Whether in a Parisian bar or at the local office of the Association of the Friends of the Paris Commune, Deadspin foreign correspondent John Harpham found the French delighting ever so Frenchily in their national team's disgrace.
PARIS — Don't feel sorry for the French. This is a good general rule to follow — like "don't eat paste" or "never fight a land war in Asia" — but this guideline applies especially in the aftermath of the French national team's implosion at the World Cup. Really, don't take pity. The French, in fact, have never been happier.
You must realize, after all, that the French are a critical people. Finding fault is their pastime — more than soccer, more than body odor, more than abject surrender. Critique is to France what overeating is to America. Legs crossed, eyes narrowed, arms flailing, polemicizing: It's a natural condition. So for the French, this team is not a failure at all. It's a potluck, a socialist handout that everybody can enjoy.
Don't like bosses? Look at how Domenech and the whole French leadership screwed up this goddamn World Cup with poor management. See, bosses suck. Don't like individualism (or Sarkozy)? Well, this goddamn team just goes to show how much things suck when selfish individuals can't come together in a collective. Don't like the workers? Can't believe that goddamn team went on strike yesterday — screwing everything up, just like those unions, non? Such contempt for authority! Hate money? Yeah, did you hear how much that damn Ribery makes? Bunch of prima donnas. Don't like immigrants? Hey, look where that goddamn Anelka's from. Don't like soccer? Done.
This team is a complete, utter, total disaster, which is to say that, for the French, it's not a disaster at all. It's social vindication. At the point when the French are most disgusted with everything around them, they are at their most delightedly French.
I walked into my local Paris bar at 2 p.m. for yesterday's 4 p.m. game. The place was already half full of red-faced men. My friend, the bartender, greeted me. Chuckling, he asked if I was ready for the burial. I had hoped that old rascal Slimy Francois would hang on for another week or so, but I said I was ready for the burial and sat down. A short man in a trench coat stumbled in. He, too, was cackling and sarcastically chanting, "Allez les Bleus," the French team's cheer. More cackles, all around.
I was sitting next to Daniel and Jean-Jacques, and they told me, grinning, that they wanted the team to lose; they didn't deserve to win. The bar was dark. I went out to the sidewalk to clear my head, but immediately a man who pronounced his name with so much spittle I couldn't quite glean it said he was rooting for the French to lose 4-0. Then, erupting in yet another round of cackles, he mumbled something, gutturally, for a couple of minutes. When I came back inside, I tried to engage one guy at the bar in conversation, but he was double-fisting Heinekens, eyes fixed on the gambling screen on TV, and understandably he did not respond.
The soccer aficionado with whom I had watched France's loss to Mexico crumpled down next to me and opened one more button on his pink shirt. I asked him what he thought about the team now. He said he hoped they'd get crushed. He mimed gun signs with his hands and moved them up and down — pow, he said, pow, pow, pow — like he was picking off the players, one by one.
By the time the match started, the bar was full and humming with excitement — not the hum of a throng waiting to see a great team's triumph, but the voyeuristic, almost guilty buzz of a crowd delighting in a loser's humiliation. I turned to the guy next to me. He had unsealed yet another button of his shirt. The French team, he said, seemed as if it were under more pressure. Pression, in French. No, he said, it's suffering from depression. Depression. Word play. Cackle. French faults, South African goals, camera shots of Domenech. Sarcastic cheers. Cackles.
At halftime, with Bafana Bafana leading 2-0, we went outside to smoke and polemicize some more. Cackle. Snort. Domenech sucks. No! Ribery sucks more. Anelka's a "bad boy." Ooouuuii.
And so we returned from the half fully on the South African side. We called for France to abandon football and surrender to rugby. We laughed when Henry trapped a ball with his hand, just like he did against Ireland. We applauded and high-fived and cow-belled and generally overreacted when France scored a goal 70 minutes in, finally, to make it 2-1. Then: more applause, more high-fives, more cowbell. We bid au revoir to Domenech and jeered when Govou the Terrible faked an injury in stoppage time, and when the game ended, score unchanged, we resolved to root for Brazil. It was all très drôle.
Walking back home from the bar — having escaped from the wild-eyed Italian who was haranguing me about that Domenech and that Henry, and slicking his hair back and asking me if I understood him, which I did, of course, although not in any deep or existential sense — I remembered the trip I had taken just before the game, to the local office of the Association of the Friends of the Paris Commune. After I'd bought my Paris Commune souvenir tee, I asked the man working there if he liked soccer.
Not at the moment, no, he said.
I decided to go for it. "Yes," I goaded, "it seems that money has corrupted the game a little bit."
He agreed. Then he paused. Would he do it?
"And you see this everywhere today — everywhere," he said. Yes! He's doing it! "Money spoils things. Money gets into literature, money gets into music, money gets into politics, and money gets into football, too. The moment you begin to breathe, you are inhaling the toxins of money!"
I said I had to go and headed for the door.
"Money!" he shouted after me. "It's a sickness — a grave sickness!"
Yesterday, in Paris, it was sunny for the first time in weeks.
John Harpham is spending the summer in Paris and blogging about the World Cup at Soccer Politics.