Leather, willow, and sounds of home

Humans are social animals. Notwithstanding global pandemics, we prefer to spend time together. For people who move abroad for work, love, or other reasons, making acquaintances can be difficult. Quite apart from clashes between social norms and cultural expectations, how can we best form relationships in situations where we seem not to have very much in common with those around us?

Unlikely coincidences

In my experience, shared interests can arise from the most unlikely of sources. When I was growing up in England my childhood was filled with the sights and sounds of cricket, that most quintessentially English game. Of course, it was appropriated by our colonies around the world and, rather annoyingly, they have often been better than us at it; someone famous once said cricket is an Indian game that was invented by the English.

Nonetheless, it is fair to say that cricket has not really been on the sports radar in Finland, despite superficial parallels to pesäpallo, or Finnish baseball (similarities which largely begin and end with hitting a ball and running). When I moved here 20-odd years ago I left behind my old, knackered cricket gear, assuming my playing days had come to an end.

At first, I was right, and the old sound of leather on willow was consigned to the recesses of my memory. There it stayed until I moved to a small town near Helsinki, where, in a set of coincidences that would make Dan Brown blush, I met a Scotsman, a German, a South African, two Finns, three Englishmen, and four Pakistanis, all of whom wanted to play cricket. Although our membership has changed, we have now played cricket in Finland for eleven years.

Unsurprisingly, cricket players in Finland tend to have roots in countries where the game is well-established. Most often they have ties to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh. There are some Brits, South Africans, Aussies and New Zealanders, but few West Indians. A couple of official cricket grounds exist in the capital area, and the national team has hosted international games here as well.

Forming common bonds

The thing that I find so interesting about this is how a game can create bonds between people who otherwise would perhaps not find much to talk about. If you are talking to a cricketer and the conversation dries up, you can always chat about how annoying the Australians are. Of course, the same goes for fans of any sport, music or hobby. Perhaps it is just amusing for me because of the apparent randomness of cricket as the unifying factor.

I think this goes back to the culture clash problem mentioned earlier. If you move to another country, especially if it is a completely new country to you, then it can take a long time to acclimatise. You do not know what the local customs are and how they differ. You might struggle to fit in. But if, for example, you play cricket, then immediately you enter a system of rules that everyone knows and abides by. The pattern of play is entirely predictable, even if the result may not be. Psychologically, that sense of certainty is very valuable. And, practically speaking, it means that immediately you know that you have common interests with others.

Maybe it is the same with Finns and saunas.

Nick Barlow is a copywriter at Brandkind.