Sports seem to be safe small talk in our tiny and crowded continent. You'll find fake Juventus or MU shirts even in the deepest corners of Eastern Europe (or specially there). Everyone knows, at least, the big names. Once abroad, however, the good old football comment may not have the same effect... Alfonso reports:

Dennis Spohr
Wouldn't it be nice to be there?

Travel 1000 km in Europe and you cross all sorts of borders. However, in spite of different languages, eating habits, maybe even a different currency, sports stand out as a perfect topic to break the ice. Whether you like it or not, football is a pretty safe bet.

Travel 1000 km in Australia and you cross only administrative borders, if any: the English language, barbecues and dollars are truly ubiquitous in this huge island-continent. However, if you come from Europe, forget about easy conversations on sport.

Marco Antonio Torres/www.flickr.com
Looks rather familiar...

Netball is one game played all over Australia, even if mainly by women. Unfortunately, 'netball' is not an Australian word for any sport you know: netball is similar to basketball, but the basket has no board and the players cannot move with the ball... Personally, I have nothing to add.

You know rugby, maybe. Well, in Queensland and New South Wales they adore it; but wherever you are in those two massive States, make sure you check whether your newfound mate follows League or Union. Trust me, you really don't want to mix them up!

The rest of the country goes for football... Only, football in Australia (aka 'footy') has some sort of obsession with oval shapes (for the field and the ball itself) and players are allowed to use their hands and feet... and not just with the ball. Mind you, comparisons with rugby aren't welcome!

The proof that the egg, not the chicken, came first.

To everyone's relief, footy and rugby fans drop their differences in summer... Australians then devote themselves in large numbers to that great sport acclaimed all over the world... in almost one country per continent: cricket.

During cricket season, unsuspecting Europeans realise with surprise that many of what they took to be parks are actually collections of cricket fields where white-clad Aussies bear the glaring southern sun with patience. Really, lots of patience. Traditional games last for at least three days. The shortest, very recently introduced version still lasts for three hours... Aussie aficionados don't take it seriously, though.

Anyhow, Australians also play European football. They quite often topped the World Cup qualifiers in Oceania against Fiji and the lot. Now, in the UEFA Cup equivalent in Asia, with Iraq, Japan, etc., they struggle a bit more.

Moreover, Australian soccer fans like to call it 'football' same as Europeans... For clarity's sake, stick to 'soccer'. Otherwise, you'll find yourself all dressed up in your Real Madrid gear with 18 guys per team wearing mouth-guards. On the bright side, apart from a few bones, you're likely to break the ice quite easily.

So, next time you must use football to get in conversation with someone from another part of the EU, be rather thankful. And bear in mind that the only alternative might be a chat about Eurovision...

IN -1116 DAYS