That’s the way the ball bounces

Polish football (soccer) fans - FIFA World Cup...

Football is kind of a big deal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And in other news today, authorities have issued this travel advisory to North Americans planning to visit Europe in July: Don’t bother.

This follows yesterday’s announcement about traveling to South America in July, which was: Consider rescheduling. These are, of course, very similar to advisories issued last week, which were: “Africa? Never mind” and “Australia? Try ya later, mate.”

In case you didn’t know (and if you didn’t, you must work for either the FBI or CIA), this is World Cup month. All over the globe, shops are closed, streets are deserted, and houses are locked up. Everyone is down at the local watering hole, watching football.

Until recently, World Cup was not a big deal in this part of the globe. This is because Americans were confused by several key facets of the tournament, like the part that says: World.

Indeed, several US residents have written to the official tournament website to ask why they can’t find Minnesota, Nebraska and Florida in the team standings.

Canadians, meanwhile, have a hard time understanding any sport which doesn’t involve ice, skate blades, large sticks, and the involuntary donation of blood. The thermometer also confuses us: we can’t figure out how anyone can play a game outdoors in temperatures above 5 C and not expire from heat stroke.

But in the past decade, North Americans have begun to pay more attention to World Cup. This is because we’ve learned about the great benefits of international competitions, like A) a chance to learn how to say “Up Yours!” in 28 languages and B) a chance to compare everyone else’s national beer to a certain bodily fluid.

Okay, I joke, but I really do like to see international tournaments. I like the fact that it gives fans a chance to learn about different cultures, and to meet people from a different country. Take, for example, the Japanese, co-hosts of the 2002 Cup.

The Japanese have a reputation for being restrained, well-behaved, quiet, and somewhat insular. Their word for foreigner is “gaijin,” which, roughly translated, means: “probably has cooties.” And who did they invite into their country? The English football fan.

Things went remarkably well, and I am glad. Otherwise, the new Japanese word for foreigner would be “hooli-gan,” meaning: “Definitely has cooties. And their beer tastes like it is kusatta.”

Aside from cultural exchanges, international tournaments provide a way to let off national steam. Argentina can regard every match it has versus the Brits as the “Falklands War, Part II” without actually having to fire guns. Senegal can kick their former colonial masters, the French, in their respective, ahem, world cups.

And Mexico can duke it out with Spain for the rights to sing the international football anthem. (This song begins with “Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!” and ends with “Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!” The bit in the middle is the part where they go: Gooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaallll!”) In fact, until we all learn to be rational, logical beings like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, national competitions are like the Vulcan Pon farr: a safe way to deal with blood lust every few years.

It’s not all about conflict though, and here I speak from past personal experience. Note to all single women: if you want to meet men, get thee to a pub in Ireland during a World Cup. The Irish live and die with every run at the goal posts. If the Irish score a point, yer man will be looking to hug someone ecstatically, and better a woman than giving one of his mates the wrong idea. If the other team scores, yer man will be looking to cry on a shoulder. Either way, you’ll be very popular amongst the lads. Plus, they’re very patient when explaining why no one is ever penalized for icing in football.

So, in the spirit of the World Cup, let’s keep the ball rolling, eh?