Many people may wonder if my geography is correct when I speak of Europe and the World Cup. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “Getting ready for the World Cup through European travel” and with the World Cup kicking off this Friday June 11 in South Africa, one of its biggest, most passionate audiences will be in Europe. France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Serbia, England, Slovenia, Denmark, Netherlands, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Greece all take their shot at winning the World Cup.
The World Cup in South Africa - Europe's biggest destination? (Photo by Clare Appleyard)
For the casual fan or for someone who is not interested in football at all, one may wonder how this relates to seeing more of Europe. The answer to that question? The people of Europe. Anyone who travels to these European countries will see a side of Europe that only appears once every four years. Of all the football fans in the world, only South Americans can compete with Europeans in their passion for football.
The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet. And for many countries in Europe, football is either the biggest or second biggest sport in the country. For the next 5 weeks, businesses may close, bars and pubs will be full, jerseys will be worn, and fans will celebrate with passion or express their disappointment in defeat. The World Cup matters and any visit to these countries will be a visit like no other.
While many people travel to see Europe’s museums, beaches, mountains, historical sights, and landmarks, the true beauty of this continent is found in its people. Go beyond the places and meet the faces that make up the rich culture and heritage of any European country. This will be on full display during the World Cup.
Do Germans drink beers and celebrate with restrained enthusiasm? Do Italians scream and yell wildly, throw huge parties, and close down the streets in celebration? What about in Portugal, France, Spain, or Serbia? Observing how people engage in this event and how they react in victory and defeat can give you a lot of insight into each country’s culture.
Talk to people on the streets. Ask the security guard at a museum what he plans to do for the World Cup. Strike up a conversation in a pub or bar. It’s an easy conversation starter so you can get to know people. In both small towns and big cities, even in countries that didn’t qualify for the World Cup, people will be watching.
One of the biggest, most anticipated match ups in the opening round is England versus the United States. Both sides of the Atlantic are excited about this one (while England may be a bit more interested and even a little more nervous). In war and in peace, the English and Americans have long been allies and rivalries between the two are friendly. However, this may be the biggest match up between these two countries since 1950.
The World Cup – what does it mean to you? Will you be watching? As an American, football (i.e. soccer to us) is not a big sport here. Many people here hate the sport and even many sports fans will be nothing more than casual observers as they root for the USA. However, if (and probably, when) the USA bows out, many TVs will be turned off.
As an American who is passionate about football, it is my hope that this catches the attention of many here in the US. For Europeans, this event is as big as it gets. And for anyone traveling around Europe the next five weeks, it will be a wonderful opportunity to engage the wonderful cultures of Europe during the biggest sporting event in so a the world.