Travelling is never easy, thats the fun of it. When you don’t speak French and you are driving thousands of miles through Francophone West Africa in a fairly banged-out right-hand drive Ford Fiesta, the challenges that face you multiply. Luckily for myself and any other linguistically inept summer travellers, football is the universal language of the moment, there to get you a bit further along the journey with a quick succession of match-long friends.
Whilst yelling ‘Le Coupe Du Monde’ with a bit of cheer works as a great way to disarm even the toughest-looking of foreign officials, the best ice-breaker in the World Cup traveller’s arsenal is the cycle of naming teams or players in a slightly foreign accent untill both you and the local you are talking to come to an agreement about who exactly you will base your conversation on, and then exchanging sponteneous, barely informed judgements upon them through a combination of grunting and thumb-led indicators. The high number of World Cup players in the English Leagues also works as a great invitation to any local with ‘small, small English’ to engage the English traveller into a more lengthy conversation about our football - this is a great way to make a local friend of any age if they have the English.
These conversations may not help you get particularly ‘up close and personal’ with the native psyche, but they do serve as an easy mode for cultural comparison: a group of locals and a television is a potential learning curve for many a curious nomad. Some locals might have invited you into their homes to watch the next game or you may have heard the blare of vuvuzelas from a shop-owner’s set and decide to join them and often many of their only semi-employed friends huddled round a tiny set. It often feels as if the World Cup Song is a rallying cry of invitation to warm the heart of a weary nomad wherever he is. (It is also pretty unavoidable playing in nearly every TV or radio advert - and ringing as many African’s ringtone.)
Just as some travellers have used the world cup as an invitation to explore Africa itself, I think it is safe to say that every traveller all over the world, from any competing nation, and all those not, have reaped the benefits of using the World Cup as a tool in their travels. Whatever you think of globalisation, this ‘pro’ of making a global citizen is without flaw; it’s just a shame that it doesn’t happen every time I decide to go abroad.