As a Brit who’s just recently moved to the USA, I am absolutely stunned with the sheer volume of TV’s there are in every restaurant and bar. It seemed that no matter where you go, there is a TV. In shopping malls, supermarkets, airports, in every available space that has a seat. I’ve never known a nation so in love with an artificial screen! It’s not like anywhere else in the world that I know of – well maybe Japan… When I first got here, this was incredibly annoying and distracting. It had the effect of catapulting me into a fuzzy twilight zone that I couldn’t break out of. I’d leave the house, and immediately I’d find myself watching TV in a place where instead I should have been observing my surroundings – like the gorgeous ocean view out the window for example.
When I first got here, I would go out somewhere with a friend or significant other to catch up and get ready for a good chat, only to find us both distracted by whatever it was on the many TV screens ringing the ceiling of the room. We’d both suspend our conversation, and promptly forget whatever we were talking about simply to watch… whatever it is. You’d get interrupted by loud and annoying adverts with deafening sound effects like screeching, screaming, annoying music and funny voices whilst you’d need to yell over the noise, and at the same time try to elegantly twirl your spaghetti and sip your wine. Then you’d finish your date and leave realising that you hadn’t really spent any time together at all! You might as well have been the silent pause on the other end of a phone for all the attention you paid each other. We’d sit glued – Mowgli style, hypnotised by Kaa the snake – to the TV screen and before I knew it hours had passed by. Oh well, I’d tell myself, at least I had a good time watching… uh… What was it again? And you know what, I’d never remember…
Europeans for the most part, don’t have this problem. Actually, for most of the rest of the world, going out to coffee bars and restaurants is all about spending time with people, catching up on each other’s lives, giving and receiving attention and enjoying each other’s company. That’s the whole point of going out right?… to get away from the TV? Now I apologise to the TV enthusiasts who at this moment are probably raising their voices to should out that “It is Possible! You can enjoy people’s company with a TV in the room! Just don’t look at it!
Well, I’m sorry but if you can’t sit and face the person you love, talk to them normally, and enjoy the conversation without looking 500 times at a TV in the corner, or at your phone (another big issue), Then that’s not enjoying someone’s company. That’s focusing attention on a box. Try talking normally to someone without looking at the TV… even once… You cant do it can you?
It became such an issue for me, that I started deliberately avoiding places with a TV… not an easy task in this country. That is of course, until the Fifa World Cup came on.
It’s strange, but the USA has never struck me as a football crazy country. The only country in the world it seems, who doesn’t value football (or soccer as they call it, and they’re the only ones who call it that) as their coming-together sport. People have told me that a few years ago, being able to watch the World Cup would have been very difficult, if not impossible. But thanks to the extensive efforts of “the Beckhams” (I’m told), who’ve dedicated a large amount of time promoting football in the US over the past few years, full matches are now streamed live on ESPN all over the place!
After watching the first round of the World Cup I’m still not convinced that the USA will ever become a football crazy country, (unless of course it is the US team playing and everyone turns out to see the game). However it is incredible that this year, it doesn’t matter what country is playing, but every TV in café, restaurant and bar in the city has the World Cup playing it!
This opened up an entirely new aspect of life in San Diego. All the expats are turning out in droves to see the games. Today I met a group of really friendly Germans who’d turned out to watch the match against Ghana in La Jolla. Spaniards and Mexicans alike started crying in a coffee shop when Spain got kicked out of the tournament, we all decided tequila was needed to sooth the embarrassment. The Brits and Italians turned out in their hundreds to watch their teams play each other in Little Italy – everyone bought drinks for the English when they lost and subsequently everyone got drunk… and of course the Mexicans packed every possible space with a visual of a screen to watch their team play against Brazil! The Brazilians were in there too, clumped together in a corner of yellow, shouting just as loudly, but to be honest everyone was hugging each other so when the match was over. The USA playing Ghana was fun, as every TV was on and taken over by the Red, White and Blues! The familiar chants of U..S..A! U..S..A! echoed throughout the streets of Pacific Beach (a popular nightclub area) and the very few Ghanaens brave enough to fly their flags were jumping up and down, supporting their teams in vibrant green, yellow and red.
In a city like San Diego, where no one I meet is actually from San Diego, I’m very surprised that I haven’t come across this vibrant expat community sooner, but all of a sudden, TV’s in every available space have become a source of fascination and dare I say it, a place for connection. It’s finally fun to go out to a bar and watch TV!
At every possible break in the day, I try to find somewhere new to watch whatever game is playing, and I’m always meeting new people, so I’m enjoying the summer of games whilst it lasts. I just hope that after the World Cup ends, I’ll be able to go out to the same places and ignore whatever ‘rubbish’ may take over on screen. To me, people still come first over watching TV.
Oh! Got to go, Nigeria are about to start playing against Bosnia… time to meet new expats!