In Latin America, soccer (called futball), is a nothing short of a cult-like religion. When a favorite team loses, riots break out and people don't show up for work.
The World Cup is currently being held in Brazil, but the 3,000-plus miles of geographic separation doesn't stop the zealot-like behavior from the Latins in Panama. Everything from restaurants to banks have gone all out. They are touting flags from around the world, offering food specials, turning up the volume on TV's, and organizing World Cup related activities.
We went to an Italian restaurant on Amador Causeway this weekend for lunch. It's a lovely restaurant with an extensive menu of pasta and seafood, but more importantly it has a front-row view to the water. When we walked in, 17 televisions were broadcasting the game (yes, I counted). Every single man, woman and child in the restaurant had a yellow jersey or shirt on to support the Colombia soccer team that was currently playing, with the exception of us. As a Gringa with very white skin, I'm used to being stared at, but my obviously incorrect wardrobe choice of pink and white made me stick out all the more.
I didn't pick this restaurant because I wanted to watch the game. I chose it because I wanted a leisurely lunch on the water with my sweetheart. When I heard the noise level inside the restaurant, I turned around to leave... but my Latin sweetheart was already being drawn in by the excitement. My plans were further thwarted when the tables closest to the water weren't setup... only the tables near the huge TV's were ready for patrons. Instead of facing the water, every single person in the restaurant had their back to the water so they could closely watch the game.
I chose the table furthest from the TVs and closest to the water. I chose a seat facing the water, knowing my sweetheart would join the other Latins in the room and face the TVs rather than the ocean. Even though my intention was to ignore the game, it was impossible not to get drawn into the excitement of everyone in the room. People were cheering and the noise level was the same as if we were watching the game in a Brazil stadium. We got into the spirit by ordering yellow drinks--pineapple juice for my sweetheart and white wine for me. Never let it be said that I'm not a team player.
I don't understand the intricacies of soccer--nor do I have the desire to learn--but being in the midst of the frenzy was an exciting adventure I never would have experienced had I not been in Panama. Maybe next World Cup I'll even buy a jersey.