RIO DE JANEIRO — As foreign teams and tourists descend on Brazil for the World Cup, which begins Thursday, Brazilians are enjoying watching the visitors' interaction with the country's humid tropics. And what seems to really spice up their interest is whether gringos, as all foreigners are called, will live up to national stereotypes or flail helplessly when forced to confront the country's torrid conditions.
The members of the German team were pictured on the front page of Monday's Folha De S.Paulo newspaper floating stoically toward their training camp on a rudimentary flat-bed ferry across a tropical river in the northeastern state of Bahia. They stand crowded on the deck in sunglasses, in front of their bus, as palm trees sway in the background.
The photo and its position on the front page of Brazil's biggest broadsheet daily illustrated the fascination with which German efficiency is regarded in Brazil. The German-colonized south of Brazil is often held up as its most organized region. Brazilians traveling or living in Germany rave about how everything works and happens on time. Germany, with its reputation for mechanical precision, is often seen as the complete opposite of emotional, informal, chaotic Brazil, at least in Brazilian eyes.
Hence the grudging admiration in Brazil when it emerged in December that instead of relying on existing hotels, the German team would stay at a resort called Campo Bahia (or Camp Bahia) being especially built by a German company. By April, Campo Bahia was ready — in stark contrast to the stadiums and transportation projects that Brazil has had seven years to finish (and, in many cases, is yet to wrap up).
If the Germans provoked envy, there was relish in the short story that Rio newspaper O Globo ran on Australian forward Ben Halloran, who posted a photo of an enormous spider on the wall of his room in Vitoria on his Instagram. "Not sleeping tonight," Halloran wrote. Aren't Australians supposed to be used to creepy and possibly poisonous arachnids, wondered some of the 1,400 who commented on the post. "This spider must have come in your luggage," said one, posting as Brunomunizblog.
Another gringo cliche — of the English being on time — was turned on its head as England's team bus held up rush-hour Rio traffic on Monday morning because it had left a player behind in the hotel.
O Globo reported on the 15 minutes of angry horn-beeping caused by missing midfielder Ross Barkley. "England Forget Player in Hotel and Traffic Is Interrupted for 15 Minutes," the headline said.
The celebrity site EGO headlined an interview with Daniela Colett, the Brazilian girlfriend of Chilean forward Eduardo Vargas (they met on the Internet, she revealed), with what could be called treasonous sentiments. "I am going to support Chile," Colett said. "I have to support him, right," she added, by way of what many in Brazil will regard as a hopelessly inadequate explanation, "he is the father of my daughter."
Comedian and columnist Gregorio Duvivier satirized the complex relationship between Brazilians and gringos in a droll column for Folha on Monday, currently being gleefully pinged around Brazilian social networks. He mixed Portuguese and English – which makes an odd sort of sense in a country where most people don't speak another language but understand a few basic words of English.
"Hello Gringo! Welcome to Brazil," he wrote. "Não repara a bagunça [don't notice the mess]. Don't repair the mess," he added, punning on the Portuguese verb reparar, to notice. He zoomed in on soft targets, such as the widely held idea that all gringos are rich. "Never say you are a gringo. Yes, people love gringo but people also love money and gringos have money," he quipped.
The relaxed approach to punctuality that Brazilians are famous for was wrapped up in a jibe at delayed transportation projects.
"It's better to wait seated. Everything is atrasado [late], it's like subentendido [implicit] that the person will be atrasada [late]. For a meeting, it's meia hora [half an hour]. For a party, it's two hours. For a stadium, it's one year. For the metrô, it's forever," Duvivier wrote.
But he had also picked up on something else: a wider sense of embarrassment that many Brazilians express over the country's chaotic infrastructure, a collective shame some feel as photos of airports and stadiums still in construction fly around the world, but also a pride in Brazilian warmth and hospitality.
"We are family now. You like that? You can keep it," he said, before signing off with an appeal: "Pardon anything."