My boys love playing soccer. At least that’s what I thought. They played at the British Football Academy in Japan for 1.5 years and have always been excited about it. So when we moved to our home country Germany for the first time in my children’s lives, I thought that joining the local soccer club would give my third culture kids an ideal opportunity to make local friends outside of the international school.
My boys had just turned 7 a few months earlier and there were free spaces in their age group. I thought joining the club would be a great experience and have them dive into the German sports club culture.
Well, they could not understand the coach – his native Italian accent mixed with a strong Frankonian dialect made it also hard for me to understand him, but my boys had literally no idea what he was saying. So they watched their team mates and did as they did. But they also had difficulties communicating with their peers. Even though my boys speak fluent German, they are not familiar with the colloquial expressions currently used among kids in Germany. They complained that the others would call them “Dicker” (fat one) or “Alter” (old one) which in Frankonian turns to “Digger” and “Alder”. Being neither overweight nor old, they felt offended. We tried to explain to them that “Dicker” and “Alter” are just expressions like “dude” or “guy”, but they did not believe their parents and found the other boys particularly rude.
I think that fairness in sports is highly valued in Germany’s sports club culture and I do not believe that the kids in our club are particularly unfair. But they are competitive and they have learned to use every given opportunity to show their talent (you never know who is scouting!). So while queuing to shoot at the goal, other boys regularly jumped the queue if my boys hesitated for a second. A behaviour they found unacceptable and extremely rude and of course something unheard of in Japan!
Adding to this, my being unfamiliar with the etiquette of German soccer clubs led to the fact that they never joined a game on the weekend. I thought I would be told once they are ready to join the team for a match. But then I found out that I just needed to sign them up for the match and show up on that day. But taking your children to the match is not all you need to do. Several tasks like baking cakes and bringing hot coffee (to be sold on site for the benefit of the club), taking the jerseys of the team home for washing are divided among the parents. It goes without saying that you are expected to watch the whole match (each one) even if you are not on bake sale duty. There goes your Saturday or Sunday.
The fact that I did not stay to watch my boys train (1.5 hours standing on the border of the football field) also limited my opportunities to get acquainted with the other parents (mostly mums) who stayed through the training. This might have given me better insights into how to behave and to understand what is expected.
Well, we failed. My boys told me after about 10 weeks that they do not enjoy the training. Then training times were preponed by half an hour (German elementary school ends around noon and a lot of mothers are at home and take their children to afternoon activities) before moving to an indoors training place at the other end of the city for the fall season. And who wants to drive their kids across town to a training session they don’t even want to attend?
Being German and speaking German did not help us integrate into the local soccer club. How hard must it be for non German speakers to succeed? My children are third culture kids who grew up in Belgium, Switzerland and Japan, raised by German parents. Their culture is barely related to any of the national cultures named above as we never stayed long enough to immerse into a local culture. They clearly could not cope with the German boys their age. It seems like they have only little knowledge to interact with peers in their first culture (German). And they do not love soccer as much as I thought they would.