Howdy, y'all, I'm an American.
Well, I must be close, anyway. Admittedly, I haven't filled out any forms, taken any tests, or pledged allegiance to anything, but after last week's ice hockey game, I'm surely more American than not.
I watched avidly, from what even I recognised as a very good seat in Madison Square Garden, as the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils played a pre-season game, getting all warmed up and ready for the real games shortly coming their way. Mostly, this seemed to involve preparing for all the fights they will be having. I was a bit taken aback at the fighting, particularly the one in which they actually removed gloves and sticks in order to fight. I mean, they prepared for the fight. During the game, when tradition would demand that they were, you know, playing. And the referees (all four of them) didn't use this time to intervene, but just kind of chilled while they had it out, stepping in only once they were on the ground. But hey. Apparently that's the way it rolls (slides?) in this game. The crowd loved it, anyway. So much so I did have to wonder whether it was, in fact, just a little staged for their benefit. H1 reassures me that it's not, that that's just the way hockey plays out. I'm not sure whether I find this more or less disturbing than if it were an act.
But anyway! We're not here to talk about the fighting. We're not even here to talk about the hockey, believe it or not. We're here to talk about the atmosphere. Make that Atmosphere, with a capital A.
It was all around us, in the bleeping sounds, flashing lights, and red white and blue everything. We joined in wholeheartedly, for the most part, beginning the evening in a diner across the way, drinking Coke from a novelty cup, standing up and clapping when our team scored, standing up and clapping when our team nearly scored, standing up and clapping when there was a fight, standing up and clapping when there was nearly a fight*...
You get the picture. There was lots of standing up and clapping. We put on our best American and joined in eagerly with it. Not just the cheering, either, but all of it - because trust me, there was a lot of 'it'. Snacks, beer, people, giant foam hands with pointing fingers. All the ingredients for a good genuine experience. I'll admit, certain parts we rejected, mainly due to practicality winning out over emotion**. We joined in the chanting, as they were pretty easy to pick up (er, I can't really remember any of them any more, but I can assure you it got no more complicated than 'Lets Go Rangers') but didn't partake in the national anthem - it would feel wrong singing another country's anthems, and also, we didn't know the words. Ahem.
Yup, we both spent months in the States, working at summer camps, where the national anthem was sung all the time, but had no idea of the words. Which isn't really such a big deal, because we don't sing it. I actually felt really guilty about this, having no idea whether this was okay or whether I was committing a huge faux pas, but thankfully (for me) it didn't seem to be quite the big deal I had thought it was. The guilt lasted only as long as it took for funny sounds to be heard over the singing. We looked around, startled, to see half the crowd standing straight and tall and proud, hands over their hearts, tears in their eyes, and the other half...cheering.
Whooping. "Lets go Rangers!" they roared, as the singing went on and on (it's quite a long anthem, isn't it? Not that I have a problem with this, or anything. After all, the US is a much bigger place than New Zealand - it only makes sense that they would have more to sing about) temporarily calming down as the crowd sat down as one, only to start up again as play commenced.
It was rowdy and it was fun. Surprisingly fun. Even though I didn't get quite as involved as seemed to be the norm (still got that adopted English reserve going on, it doesn't dissipate all that quickly) I could definitely understand why people do, and why they love it so much. The atmosphere sweeps you up and makes you one of them, and before you know it, you're on the verge of buying a giant foam hand with pointing finger, just so you can take a little bit of it home with you***.
*We didn't actually clap for either of the latter two, still being a little bit startled by it (you can take the girl out of New Zealand, but...)
**Yes, we kind of wanted a giant foam hand with pointing finger, but where would you put such a thing afterwards? The decor of our place is minimal, shall we say. It's not really a 'giant foam hand with pointing finger' type of apartment.
***No, we didn't buy it. We came to our senses at the last minute. I'm grateful for this. Now.