BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (AFP) — You either love them or you hate them but whichever way you lean it seems certain that the vuvuzela is going to take the World Cup by storm.
The long plastic trumpet is as essential an item to South African fans as getting decked out in the national colours or painting one's face.
Forty thousand of them being blown at full volume sounds like a swarm of angry bees buzzing in your ear, or, as one newspaper put it, an elephant in distress.
It is a tuneless din that takes getting used to, but that's exactly what anyone planning to be here next year will have to do.
Be prepared, because no one in South Africa will take your football credentials seriously if you turn up at the stadium without one.
Whereas European supporters sing, chant and wave, South Africans blow vuvuzelas and, as a rule, make as much noise as possible.
But it has hurt the sensibilities of some, with one suggestion that they should only be allowed when South Africa plays.
Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso is the highest profile player to criticise the instrument.
"I think they should be banned," he said. "We're used to when people shout but not to this trumpet noise which doesn't allow you to concentrate and is unbearable."
Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk, who was in South Africa on a fact finding mission, was another to take offence.
"At home watching TV it really was annoying, but in the stadiums you get used to it but it is still unpleasant," he said.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has given them his blessing, blasting the detractors by telling them Africa is about dance and music and moaning about the instrument bordered on discrimination.
"We have brought the World Cup to Africa where the atmosphere and the culture are different," he said.
"What message would we be sending out if we said, 'We are going to prohibit the instrument you use to express your joy'? That would be discrimination, pure and simple.
"I always said that when we go to South Africa, it is Africa. It's not western Europe."
The whinging by players, as well as some journalists who complain that they can't work properly with so much noise, has sparked a lively debate in newspaper letter pages and led to opinion pieces in its defence.
"The Confed Cup and its big mama, the World Cup, will come and go but the vuvuzela will stay," said the Business Times defiantly.
"Those in search of tranquility are free to watch on TV and make sure they press the mute button on their remotes."
The Sowetan called the ubiquitous instrument's sound "a loud and beautiful noise."
"If you can't handle the heat, then get out of the kitchen," it said.
"The vuvuzela is part of our culture and it's here to stay. The Europeans sing all game long and we blow our vuvuzelas."
Another distinct phenomenon that will confront travelling fans in South Africa is the makaraba -- a neatly decorated hand-made helmet sporting the team's colours.
"It is part of our history, it's something we can be very proud of," said fan Brendan Mokone.
"I think many other countries will adopt makaraba in 2010, because from what I have seen people like it a lot."
Blatter worked hard to bring the World Cup to Africa for the first time ever and as one commentator put it: "What would be the point of taking the World Cup to Africa, and then trying to give it a European feel?"
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