‘Brazil is not England’ and five other tips for surviving the World Cup

J.J. Stranko
June 6
J.J. Stranko is a consultant and writer focused on Latin America.

Brazil is sprinting to get ready. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

The World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil starts on June 12, and hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world are preparing to descend on a place that seems utterly unprepared to receive them. Here are a few tips for surviving and thriving.

1: Remember that Brazil is not England

The mayor of Rio said it himself: Brazil is not England and Rio is not London. He later clarified that he meant to say Rio is better than London in many ways, but he revealed a somewhat universal truth: many of Brazil’s World Cup host cities are very much developing world cities.

Visitors need to adjust their expectations and judge them on the unique merits they possess instead of faulting them on lacking the order of more established places. What does this mean for a visitor? Crime, from the petty to the violentBugs, (and bats, and monkeys, and…). Bad public transportation and constant strikes. And tap water you shouldn’t drink.

It also means:

Great music, fun people, a different approach to life. Take it for what it’s worth.

2: Bring lots of cash: Brazil is REALLY expensive.

While the exchange rate situation has abated somewhat in recent years, major cities in Brazil are still some of the most inflated price environments in the world. You can expect, as a baseline, to pay the same as you would in a major European or American city for most basic services and probably well above U.S./European standards for nice things like fancy meals or luxury services (my sad personal record is U.S. $100 for breakfast for two in Rio).

Add that to the inevitable price gouging that is going to happen during the cup (you can’t arrest every Argentine after all) and this may add up to a journey your credit card never forgets.

To save a bit, try local bars and counters that sell tasty fried food and fruit juices. For transportation, beat the traffic and find buses with dedicated lanes or the metro systems in Sao Paulo Rio, Belo Horizonte,Brasilia, Salvador, Recife  and Porto Alegre.

And watch your wallet.

3: Learn a little bit of Portuguese

It sounds so obvious but there are few people who actually take the small effort to learn a few basics in Portuguese before their trips. Your high school Spanish will get you nowhere and, to Brazil’s fault, you will still find people working in very tourist-oriented environments with a poor command of English (and imagine if you have a Kiwi or South African accent to boot!). Plus you’re that much more likely to actually meet Brazilians if you make the effort.

Also, imagine the joy of introducing English phrases appropriate for this World Cup like “hot mess” directly into the Brazilian lexicon, it’s “Bagun ça Quente” (“Bah-goon-sah Kent-chee”). Take this quick and free BBC course and be on your way:

4: Moderate your comments on what a disaster Brazil looks like these days

If there’s anything Brazilians like less than their government these days it is foreigners talking down to them about their country. Ask questions, get a sense of individual complaints, and don’t preach based on your own utopic democratic life in Stockholm or Zurich. Brazilians are certain to give you every reason to hate what has shown itself to be a disastrous planning process for the World Cup and a social dividend that has yet to materialize

But don’t pile on. Just watch and learn.

5: Try to go beyond the glitz and glamour

While I’m not advocating any hardcore favela tourism, try to go off the beaten path a bit while you’re in Brazil and see some of what makes it such a fascinating place. By no means are these the most “real” of experiences, but for casual visitors to Brazil they allow you to see into cities without finding yourself in a “baile-funk” shootout. Remember, in a world of inequality discussions in the United States and Europe, Brazil is the undisputed big-country leader in socioeconomic divisions.

If you’re in Salvador, consider a Tuesday night walk around Pelourinho to see the Bencao da Terca-Feira, or a traditional street party that takes place every Tuesday after 6 p.m. Mass. Eat acaraje from a Baiana and watch the musical magic happen all around you.

If you’re in Recife, head down the coast to Porto de Galinhas, and take a jangada out to see tropical fish swim around your feet. If you’re in Rio, leave all your valuables at home and do a crazy night out in Lapa.

If you’re in Sao Paulo, find a day to wander around the Centro, visiting iconic spots like the Torre Banespa (on the weekdays) for the best view of the city, or checking out the Galerias on 24 de Mayo selling vintage records and even doing tattoos.

But again, watch your wallet.

6: Expect a level of national euphoria (or collective depression) unseen to humankind if Brazil wins (or loses) – and plan accordingly.

You’ll either be a part of the world’s biggest party or the world’s most solemn funeral by the middle of July. Either way, you’ll be witness to an important moment in the history of a great country. Appreciate it and enjoy every minute.

And finally, remember that, despite all the annoyances small and large you might face while you’re there, at the end you’ll get on your plane back to where you came from, and Brazilians will be left to pick up the pieces.

Read more from the Washington Post on traveling to Brazil for the World Cup.

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