Recognize that phrase? Even if you translate it you may still be puzzled. But no more than my friends here. There is no word in Spanish for “Cheeseheads”, probably not surprizingly but, equally, terrible towels is just as confusing. Why shouldn't it be? Face it, some parts of culture transfer and some do not. For example the French, always resistant to anything that did not originate in La Belle France, have had to stagger under the onslaught of “foreign isms” that threaten to tear out the heart of their culture. Although the French enjoy cocktails and cocktail parties, there exists no word for them allowed by L'Academie Francaise. However, and strangely, they have allowed their version which is “Le fif o'clock”. The ties to mighty Blighty across the channel are clear but do not ask any good Parisian to acknowledge that as they sip Martinis and swill down Gilbeys London Gin by the quart. And, of course, only French wine is served or acceptable. Interlopers from such strange, weird places such as California, Germany and Chile wouldn't even be given to the servants. (Although it has been rumoured that the ever thrifty French serve California wine in Chateau Mouton Rothschild bottles.)
So for the past several days I've tried to explain to my Argentine friends a picture of a man with his face painted green and yellow wearing a wedge of cheese as a hat. They don't get it and, frankly, who can blame them? To be fair the “Terrible Towels” don't fare much better. The question I get is, “Why is a towel terrible?” My answer is, “The towels aren't terrible, they are symbolic of the power of the team and by waving them, they're suppose to put the other team to fright”. That goes no where but I've tried, you have to give me that one, I've tried.
It is, however, a two way street. One of the most popular local futbol teams, The Juniors, cause their fans to leave the stadium-after a win-and run around it several times. And this is no small feat for River Plate Stadium is large and the perimeter of roads they run is possibly a mile and a half for one revolution. Oh, and only clockwise. Running anti clockwise is anathema, to do that is to be sent to Hell or Brasil, whichever is closer. Keeping in mind that we see words in Spanish as possibly English words goes a long way toward explaining why “Los Bimbos” the Paraguayan National futbol team sells a lot of T-shirts but mostly to English speaking countries. The word “bimbo” has no derogatory meaning in Spanish-but then neither does “slut”- (“Puta”, however, does and don't say it unless you're prepared for a rather more “exciting” time than you might have planned.)
Decades ago I went to the Melbourne Cup match which is the Australian equivalent of the Super Bowl for Australian Rules Football. (Imagine four goal posts at each end, men running about in rain coats and rain hats holding triangular flags, players in a minimal amounts of clothing and on field referees who not infrequently exhibit partisanship as they were selected by the teams playing.) I tell you in all honesty and candor it's safer to be on the pitch than in the stands. Granted, most of the players after the first several minutes are bleeding from somewhere but then so are most of the fans. Some hours later when I wandered into the Southern Cross Hotel, holding a cloth to my bloody nose, the reception clerk asked A. Who won and B. If I'd had a good time? A was easier to answer than B.
“Culture” and the component parts that make it up is a sometimes thing. In Ethiopia they put butter in their coffee, in India many people still prefer their hand to bathroom tissue and the penis wrapping tribesmen of the Southwest Pacific truly believe that bigger, at least longer, is better. None of these make sense to us on many levels but then we're as confusing to them. Our mania for cleanliness, our determination to “share”-on a permanent basis-our culture with them (Look at pictures in National Geographic of kiddies in the wilds of Brasil or Borneo...quite probably they're wearing T-shirts pushing an American football team, usually the Cowboys. How did they get them? Is this representative of us?) without acknowledging theirs...Yet, once we get home we “go native” in ways that would shock the natives. A woman of my acquaintance who was rather too deeply into cultural anthropology bought a birthing bucket and took it to the hospital in Fresno where she tried to insist on using it. Her explanation was that in applying this methodology to American Obstetrics she was demonstrating sisterhood with all the down trodden women forced to work....well, you see what I mean.
In a sense I wish it were the Broncos or the Eagles or the Dolphins playing. Those require no explanation nor would a Chief, a Cardinal or a Bear. However, when we wander into the world of a team name as more of a concept than a thing, trouble begins to lap at our feet. The Patriots for example and, worse, The Browns. Why would someone name a team after a color anything other than red (the signifier of revolution and fighting for a cause.) or colours involved in the national emblems? It would be impolite to mention the Blacks of New Zealand or the Blues (Les Bleus) of France.
Just recently I've had friends here from Germany to enjoy the sun at the beach and the summer skiing in the Andes. (Such hearty people, I do worry about them.) At our last evening together they looked out at Buenos Aires and said how nice it was to be somewhere without Muslims and Explosions and everyone buying guns. It seemed impolite to suggest that we had thirty years of kidnapping and people just....disappearing. Then, in 2002, the complete financial collapse. But my friends are moderately correct, Argentina is generally at war with no one save themselves. Although it's tweaking Great Britain-again-about the Islas Malvinas (aks the Falklands). I hope nothing much come of this, it makes about as much sense as Costa Rica challenging the United States over Alcatraz. However, they excel at parades and with streets 20 lanes wide, it can be awfully effective. And by tomorrow the cheeseheads and the terrible towels will be forgotten. Fortunately, they'll never hear about the interesting and perplexing custom of throwing octopus and squid onto the ice at hockey games....