We, as Americans, do not understand the World Cup. People all over the world live and die with their country’s teams, but to us it’s just another sporting event.
I include myself in this. However, out of a combination of boredom and a desire to be cosmopolitan and sophisticated, I have decided to take an interest in this year’s tournament. From my observations I have gathered the following tips for proper enjoyment of the World Cup.
Do have somebody to root for. Having a rooting interest puts the whole thing in a context and gives you a perspective from which to view the proceedings. You can root for the U.S. team if you’re so inclined, but it’s much more satisfying to pull for a country that really cares about the World Cup. If there’s no country in the tournament that you have a spiritual or ethnic connection to, try adopting a friend or co-worker’s team, or one whose name you enjoy saying (such as Senegal or Cameroon).
Don’t count on commercial breaks. This is a key point for fans reared on sports like baseball or football, where frequent commercial breaks provide numerous opportunities to run to the bathroom or kitchen. This enables you to get away with little or no advance planning. In soccer, that approach won’t work—once they start the half, they just keep going until it’s over, which takes at least 45 minutes. So be sure to have your snacks prepared and your bladder emptied before sitting down for the game.
Do watch games on the Spanish channel, even if you don’t speak Spanish. I’ve found that being unable to understand what the broadcasters are saying in no way distracts from enjoyment of the event. In fact, given what idiots most sportscasters are, it may well be a bonus. And you will certainly understand what it means when they shout “Gol!” (“Goal!”) at the tops of their lungs, stretching the vowel sound out for five minutes or more.
Don’t blow it for somebody. Because these games are happening at such inconvenient hours, many people are taping/TiVoing the games for later viewing. In many cases, they won’t get to watch their recording until they get home from work on the day after the match is played. Respect people’s right to not know the outcome of the games until they want to. Don’t, for instance, barge into your friend Willem’s office shouting the name of a team that just pulled off a major upset, as I recently did.
Do celebrate. Because a goal is such a rare event, you are duty bound to go absolutely freaking nuts when your chosen team scores. At a bare minimum, jump up from the couch, run around the room whooping, tear your shirt off, then fall to your knees in a prayerlike posture. If you can do seven backflips like the guy from Nigeria did when he scored, then bonus points for you.
Don’t sweat the details. Don’t let it discourage you that you don’t understand what constitutes offsides or a penalty. I’m not sure that the referees do either; I’m pretty sure they just make it up as they go along based on their perception of how the game should be played (much like NBA referees).
Do skip work to watch the games. Everyone in Europe does it, so why shouldn’t we? Summer’s just around the corner and there’s no better time to slack off. Stay up all night watching, then call in sick the next day, or just disappear around lunchtime to catch the afternoon broadcast. The choice is yours.