Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey, hey, Lat-vi-a. Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey, hey, Lat-vi-a. I can’t remember who first performed that song (my trusty aide Rick says it was Johnny Cash; Rick seldom eats with utensils, though, so he could be wrong), but anyone who’s been to a sporting event in the past two decades has heard it ad nauseam. I suppose that Latvians don’t yet know that, on an ingratiating scale of one to 10, hearing that song is only one notch lower than fingernails scratching a chalkboard to many Americans.
No matter, though. A group of giddy Latvians all decked in maroon and white made their way through the E Center on Sunday night prior to the Latvia-Slovakia showdown in Men’s Ice Hockey, singing and hollering those simple refrains and with every note, their contagious energy picked up a few more people certain to root for Team Latvia. I was among them. By game’s end, Latvia had pulled even with the stronger Slovakian team and I was high-fiving with anyone around me in support of my new favorite European nation, Latvia. Now I just have to find it on the map.
When I came to work today, I told Chris Smart about it and it turns out he was at the same game sitting only a few seats away. He too had caught the Latvian spirit; a good thing, too, because he has yet to catch the full Olympic spirit and this may be a good sign. He also told me something quite nice about the Latvians. During the Opening Ceremonies, he was sitting in Green Street taking his regular medication while watching the affair on TV. When the FDNY people entered the stadium with the WTC American flag, it became mostly silent, but not terribly respectful.
Except for the Latvians.
Sitting at another table nearby, a group of maroon-hued Latvians rose and placed their hands over their hearts. I wish I were there, because, honestly, it chokes me up a bit to even know they did that. I would have loved to have seen it. Here they were—citizens from a nation most Americans have never heard of, rising in unison to show their respects not only to America, but to their fellow patrons. That Latvian gesture was totally cool. Chris did the right thing—he bought them a round of drinks on the spot. In doing so, our world and the Latvians’ world became just a bit smaller.
Some parochial natives may object, but our new friends from all over the world are really enjoying Salt Lake City—all of it, including the notion that it’s OK to sing silly songs and hoist a toast in celebration of all things excellent. To that end, I hoist my own glass of Crown Royal to Team Latvia. SalÃºt.