Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It's only a game ...

Tonight I watched the United States soccer team get trampled by the German team. A friend from across the street told me about the match and we watched it together. I had only seen a handful of soccer matches before this one. A few years back during the World Cup I spent a few beer-soaked early mornings in Irish Pubs in Manhattan watching foreign soccer teams battle it out in a sport I little understood for a title that meant nothing to me. This was before His Holiness had entered the scene but he was within sight and his future mother (a German) was the impetus for those early morning forays during that summer of love and sport.

Now we find ourselves living in Brötchenland where soccer is serious business and the beer drinking puts anything I’ve ever known to shame. Against that background we settled down tonight to watch the match between the US and German teams. Now I’ve been working really hard at assimilating, learning the German language and customs, eating unhealthy quantities of pork products and generally abandoning my American posture for a more relaxed continental pose. And aside from a few setbacks here and there I’ve been feeling pretty good about the progress I’ve been making. Just this week I discovered a new Turkish butcher in the neighborhood. The other day I spotted a rather massive quantity of lamb parts entering the front door of what appeared to be a Turkish restaurant and on closer inspection I realized there was a butcher shop in the rear of the building. I wandered in and took a closer look at the goods and was impressed. I had been thinking about making a stew to take the chill out of the late winter air and so ordered some lamb chunks. A little aside here: one thing you will notice when and if you ever have occasion to shop in a German grocery store is the isle completely devoted to “fixes” which are little packets of seasonings and other ingredients I don’t even want to imagine, which when dissolved in water manifest a truly amazing variety of dishes. There are “fixes” for just about any dish you can imagine from simple tomato sauce to Bolognese sauce to every type of soup or stew or stroganoff. The Germans are in a hurry to eat it seems and these packets of ready-made magic, when added with a bit of protein and a portion of starch just about make a meal. I confess that I have resorted to using these “fixes” on more than a few occasions. So when I found myself in the Turkish butcher with a bag of fresh lamb and no idea in the world how to make a lamb goulash, I asked him if he had a “fix” and we proceeded to banter back and forth for the next few minutes in terrible butchered German while I tried to make my request clear to him and he tried to make me understand that there was no such thing as a Turkish Lamb Goulash “Fix.” He finally called in the chef from the kitchen and ask for his help, at which point the chef told him to just give me some of his private stash of Goulash spices but I refused – I had already decided that I wanted to learn how to make the dish from scratch – no fix – so I asked the chef, in my best terrible German, what went into his Goulash. He told me to brown the lamb in olive oil and onions, add some garlic, cumin, paprika, salt, white pepper and whole plum tomatoes. I did as he suggested and the goulash was perfect. During the course of this excursion into Turkish cuisine the young butcher and I became acquainted with each other. Like me he was a fairly recent immigrant to Germany. He had been in the country a few months longer than I and he was impressed at my command of the language. You got that right boys and girls – he was impressed at my command of the German language. Well, I could be pretty darn happy for a day or more just on that compliment alone, even if the Goulash hadn’t turned out to be delicious, but it was, and that only made the entire experience that much more gratifying.

So here I am all pleased with myself about how I’m fitting in to my new environment and gaining the admiration of other recent immigrants and learning to cook new and exotic dishes in the bargain when a sporting event comes along and shows me just how far I have not come.

Like I said earlier the American team was slammed in tonight’s match. But that didn’t diminish my affection for this team I had never heard of before and whose players were unknown to me. As the match progressed I found myself fretting and commenting and booing and cheering and wishing the American team well. All of these months of settling into my new world were forgotten when I saw the US team take the field. Funny how that happens, sitting here in my living room in Cologne and feeling kinship with these young men on the field in Dortmund getting the tar whipped out of them by the big strapping German team.
I am an American after all and even though I may learn a new language and grow to appreciate the style of living that Europeans enjoy, in the deepest part of my heart I will always be an American and something as simple as a sporting event, where young men from home take to the field and play their hearts out while facing certain defeat at the hands of my new neighbors, reminds me of who I am and who I will always be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And some of us who have come the other way will always, deep down in their hearts, be German no matter how long they lived in the US (45 years in my case)and how much they really like living here. And to me that is how it should be.

3:06 AM  
Blogger piu piu said...

for sure.... you can take the man outta america, but....

i'm so looking forward to living elsewhere! i appreciate britain for many things...but quality of life is not one.... and i'm going to be happy to be a foreigner enjoying something different...

( i leave on the 10th april. when are u off to NY?)

1:42 PM  
Anonymous spaghetti said...

Glad to hear that you enjoyed the soccer game and a newly discovered solidarity with the US team. Will you be around to root for them at the World Cup in June?

The Turkish goulash sounds great--it inspires me to have a Mediterranean Easter menu with lamb.

Noticing your interest in cooking, have you had a chance to check out Tim Maelzer's cooking show on VOX? He is a great guy, and I enjoy the way he talks, very down-to-earth. He is a buddy of Jamie Oliver's, and they've been on shows together. Anyway, how knows, maybe you'll enjoy his show, and maybe you'll pick up some German culinary terms while watching.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

I love how this started out about soccer, wandered into the supermarket, cooked goulash and went back to the soccer game. Good writing.

I feel the same way when I see the U.S. team take the field. This is why the German and I did not watch the game as we want to keep our marriage intact.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

Ummmm Ya, but jut watch out for the real USA team in the world cup! The team you saw was not the real team. Most of the players that you saw will not make the final WM team. It was just a friendly match. PROST!

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, please,'s FOOTBALL! Not SOCCER! Football! Ok, got it? Right. Thanks!

8:58 AM  
Blogger CP said...

Iwatched the match in my local in Herford, about 200k Northeast of you with myretired German pals and the Italian Kneiper. My daughter played better in sixth grade than either team in the first half.After the seven minute/four gate blitz, I was draining my beer and missed the American goal!

8:04 PM  
Blogger susan said...

This was a lovely blog to stumble upon. My husband is from Muenster and I am american and we now live in NH. Broetchen land! (sorry no umlauts close at hand on this computer)
Your city is one of my favorite in NRW and enjoy that Turkish shop! I love cooking when we are there. But yes, the amount of pork intake is *staggering* We side stepped the matches this time...
thanks for the lovely writing and enjoy NYC! It is warm and blooming right now!

1:04 AM  

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