Monday 28 June 2010

Identity and the World Cup

BK1, 5, seems to be having a hard time knowing which Football team to cheer. Initially, she had no doubt she would support her country, Manchester. Then she understood Manchester was not playing in the World Cup, so had to settle for England. I was slightly disappointed, albeit not surprised, that she chose England over Algeria or even Germany. After all, she was born and raised in England, she goes to an English school where she spends most of her waking hours with English people. She knows mummy is Algerian, and her grandparents live in Algeria, but does not feel Algeria is her country. Or does she?

When reading this, you could be forgiven for thinking that I am a big fan of football. I actually am not. I am mainly interested in this world cup as it's only the third time that Algeria is taking part in the tournament. The last time was 24 years ago. Also, BK1 has shown lots of interest in various countries, particularly what their flags look like.

In the build-up to the Algeria-England game on the 18th of June, the England team players in particular (Rooney commented that even an under-par England can beat Algeria) and football commentators in general were rather dismissive and patronising of the Algerian side. I felt slightly annoyed by this show of smugness and arrogance. As it happened, the game yielded a 0-0 draw, much to the Algerian team credit.

That pre-game morning, I had decided to hang an Algerian flag on our front door. When BK1 came back from school, she asked me if there was another Algerian flag that she could hang. So, we made one out of paper and stuck it on the window. During the game itself, she was chanting "1, 2, 3 viva l'Algerie" spurred on by 5 other people cheering the Algerian team. Majority rules.

Fast forward to the 27th of June, it is now Germany's turn to face England. I asked BK1 which side she would be cheering, and she pointed to her dad. I could sense that deep down she wanted England to win, but felt she had to be loyal to her dad (who incidentally does not give a toss about football, who wins or loses). We were joined for the game by our Algerian friends. Their seven-year old son, A, was having a similar kind of dilemma; his parents were cheering Germany, a form of retaliation to the English jibe about Algeria. But the son was clearly drawn to cheering England. Later on during the game, I heard them whispering to each other:
A: Who do you want to see win?
BK1: England
A: Me too

Unfortunately for these two sweet little people, we all know the outcome of this game.

So, what is the conclusion of this very long post? I don't know, only time can tell what impact their mixed background will have on our daughters' sense of self. For the time being, our oldest daughter feels she is English, but shows some emotional attachment to Algeria and Germany, the countries of her parents. Not hers.

This post is part of the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism. Head over to the June carnival for more interesting and funny reading on children and multilingual environments.


  1. Heh, I'm waiting for this 'problem' to surface at our house :)

    So far, we've all been cheering for Canada during the big hockey games and for Germany during the world cup. And really, there's no competition in either of those sports.....

    During the Olympics, there were a few events that had both countries in it, and our then 4 year old usually cheered for both. But what got her more was that on TV there were way more boys than girls, and she didn't seem to think that was right.

    She may have her priorities straight :)

  2. I love how interested your daughter was with the different flags, this is something that I think would be fun to look at with my son!!!

    I think she will always have a special place in her heart for the countries mom and dad are from.

  3. We're a Dutch/English family and it's been interesting to see how much M, my eldest at 5, has wanted to be part of the majority group ie supporting England. She didn't want any Dutch flags us, and even though it might seem like double standards i wasn't going to have any England flags flying from our house... Let's just hope the Dutch team can pull something out of the bag for today's match against Brazil!

  4. Thanks everyone for your comments.
    SmashedPea, I am sure this issue will come up at some point. I used to know a Mexican guy, whose both parents were German. He used to have a mild identity crisis at the football world cup. He was 25 :)
    Marcela, you are probably right, thanks for reminding me of this.
    Zoe, seems like the Dutch were indeed able to pull something huge from their bag!

  5. I bet your little girls were extremely proud to see Germany win! Argentina vs Germany 0-4! who could have thought?
    Thank you for sharing - identity is an important issue, glad we still have a couple of years to prepare for it:-).

  6. @Natalya - we weren't even watching, spent the day outside instead. Babelwife was watching alone.

    I think the kids care as much about watching football as I do: not really.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.