I’m convinced there is one easy, almost guaranteed way to strike up conversations with people around the world – wear a sports jersey.
No matter where we go, if myself, my husband or our sons are wearing sports jerseys, people will talk to us.
It happens all the time in Chicago - and it’s happened to us in Paris, London and Tokyo, too.
Of course, you have to be ready for the initial conversation to go two ways.
If people are fans of the same team, they’ll tell you that you’re brilliant and you have wonderful taste. But, if they prefer an opposing team, they’ll jokingly chide you for your lack of good judgment or bad taste.
In our case, both types of comments have been done with good humor and cheer, and have led us to speak with people we otherwise might not have.
Yes, by simply wearing a sports jersey, conversational barriers are removed, giving people (or at least avid sports fans) a reason to speak with you. And, the path that conversation can take from there is always memorable.
Conversations with fans (and friendly foes)
Recently, my whole family put on our Manchester United gear to cheer on the team in their Boxing Day match from a Chicago pub. Within the confines of the pub, we blended into the sea of other English Premier League soccer fans, cheering on our favorite teams that morning.
When we left the pub, we weren't as conscious of our jerseys and scarves, but others were quick to take notice of it.
At a nearby convenience store, a man, carefully restocking Gatorade bottles, stopped his work to question our jersey choice. As it turns out, his favorite team is Chelsea FC, one of Manchester United’s English Premier League rivals.
After laughing about our different choices in teams, my husband asked the man about his favorite players, and then went on to discuss what players looking good this season and the latest rumored trades – all in a convenience store aisle in Chicago far from England and its famed “football pitches.”
Later, my family donned our ice skates to take a few shaky laps around an outdoor ice rink just outside the Chicago city limits. While my husband and sons’ jerseys were hidden beneath their coats, my Manchester United scarf stuck out over the collar of my black jacket.
I wasn’t cognizant of my scarf as I helped my older son up off the ice after he took a spill. But, someone took notice of it.
As I lent a hand to my son who had fallen on the ice, one of the guards skated over to offer his assistance – along with a joking comment.
The guard calmly stated that he was sorry to say that we needed to leave the ice. I stood there in shock, trying to think of even one thing we had done that would warrant our sudden departure. As my mouth stood agape, the guard laughingly said it was because I’m a Manchester United fan. You see, he’s a Manchester City FC fan.
After laughing together, I agreed that he must really want us to leave the ice. And, then we were fast friends.
Both of these exchanges came on one weekend day all because of our choice to wear our Manchester United gear that morning. And, those conversations helped make for a colorful day, filled with unexpected conversations.
Striking up conversations across the pond
Of course, similar conversations have happened in other cities, too.
In August 2013, my family spent 10 days in London. Before heading there, our sons excitedly stuffed their suitcases full of soccer jerseys – Manchester United included.
No matter where we went, people stopped us to comment on their jerseys du jour. Often, they’d tell us we had smart “lads.” Or, they’d jokingly tell us our sons had put on the wrong jersey that morning.
It didn’t matter where we went. If our sons had jerseys on, we’d get comments from shopkeepers, other families, airport security – you name it.
For us, it gave us another chance to speak with people in a country where “football” and its teams reign supreme.
The same was true when we traveled to Paris the summer prior.
Other soccer-loving kids would flock to our sons – just based on their jerseys alone. Of course, back then, our sons only knew a few words of French. But, that didn’t matter at all.
It was amazing to see how quickly the kids connected together over a shared love of soccer. I’ll never forget when my sons started a “pick up” game with a few other young soccer fans from Canada and France – all because they were wearing soccer jerseys.
And, you know what else I loved? No one said "I don't like that team" or "I don't like that player." They were all about the sport and the fun - without a care in the world about which team or player was on the other one's jersey. That's friendship. That's sportsmanship. And, that's what it's really all about.
From Michael Jordan to Wayne Rooney
For me, each interaction conjures up memories of my own childhood travels with my family.
I distinctly remember people stopping our family in Chicago or another city to comment on our Chicago Cubs or Chicago Bulls hats or jerseys. Similarly, whenever we told people we were from Chicago, they would immediately say, “Oh, Michael Jordan.” And, that would spark new conversations – even without a jersey involved.
Yes, I know some people may say that American travelers shouldn’t wear sports jerseys when traveling in another country. But, I’d ask you to throw caution to the wind and proudly don your sports jersey (or pick up one for a local team while you're there), because you never know if that may lead to a new, unexpected conversation that you will forever cherish as part of your travel experience.
But, don’t worry if you’re not a sports fan. I’d venture to say that the same experience could come from wearing any graphic tee shirt that shares your thoughts, your spirit and your motivation – or just the name of your hometown or favorite city.
Either way, only good things can come from you being "you," and being open to new conversations – wherever your path may take you at home or aboard.
For our family, we're always happy to talk to people about our favorite sports teams and players - from the Chicago Bulls to Manchester United or Michael Jordan to Wayne Rooney. And, then see where things go from there.
Have you ever struck up a conversation with someone new based on the sports jersey he or she was wearing that day? Or, have people ever stopped you to comment on your sports jersey? If so, have those conversations led to new experiences or friendships? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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