This upcoming Sunday features an event that means absolutely nothing to people outside the United States: The Super Bowl. I call it an event because it is more than simply a football game. It's an American institution. Even people who think a nose guard is a piece of safety equipment will watch the game, or at least pretend to be interested in it for a few hours.

At a party last year, I met someone who spent time as an emergency room doctor, and he told me that the entire hospital goes quiet when the Super Bowl is on. Patients don't come in. Inpatients don't call for nurses. Those who are already in the waiting room are transfixed by the television set. It's like a national hypnosis has taken over.

A few months ago, I met someone who works in a hospital as a mental health specialist and asked her whether the Super Bowl had the same sedative effect on her patients. "Nope. These people are oblivious to the Super Bowl."

Perhaps they were French.

(Note: I won't be able to use this joke for much longer.)