World Cup travelogue: In Salvador, patriotism expressed in many ways, at many volumes


American fans celebrate in the streets of Salvador, Brazil. (Dom Phillips / The Washington Post)

SALVADOR, Brazil — Among the goal-scoring and general goodwill, this World Cup is also exposing issues about nationalism, pride and identity — not just for those anti-World Cup Brazilians who agonized before donning team shirts, but also for the thousands of German fans here in Salvador who watched their team demolish Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal 4-0 in the hot afternoon sun Monday.

The World Cup makes people think about what country they are from, how they feel about belonging to that country, and in a bigger sense, what the rest of the world feels about their country. National traits are exposed through the prism of soccer. That spotlight is not always kind, but it can also be funny.

The Germany-Portugal game presented a dilemma for some Brazilians: whether to root for the shiny, organized Germans, or their former colonial masters Portugal?

“Who are you going to support today,” a mother asked her teenage son as they marched to the Fonte Nova stadium.

“Germany,” he replied.

“You can’t support Germany,” she scolded. “You are Brazilian; you have to support Portugal.”

He sulked.

Erica Peres, 27, a Brazilian from Manaus, was wearing a Portugal team shirt, just like her boyfriend Daniel Lopes, 29, from Viseu in Portugal.

“The emotion is indescribable. It is great to see our teams play,” she said. “But on the other hand, we see there is a lot to be desired,” she added, citing organizational failings.

Salvador local Luciana Araújo, 28, a podiatrist, was wearing rabbit ears, a T-shirt, and face make-up — all in German team colors.

“I love this county. I think in a past life I was a German,” she said. “I never had a German boyfriend.”

Araújo had never even been to Germany, she said. Nearby her father appeared to have adopted dual nationality: he was wearing a fluffy jester’s hat in Brazilian green and gold, wrapped in a German flag.

But the Germans themselves were more subdued on their team’s crushing victory. They celebrated each of those four goals. But they did not rampage through the streets, wrapped in flags and singing their national anthem. They drank beer and laughed. A group of four sat outside a street bar in a favela near the stadium and waited politely for a sandwich while watching Iran-Nigeria.

Freddy Michaelson, 37, a London-based German banker, was nearby drinking a post-match beer. He said the sending-off of Portugal defender Pepe, with Germany already 2-0 up, had taken the fun out the game and set the Germans up for a massacre.

“I’m disappointed by the red card,” he said. “It should have been a more competitive game.”


England fans chant at U.S. fans on street in Salvador. (Dom Phillips / The Washington Post)

He was reading headlines on his blackberry from German newspaper Der Spiegel, which essentially said: Too soon to celebrate anything. He smiled wryly at the mention of the training camp built by Germans here in Bahia state.

“That’s very German. Typically German,” Michaelson said. “That’s why we build BMWs. That’s why we built Mercedes.”

German fans uniformly wore team shirts; at least three in the stadium had the name of their country’s attacking midfielder, Number 19 Mario Götz. Another wore a full-body stocking in German colors. Some wore lederhosen.

But German fans also seemed to feel a certain ambivalence, not just over their team’s organizational prowess, but over the very question of being patriotic and German itself, because of the country’s complicated history with nationalism.

“They have been like a machine, a real favorite,” said Killian Schoeer, 26, of his team. The doctor from Würzburg was celebrating with friends on the cobbled streets of Salvador’s colonial center Pelourinho on Monday night. “It’s a good feeling. We are Germans, we have to be careful about feeling a unity, because of our history,” he added, looking slightly downcast. “It is weird. But I don’t feel proud to be a German,” he went on. “Maybe I feel proud of the team.”

The clumsy patriotism of the English fans coupled with the amount of beer many of them drink reverberated around the Brazilian media. It felt like a kickback for the repercussion England Coach Roy Hodgson caused with comments made before the Cup about the Amazon city of Manaus, where they lost their first game, 2-1 to Italy.

Hodgson had said the city’s jungle climate made it a venue to avoid. Manaus Mayor Arthur Virgílio hit back, saying: “We would also prefer that England doesn’t come.” Britain’s famously aggressive tabloids stoked the row: The Daily Mirror described Manaus as a “crime-ridden hell hole” a few days later. Hodgson later wrote a conciliatory letter.

Just before the tournament started, Mayor Virgilio told the Guardian newspaper he hoped that everyone who came to Manaus would “behave like a priest.”

Instead, to the delight of Brazil’s UOL newsite, some England fans came to Manaus dressed as crusaders, prompting numerous photo requests from locals. The site interviewed England fan Stan Field, 44, dressed in a knight’s costume, who had been drinking solidly. It noted not only that he failed to correctly identify the brand of beer he was drinking, but that he had been wearing the costume since he left London – meaning he had not taken a bath for three days, unthinkable for hygiene-obsessed Brazilians.

In a separate story, the same site scoffed at English fans who had gone to a club in Manaus, and not only failed to meet and leave the club with any local women, but who also paid too much in tips – both unflattering performances in macho, status-obsessed Brazil. The material was illustrated with a photo of an England fan slumped, eyes closed, over a beer, whose vague resemblance to England striker Wayne Rooney cannot have escaped the eyes of the site’s photo editor.

But machismo and football go hand in hand in world soccer. For its fans, political correctness rarely enters into play – as some of the many young American fans wondering the streets of Salvador’s historic tourist center discovered Monday night. On a crowded, narrow street, as German, English and American fans drank beer and watched the United States-Ghana game on a television outside a bar, a good-natured soccer chant challenge began between English and American fans. The Germans sat in the middle, grinning yet silent. There was no animosity,  just broad smiles all round, especially when the U.S. scored their winner, thus silencing the English, still smarting over their Italy defeat.

American fans were all over Salvador on Monday, on the streets, and in the stadium. As they enter the bear-pit of banter that is part of international soccer fandom, the country that invented jazz, rap and hip hop may find more creative ways to silence the jibes of their rivals. While for Americans, unlike the Germans, patriotism is never an issue.

“It’s awesome,” said Jeff Michel, 24, a finance accountant from Chicago. “You see every country, everyone so dedicated to their team. Americans can relate to that.”

Dom Phillips is The Post's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. He has previously written for The Times, Guardian and Sunday Times.

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Steven Goff · June 17, 2014