On Wednesday night, the four of us had the chance to watch Italy’s national soccer team play a friendly match against Luxembourg right here in our local stadium. This felt… epic. The World Cup is the only sporting event I’ve ever really followed, and the Italian squad has reached Dream Team proportions in my mind. That the very first live soccer game of my life would be the NATIONAL TEAM, playing in my OWN NEIGHBORHOOD, felt significant enough to inspire a ballad or two. Or, at the very least, a live-blog.
That was before we got in line outside the stadium though. Do you remember this? Now picture the same scenario with thousands of people instead of just twenty-three. The crowd didn’t so much move forward as it did compress, everyone elbow-first, angry yells breaking out every five seconds or so as someone else jumped the line. We stood in that thing for an hour and a half, having an increasingly difficult time protecting the girls from the crush, and finally we had to jump the line ourselves, ducking under the barrier because it was either that or risk our children’s lives.
When we made it into the stadium, the game was already starting, and our seats had been taken by someone else, and any last wisps of humor I may have been holding blew away. I was in no mood to live-blog. All I wanted to do in that moment was move to Canada where I would never have to worry about having my face elbowed or my children squished or my seat stolen. Other unpleasant public encounters these last seven years in Italy sprang to memory as if on cue: mothers pushing their children in front of mine to use the showers after swim class, other drivers rushing to take the parking spot for which I’d been waiting, bus-fuls of comfortably seated people watching me struggle to balance, standing, with a baby and a toddler in my arms.
I hate having to play by the rules of Every Man For Himself. It makes me feel slimy and indecent, and I’ve often found myself furious with the Italian culture for forcing me into an assertive posture that doesn’t fit me. I don’t want to have to stick up for myself. I don’t want to have to confront strangers. I much prefer polite, orderly systems in which everyone follows the same code of civility and keeps his elbows to himself, thank you very much.
This line of thinking didn’t last long on Wednesday evening though. With a mix of disbelief and admiration, I watched as thousands of people who had just been shoving and yelling at each other outside came together as one enthusiastic entity. The whole stadium broke out in the Italian national anthem and then moved on to fight songs (“Whoever’s not jumping is for Luxembourg!”). They kept The Wave going around and around. Their cheering rose and fell in perfect synchronism, and no one’s spirit seemed dampened in the least by the fact that the Italian team was playing like a herd of elderly milk cows. (Luxembourg tied Italy 1-1 in the second half, and you could see the players’ shrugs of indifference from the stands. Moooooo.)
It didn’t take long for me to get swept up in the raucous, communal fun of it all. I’d been looking forward to the evening because of the chance to watch the national team play, but in the end, the fans were what made the game worth attending. They exemplified everything I love about Italians—their loyalty, their warmth, their sense of community (notwithstanding how they act in line), and their commitment to enjoying life—and reminded me that as much as adjusting to this culture can unsettle and drain me, it can also fill and delight. Sometimes even on the same night.