Study Up on Local Sports Before Travelling Abroad

Study Up on Local Sports Before Travelling Abroad

Striking up conversation with locals is one of the best parts of international travel. A friendly cab driver, bartender, or fellow subway rider can tell you things about their city that you won’t find on a hundred “best-of” listicles. If chatting up locals is your idea of a good time, you owe it to yourself to learn about local sports culture before your next trip abroad — even if you don’t like sports that much. Here’s why.

Taking the time to learn about local sports is less about being able to pass as a fan and more about acknowledging a massively important facet of the culture you’ll be visiting. You don’t need to be able to intelligently debate tactics or roster decisions, or even be interested in doing so; learning about the local culture is both more interesting and way more important. If you’re already a fan of a sport that’s just as popular abroad as it is in the States, like baseball or ice hockey, this can be as easy as checking out the local team and league standings. But the U.S. is a weird little sports island in many ways, which means you might need to dip your toes into unfamiliar waters.

If we’re talking about international travel and local sports, we have to talk about soccer. No matter where in the world you go, you’re guaranteed to run into passionate soccer fans — and almost all of them are tickled to death by Americans who can talk footy. Are you travelling to one of the many cities around a world that have a longstanding club rivalry? Learn a little bit about each team: Their colours, where they are in the league standings, maybe even a chant or two, and the origins of their beef with the other guys.

This isn’t just a fun way to engage with locals — it can also help you avoid annoying traffic and even dangerous situations. If you’re visiting Buenos Aires during the Superclásico, for example, you’ll know to avoid the area around the stadium on match day. (You’ll also know you should never tell someone in a Boca Juniors shirt how much you love River Plate, which is very important.)

Although soccer is the world’s game, it’s not the only sport worth checking out in your travels. Many countries in Central and South America play a ton of futsal, which is like soccer but played on a small court with unlimited substitutions, a smaller ball, and way more tricks. If you’re headed to Australia, learning a little bit about rugby and/or Australian rules football will inevitably endear you to everyone at the pub. Hurling (for men) and camogie (for women), which are huge in Ireland, involve both full-contact tackles and delicately balancing a small ball on the end of a stick while running full speed — a pretty cool combination, if you ask me. And then there’s cricket, which is both intricately complicated and incredibly popular abroad. (Depending on your capacity for being explained to, asking someone about cricket rules is a great way to kill 30 minutes at an absolute minimum; do with this knowledge what you will.)

Wherever you’re headed and whatever your baseline level of sports enthusiasm may be, remember: You don’t have to be an expert by any means. Being an American who cared enough to learn even two or three things about local sports culture will get you very far in your travels. Who knows? A five-minute conversation with a random about the local rugby team could lead to an invite to the next match, or even a lifelong friendship — and all it took on your part was half an hour on Wikipedia and YouTube.

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