Thursday, August 12, 2010

टेक्स मेक्स हूलिगंस

I really don't like Brazil. Let me say that even more emphatically. I really, really don't like Brazil. I am perfectly willing and capable of adding another 'really' if you are not getting the point. Now I'm not talking about the country. I'm talking about the national soccer team. Do you want to fight about it? I am not exactly what you call a hooligan, but if we have to fight about it we can.

My friend and fellow USA supporter, John, and I nearly got beaten up by a middle aged waitress at a texmex restaurant over the Brazilian team. We were watching what they optimistically call a 'friendly' between the US and Brazil. We often go to this same restaurant to watch even less 'friendly' Mexico/US games (believe me, that is a whole other story). We are used to being in the minority as US supporters and so it did not really phase us too much that all of the staff and most of the other patrons were as pro Brazil as I am anti. Of course we were losing, as most nations do when they play against Brazil.

The employees (mostly Mexican nationals and a few local tejanos) were getting just a little too excited about the brutal destruction of our national team. We were frustrated. I decided to mix it up a little and whispered to John, asking him if he noticed anything funny about this... "Huh?" "Well, what is it John? These folks aren't from Brazil. They don't have family in Brazil. They don't even speak the same language or come from the same continent as Brazil." I needled my friend a little, knowing that he would rise to the occasion. "It's not that they love Brazil. They hate us." Our waitress, who seemed to be more Tex than Mex was being particularly snotty about the game, sneering and cheering in an exaggerated fashion each of the many times Brazil scored. The next thing I knew John was heatedly arguing with her about where her loyalties were and whether she had any right living in Texas and supporting Brazil against us and that maybe she should get a job at a texmex restaurant in São Paulo where she would be happy and and a little more willing to enculturate. I am not a hooligan... a little bit of an instigator at times, but not a hooligan. It was clearly time to go and so we left.

I actually find it humorous that so many foreigners delight in hating our national soccer team; supporting anyone playing against us while most Americans could care less or don't even know that we have a soccer team. It is one of the most impotent forms of anti-Americanism imaginable. But, if it makes them feel better, OK.
The truth is that lots of people like Brazil here too. I don't like Brazil because I am contrary by nature and am easily annoyed by the act of going for the obvious choice. 'Brazil is great. Let's be fans' (insert sheep noise). It is not that I am a sap who can only root for underdogs. I love both the Houston Dynamo (multiple time MLS champs) and the Netherlands (second place in World Cup 2010). But I can justify this. I was born in Holland, lived in Houston, and look fabulous in orange. I just can't support a team for the sole reason that they are good. I used to hate the Cowboys (I know I'm mixing sports) for the same reason. Luckily, they pretty much suck now so I have found a certain peace with them and their few remaining fans.
I am not a hooligan, but I do enjoy debating about soccer teams and loyalties. You know, all this is making me feel a little froggy. Maybe this weekend, I can go to one of those ever so slightly pretentious, faux English pubs in Austin and for ninety minutes become a ravenous supporter of whichever team happens to be playing the one team I hate even more than either Brazil or the Lakers (sorry, sport mixing again). That is, the absolutely, obnoxiously over fanned, over hyped wankers in a nation of wankers... Manchester United. But, as I mentioned, I am not a hooligan.

Looking fabulous in orange

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

वहत अरे वे?

What Am I?

My older brother is, at times, what I call a "backpacker". That is to say that he goes on long walks, typically on trails through some degree of wilderness, carrying everything that he needs in a device called a backpack. He totes his own water and food, and sleeps on the ground in a thing called a sleeping bag (inside another slightly larger thing called a tent). I believe that he takes only photographs and leaves only footprints, though I can't say for sure. In my small view of the universe, I understood that a person's temporary designation as a "backpacker" was defined by his/her activity (you know, walking a long way through the woods and all that) rather than simply by traveling with a backpack. When I started reading travel guides and budget traveling as a young adult, I learned a whole new definition for the word "backpacker".

As far as I can tell a backpacker is now a relatively wealthy young person from a relatively wealthy nation who travels through relatively poorer nations cleverly disguised as a poor person, and spending as little money as possible on food and lodging while feeling superior to other wealthy people who are spending more for food and lodging. He/she may be carrying a backpack, but probably not very far. A typical backpack may never be carried farther than the distance from the taxi or bus to the baggage check at the airport. Backpackers tend to gather in relatively poor nations at places described in travel books as backpacker bars and in backpacker hostels and hotels. They are easily recognized by their backpacks and an air of one who is most certainly enjoying the 'real' culture on a level that someone carrying any other variety of luggage could never even approximate.

Please believe that I do not desire to denigrate the marvelous invention called a backpack. The backpack is ingenious in that it is a bag that you can carry on your back. This has the dual benefit of enabling you to carry your gear for great distances with minimal exertion while leaving your hands free to do things like point at birds or whack vines with a machete. I don't know if my brother would have ever survived some of his ridiculously long hikes without a good, sturdy but light backpack.

I have a dufflebag. Does that make me a "dufflebagger"? It sounds kind of dirty - but not in the good way. I like my dufflebag well enough. I suppose I wouldn't mind having a backpack. There are probably about fifteen minutes out of every two week trip when it would be useful. It seems like there's always at least once when I have to lug my old dufflebag down the road between hotels or to a bus station and it would be more convenient if I had a backpack. It happens, but not too much. I would not mind having a backpack, but I don't want to be a 'backpacker'.

If I am not a dufflebagger or a backpacker, what am I? I understand why the hip backpackers are not crazy about the term 'tourist'. It denotes that you are on some sort of tour, which is often not the case. But more unpleasant are the connotations of the word 'tourist'. One thinks of a tourist as loud, insensitive, rich, brash, unappreciative, and ignorant of local culture. Hey, I know that I am sounding like a backpacker. Give me a break. At least I am aware of my own hypocrisy (or does being aware of hypocrisy only make it all the more hypocritical?)

I think I like the term 'traveler' the best. It describes what one is doing without paying undo attention to luggage, intention, or (real or assumed) socioeconomic position. It is broad enough to describe the tourists, the honeymooners, the backpackers, the dufflebaggers, the vagabonds, the cruise shippers, the hitchhikers, the pilgrims, my brother, and even me by the activity that we all love and that brings us together.... traveling.