The bittersweet taste of being Danish

One of the reasons I came to Beirut is to learn Arabic. Which is why I told myself and others before I left that I didn’t want to mingle too much with Danes here. And had I come any other time of the year – or last year or next year – that wouldn’t have been a problem.

However, this year there’s this little thing called the World Cup. Being fairly enthusiastic about football in the first place, I was a bit worried about the possibilities of being able to watch the Danish matches. And even if I did find a place to watch them, how much fun would it be to do it alone? Oh sure, if it’s winning everyone in the café or bar would probably cheer for your team. But facing a country like Holland, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be the case for Denmark.

Luckily for me, a friend of mine had spread the word a bit that I was going to Beirut. So of course I hadn’t been here long till the first invitation to watch the Holland-Denmark match came. And thank God it did! Football is one of the few areas where I fully embrace my Danish nationality and become completely one-sided (the same with the Eurovision Song Contest). And despite any attempts for optimism, I think most Danes knew deep down we were going to lose to Holland. Which we did. But somehow it wasn’t quite so bad, cause I was surrounded by other Danes, who felt the exact same bittersweet taste of watching a team, that in many ways matched the Dutch more than expected, but still ended up loosing.

But no matter how much I root for Denmark, I don’t show my support publicly with flags and banners. Which is why it still puzzles me that the Lebanese can get so worked up about the World Cup. I have however met a few (non-Lebanese I should add) that do have an explanation.

Lebanon and the Lebanese are in so many ways more defined by what separates them than what keeps them together. The clearest example of that is the fact that most people here would mention religion before nationality. And because religion is everywhere, so is the divisiveness.  Most political parties are rooted in one religious group or other. And most football teams are rooted in political parties (or the rich men that keep these parties alive). Which is one of the reasons that the Lebanese haven’t been able to watch their own teams play on a stadium since 2005. The fear of sectarian violence starting up once again is just to great.

But this all means that it’s very hard to describe something “typical” Lebanese. Because the Shia Muslims in the South live in a completely different world than the Maronite Christians in East Beirut. And therefore the Lebanese use everything and everyone to define themselves. Not necessarily because they don’t want to define themselves as Lebanese. But because they don’t really know how. So by supporting Germany or Brazil or Mexico they somehow get to belong to some kind of greater unity.

That’s one explanation anyway. Ask a Lebanese on the street and he’ll most likely tell you it’s cause he has a cousin living in Berlin.

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