I’ve never been particularly patriotic..of course I am always happy to see Americans win the gold, but I’ll root for pretty much anyone if I like their style or attitude or skill.But these days I do find myself a little more drawn to the competition when a Swiss person steps up to the plate/piste/rink etc.! I especially enjoy watching the skiing–something that is as central to Swiss culture as fondue or frequent voting. The first question I am always asked by new Swiss acquaintances is whether I am learning French, and the second is whether I am learning to ski. The answer to both is oui, but in both cases it is a slow, painful process. I think that if I tried to speak French while skiing, smoke would come out of my ears.
The trouble is, a person’s chances of learning to either ski or speak French extremely well decline very rapidly after about the age of 5. Just as children who have been exposed to French since birth will always have an innate ability to pronounce r way back in their throat and o way up in their nose, so children who have worn skis as soon as they could walk will always have a sense of balance and acceptance of heights that are difficult to come by later in life. The difference between learning French as an adult and learning to ski as an adult is that when practicing French, the worst thing that can happen to you is acute embarrassment. On the other hand, with skiing…well, it’s best not to think about the worst when standing atop an alp with dozens of Swiss toddlers whizzing by you and shouting at you to get out of the way.
People have told me that living in another country really changes your worldview, and your perspective on culture and daily life. I’ve been able to feel this happening gradually, but I’ve realized that watching the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi is already a different experience for me than viewing past Olympics has been. I’m more sensitive to the significance of bringing so many nations together to compete, all driven by a passion for the same sport, despite the multitude of differences they bring in language, culture and values. It makes me proud to think that despite the challenges, I’m having experiences that would never have been possible had I stayed in the U.S. my whole life, no matter how many vacations abroad I took or how many language classes I signed up for.
Oh, and another way I know I’ve become more open to travel and change? Watching the games, I’ve actually caught myself wishing to visit Russia someday…brown water notwithstanding!