A parade of blue, white, and red flags roared down the rue de Rivoli toward the Champs Elysées. Twenty years after bringing home the World Cup, Les Bleus had won it again.
Beating Croatia 4-2, the French team ignited Parisians into a frenzy of cheers and antics that erupted in every corner of the city –and country. Shirtless fans climbed scaffolding around Chatelet, pub-goers danced in the streets along the beer-soaked Grands Boulevards, and thousands of fans flooded the avenues around the Arc de Triomphe. Red and blue smoke floated overhead as firecrackers popped and fizzled. Onlookers from the balconies toasted to those in the streets as every avenue and boulevard seemed a one-way street to the Champs Elysées.
I marched with them. I didn’t plan on it. Crowds aren’t my thing. But when else would such an event take place? When could I hop down Paris’s avenues waving a French flag, toasting strangers, and acting like everyone’s friend? A Belgian told me that the World Cup is the only type of politically correct nationalism in Europe, and maybe he was right, because in that moment, it looked pretty good to me.
Sure, it got messy at times, like any alcohol-fueled sporting event does, but the celebration was a giant show of unity that the country needed. It was truly the only time I have ever seen Parisians universally and genuinely happy. We were all at the same party, celebrating the same team. That whole egalité thing really played out in the streets as all Parisians joined together in the revelry.
Above: Ali Postma. Below: Bryan Pirolli
It’s been a rough few years. Divisive politics, scarring attacks, and constant uncertainty have become commonplace in Paris. No quantity of baguettes or wine makes us immune to it. Becoming the world champions, however, has allowed us to forget about all of that – for a fleeting instant – and just enjoy a must needed escape from the day to day grind.
I felt happy and proud to be French not because a group of men had kicked a few balls into a net, but because despite our differences, we could all still agree on something. We could all still support the same cause. We could all smile over the same outcome. If we could somehow bottle this magic and apply it to the rest of the world and its problems, maybe we’d all be celebrating a whole lot more, and not just once every twenty years, if we’re lucky.
- BBC covers the French team’s victory parade in Paris.
- Read how France’s win is a ‘national relief’ over at The New York Times.
- Find out what other events are on in Paris this July.