3 Tips to Understanding International Sports (If You’re a Clueless American)
How to tell your cricket bat from your vuvuzela.

Dan Van Oss Complete Columns, How To, Sports 2 Comments

If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you’ve probably wondered why airlines use such terrible food to get you there. In addition, you may also have to encounter a sporting event with which you are unfamiliar, but which the locals seem to love with all their hearts, to the degree that they will beat each other with vuvuzelas to prove it. But you need not feel like a total tourist-infected rube if you let us help you understand how to relate to the world of International Sports.

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International Sports Are Not All Weird

[su_pullquote align=”right”]In the USA, we prefer our sports to be time-honored and traditional, as is found in typical American sports such as baseball, lawn-mower racing, or Wall of Death Lion Racing.[/pullquote]Your first challenge, if you are an American, is that sports in other countries are bizarre. In the USA, we prefer our sports to be time-honored and traditional, as is found in typical American sports such as baseball, lawn-mower racing, or Wall of Death Lion Racing. Most Americans assume sports in other countries are played with only your feet and a disturbing lack of extra equipment to help you be a “champion” and stay “on top of your game” and “spend stupid amounts of money.” However, we must understand that any sport is worthy of respect, given the fact that they’re all pretty much kind of weird when you think about it. For example, consider the poor alien culture trying to decipher why, if we want the little white ball to go in the hole, we just don’t make the hole a lot bigger and the grassy area smaller; or why that guy with the pole in the boat can’t figure out what genus of ichthyosaur will finally satisfy his strange, unmet need; and why those guys going around the track in their primitive combustible transport vehicles go so fast when all they do is end up where they started.

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Learn The Local Language Idioms

There also is the challenge of “regionalitiveness”, a new word we made up just now that we intend to own the patent to in case it becomes popular. A sport with the same name in one country can have a different style of play, or even be a totally different sport than in another country. In England, “soccer”, as we Americans know it, is called “football”, and American “football”, as the English know it, is called “A Session of Parliament”. Australia has their own “Australian Rules Football“, which we assume has something to do with kicking a wallaby down a field of poisonous snakes while simultaneously trying to avoid being eaten by land-walking sharks.

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Learn Some Sample Phrases

And all of this is even before a particular sporting event has begun. To actually understand the game you may need a translation guide. Here are actual phrases you can hear in commentary on the sport of cricket, provided you are awake long enough to hear them:
“A leg stump half volley”
“It’s holed out down at long leg”
“Uh oh! There goes another malted herring up the batsman’s googly!”
Ok, we made that last one up, but I bet you couldn’t easily tell it from the others. And American sports are not much better, as you can see when your mother-in-law keeps interrupting the Super Bowl to ask, usually at crucial moments, why they have to wear such tight pants.

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Three Final Tips

Here are three bonus tips to help you when dealing with an unfamiliar international sport.

  1. Always pretend you don’t understand the language of the current country you are confounded by. That way, when a local asks you if you prefer the Torino Ultra Maroons or the Fiorentina Super Lilies, you can respond with a ready phrase, such as Sono un americano muto che è ancora in attesa per noi di adottare il sistema metrico. Ti piacciono i Packers? (“I am a dumb American who is still waiting for us to adopt the metric system. Do you like the Packers?”)
  2. If you are in a country that speaks the same language as you, such as an American in England, you will probably still be okay, as most of the teams will be named something like “The Biggleswade-South Puttdonkey Copsewood United Exeter Roving Wanderers”, or “Cockfosters“, in which case, you will be doubled over in laughter and unable to respond anyway.
  3. If either of these methods fails, you are probably already at the event, possibly unwittingly, wondering why there are so many angry bulls running loose around you, some of them with cricket bats. At this stage, your best bet is to start a fight and hope that the local police will take you a safe distance from the event, where you can whisper that you are part of a secret CIA operation with the code name “Viper”, in hopes they will take you the American consulate, where they may have the Cubs game on TV. At least, that’s how it works in the movies.

With this information in hand, you should be well on your way to tolerating, if not understanding, and possibly still being incredibly bored by, any unfamiliar international sport. Now, excuse us as we get ready for an onslaught of vuvuzela beatings.

This column is featured in the book Dubious Knowledge (Book One)
Photo Credit: twicepix
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  • David Dellinger

    When I visited Australia a few years ago, an Australian girl asked me, “what’s the deal with American football and all those pads? Don’t you have any real men there?” I thought she made a fair point, actually.

    • Yes, it makes you wonder if they might have *less* injuries if they had to be more careful…