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A World Cup language lesson—for non-fans

The World Cup has a way of new making soccer fans around the world—even China, despite not having a team, has audiences who get up at midnight with beer and snacks, and get riveted by the TV for 90 minutes (or longer), only laugh or cry over the result all over social media afterwards…

Those who haven’t bought into the hype, though, might have had a rather lonely time in the bars or WeChat Moments this month, and it’s only going to get worse with the semi-finals. But don’t worry: as social animals, there’s always the option of faking it to gain acceptance from the tribe. With these simple tips below, you, too, can feign interest and find opportunity to join the soccer talk, even if you don’t know any rules or recognize the players:

Be sorry for a team that has left; any team

The World Cup is always full of tears, and tears are a bonding experience. Even if you are not a real fan, it’s not hard to post some heartfelt farewell message on the social media. Try mourning for a traditionally strong team:

Germany left in a disappointing way, but I can always wait until the day you come back in glory. You will never walk alone!
Déguó yǐ yì zhǒng lìng rén shīwàng de fāngshì líkāi le, dàn wǒ huì yìzhí děngdào nǐmen yínghuí róngyào de nà yì tiān. nǐ men yǒng yuǎn bú huì dúxíng!

You can also show sympathy to a heartbroken superstar:

I’m so sorry for Messi! He did everything he could! But he doesn’t need to prove how outstanding he is, the world already knows!
Xīnténg Méixī! Néng zuò de tā dōu zuò le!Dàn shì tā zǎo yǐ bù xūyào zhèng míng zìjǐ,yīnwèi quán shìjiè dōu yǐ jīng zhī dào tā de yōu xiù !

Nostalgia is lovely

Chances are, you don’t know how to analyze the match, so taking about the players is a good choice. And retired legends are the safest if you can’t be bothered to keep up with the results:

When I first began to watch soccer, France was still Zidane’s team. How time flies!
Wǒ gāng kāishǐ kàn qiú de shíhou fǎguó duì hái shì Qídánèi dāngjiā ne, zhēn shì shíguāng fēishì!

If you have to talk about the players, call them by their nicknames

The Chinese are renowned for coming up with nicknames for celebrities. For example, Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is named as 奉先 (fèngxiān) after military general LǚFengxian in the Three Kingdom era, because Chinese fans think Ibrahimovic is as formidable as the legendary general; plus, Lǚ was infamous for having served different warring camps, and Ibrahimovic has played for rival clubs, like AC Milan, Inter, and Juventus. German player Mesut Oezil is often called “272,” because his name Oezil in Chinese just sounds like the three numbers. Use these nicknames, you will look more like an old fan.

Absentees are always safe

In China, it is a common practice to find a European or South American team to support, since the last time our national team was at the World Cup was 16 years ago. Feel free to choose any foreign team as your favorite—but don’t say the defending champion, because you’ll look like a noob. Even better, it can excuse your utter ignorance of the game—”my favorite team isn’t in the World Cup!”

I am a fan of Italy, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the match this year.
Wǒ shì Yìdàlì qiúmí, suǒyǐ zhè jiè shìjièbēi dōu méi zěnme guānzhù.

Criticize the referee—carefully

If there is any controversy about a refereeing decision, keep your contributions ambiguous, since you are not an expert:

It’s a pity that the referee has become the focus of the match.
Kàndào cáipàn chéngwéi bǐsài de jiāodiǎn zhēnshi shífēn lìng rén yíhàn.

When in doubt, make fun of the Chinese team

In China, the national men’s football team is a nationwide laughingstock. It’s rather mean, but if you’re at a loss for an intelligent sport comment, it’s always acceptable to just sigh:

The teams played so well last night. If only I can see our Chinese team play so well before I die.
Zuótiān zhè liǎng zhī qiúduì dōu tī de tài hǎo le. Wǒ zhè bèizi pà shi dōu jiàn bú dào zhōngguó duì yě néng tī chū zhèyàng de bǐsài le.

If you are among true fans, through, tread carefully, because they’ll still probably see right through you. Maybe honesty is the best policy: If you want to join the talk but are not a fan, you can start with simple questions, like “I don’t know much about soccer, can you explain why that goal was offside for me?” (Wǒ duì zúqiú bú tài dǒng, nǐ néng bāng wǒ jiěshì yī xià nàge jìnqiú wèi shénme yuèwèi le ma? 我对足球不太懂,你能帮我解释一下那个进球为什么越位了吗?). A true fan would love to teach you, and maybe you can fall in love with the sport.


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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