victories, the embassy was becoming an increasingly popular place to watch the matches. There was a line out the door, and I found other non-Dutch colleagues outside, frustrated, telling me that while all Dutch were allowed inside, each one could bring only one foreigner apiece along with them. Already late to the match, having traveled a fair jaunt downtown, I faced the prospect of not watching the semifinal at all.
A quick phone call to an earlier entered non-Dutchman sprung a plan into action. The Dutch colleague who secured his presence, thirty minutes before kickoff, went to the door to persuade the bouncer to let me in. I was wearing my orange three-button shirt, but I found out later that she informed him I was her father. I’m 35, she’s 24, and to the bouncer I was unseen as he simply called out my name to come. I imagine he didn’t look too closely, or perhaps life overseas is ageing me more quickly than I realize. In any case without a word of Dutch spoken I was in the inside, though sheepishly leaving my other colleagues behind. What could be done? They weren’t relatives.
The Dutch Embassy is a quaint but stately building resembling a diminutive mansion. My first impression was its smallness, having recently visited the massive US Embassy with its layers and layers of barricades and security clearance. On the contrary, here I was whisked inside under false pretenses with not even a metal detector at the door, and the ambassador traipsing about among the crowd of supporters. I wondered for a moment what it might be like to be a citizen of a midsize nation.
It was only a moment, though, for my second impression was taken completely by the passion exhibited by a soccer superpower. The game was projected on the outside wall of the embassy, with rows of chairs followed by assembled bleachers. Orange was everywhere. Ten minutes after I arrived Holland scored the opening goal, and indeed, the anthem was both festive and folksy. I danced and clapped along with the masses.
Minutes before halftime Uruguay equalized, and the crowd quieted and a trait I have heard of the Dutch began to rear its head. Similar to the English, but without the self-loathing, in soccer the Dutch are good enough to make their fans excited, but then let them down in the end. Having grown accustomed to this outcome, the fans were somewhat expecting the worst, somewhat satisfied they did as well as they had, and still somewhat confident they could win, for it was, after all, only Uruguay. Germany was looming, and national dejection against a hated rival was a gathering cloud.
Americans may not be quite there yet in soccer, but we have a can-do attitude that will not countenance such thoughts. I did what I could. At halftime I donned Dutch facepaint and gave assurance all would be well. “The Dutch will score two this half,” I predicted. “Don’t worry, it will come.”
Sure enough, while my Dutch colleague was nervously passing the minutes with the score at 1-1 feeling like a loss already, the mercurial Dutch center midfielder restored Holland’s lead. As Viva Hollandia again brought everyone to their feet, my words urged them on, “I say they get a third and settle this.”
Minutes later a clinical header made me a prophet, but one still underestimating the Dutch sense of foreboding. The second half melted away with little challenge from Uruguay, while Holland wasted chances to earn their fourth. In injury time their lead suddenly narrowed back to one, and as the anthem was mistakenly played before the final whistle, Uruguay were playing ping pong in the Dutch penalty area, inches each time from drawing even. The stage was set for an epic collapse.
I had no words now, I was fully Dutch. As the referee extended play for what seemed like an eternity, I watched in dismay, saved only by the eventual merciful final whistle. At last, the anthem was appropriate.
But I cannot stay Dutch forever. Amidst the celebration and congratulations I rejoined against every echo of ‘we’ve done well this World Cup’ sentiment. Belief is paramount; Germany is looming. Holland has lost in two previous World Cup finals, they are due and deserving to mount the pantheon of true soccer powers. To stake the claim, however, they must add to their tactical mastery a decent dose of American determination. I feel I have been taken in; now is the time to give back. I will do my best to help will Holland to victory.
Perhaps the Dutch now may rightly decry an American tendency to try to take credit for everything, or, perhaps more accurately, to believe they are at the center of every positive world development. Well, so be it. If all goes well, I can believe what I want, and they will have no reason to complain. On the contrary, we will rejoice together. Today, we are all Oranje.
Postscript: Germany is no longer looming. This post was written yesterday, descriptive of the Dutch expectation to once again face the blitzkrieg. While they may breathe a sigh of relief, I was hopeful of a decisive triumph over the ancient foe. Spain will pose its own unique challenge, and I fear Holland fans may come to say: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. We will see. Hep, Holland, Hep!