I am back home for the summer and the town where I am staying is host to the world’s largest youth soccer tournament. This week, some 1700 teams representing 80 countries have gathered to play soccer, but also to get an experience of a different kind. Ask most any kid participating in the tournament and they will tell you that just as fun and important as the soccer is the social aspect, and the possibility of meeting peers from around the world. My 14-year-old daughter, who is not a soccer player, nor a fan, loves going to watch. Everywhere we go she asks: “What language is that? Where do you think that team is from? What’s that flag?”
Each year this tournament gets a little bit bigger and a little more international. Sitting on the cramped bleachers watching, we hear French, English, and Portuguese in our immediate surrounding. A couple of rows over, one supporter is giving another supporter directions to somewhere and they clearly don’t speak the same language, there is a lot of gesturing and pointing going on. People figure out a way to communicate with each other and often it works pretty well.
It’s not that there aren’t any conflicts, of course there are. To begin with, it’s all business and hard play on the pitch, as it should be. And considering that there must be some 40 000 extra people in town this week, the locals tend to be a bit weary about the hassles of getting around. It is crowded — public transportation is cramped and restaurants are full.
Yesterday on the tram, a team from Algeria was singing and blowing a horn –— supposedly celebrating a victory. It was a pretty lovely scene as far as I was concerned. However, a mother with a young child was not happy about it (understandably) and once she couldn’t take it anymore she stood up and yelled something in Swedish at the noise-makers. Even though they didn’t understand her words, they for sure understood her message. They apologized and toned it down, and all was well.
It isn’t always easy to figure out how to communicate with people who speak a different language or have a different cultural background. The beautiful thing is that if you are willing to give it a shot there are many things to learn and discover. Sometimes you find out that you aren’t as different as you thought, and other times you realize that differences can be ok, as long as you respect each other. And it makes sense, if communication is the basis for how we make our personal relationships work, then why wouldn’t the same be true for general relationships — between co-workers, acquaintances, fellow soccer players, strangers, and heck, even between countries!
By: Felicia Shermis