Two countries, separated by a common language of play

In America kids play with their hands; in Britain they use their feet.
Blowing off steam in the playground

No doubt you have heard the phrase,  “two countries, separated by a common language,” reportedly used by George Bernard Shaw in reference to England and America. Having lived about half my life in each now, I am often on the look out for differences. Its common knowledge that the Brits like to use lots of “u” to round out words like flavour, or add extra syllables to make aluminium even harder to spell (or should I saw the Americans like to drop them….).  Brits like “warm beer,” Americans like “cold fizzy beer.” The Brits like their footballs round, while the Americans will take them oval any day. The list goes on.

Watching my son in the playground the other day I was struck with another difference: one that starts early and just keeps growing.  Britain’s national game is definitely football (that’s soccer to us Americans).  America’s national game is a little harder to determine — perhaps baseball, or basketball, or football (the one with the oval ball to us Brits). In other words  Brits like to play with their feet: the American’s with their hands.  My latest theory is that this starts early.

CIMG5255 [Ronald Wong / Flick]

Playgrounds in America and Britain are pretty much the same. Hundreds of kids running around playing games with their friends while they blow of steam. And on both sides of the Atlantic balls and walls play a big role. Growing up, I spent hours playing football against the wall.  The idea is simple. You line up and take turns kicking it against the wall. If you miss, you stand on the wall and try to block the next shot. My son also spends hours with a ball against the wall, but he always hits it with his hands. Otherwise its pretty much the same game, even down to the arcane rules governing “cherry bombs,” “across the world,” and “no holdsies.”  Look further across the playground and in Britain you’ll see balls of all sizes being kicked around. In America almost no kid kicks the ball, they all use their hands to hit tether balls, play four-square, or just toss them around.

I don’t know which came first, the kids aping the professionals or the professionals outgrowing kid games, but its clear that in America kids are being groomed to play ball sports with their hands; and in Britain to ball play with their feet.

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