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A Brazilian Welcome: Being Foreign in São Paulo During The Cup

Right now there are a whole load of foreigners in São Paulo. Come Thursday there will be even more as English and Uruguayan fans descend onto the city for their second group match. As a Brit, I’m very excited about this game taking place in the city I now call my second home, and also curious to see what the media make of São Paulo.

britI actually met quite a lot of Brits here last weekend, and I was pleased to hear English accents I haven’t heard since I was last home two and a half years ago (The Leeds and Barnsley accents were two of my favourites!). One fan even reminded me what British money looked like…I haven’t seen Lizzie’s face on a bank note for AGES!

“I thought São Paulo was going to be a lot worse than it actually is” said one I was talking to after the first England game (not the guy in this picture! The guy I was taking to after the game had a huge 1966 tattoo on his back…the sort I thought only existed on the pages of the Daily Mail!).”because of all the protests I saw on TV before arriving, I didn’t really know what to expect. But the Brazilian people have been very welcoming; their hospitality has been second to none.”

The Cup seems to have awoken a real curiosity from Brazilians about the visiting foreigners. I’ve noticed that many have been curious to approach me, ask if I need any help and then enquire what I think of their country. Just last Friday I was on the receiving end of this sort of interest in my local supermarket.

As I was stood in line waiting to pay for my groceries, it didn’t take me too long to work out why the ‘10 Items or Less’ line was backed right up past the crisps. Sat on this checkout was a woman reveling in people’s stories about the Brazil vs Croatia game the night before.

I was already a few classes into my day at this point, and all I wanted to do was to fall back into bed, to sleep off the excess of the night before…the only thing stopping me doing this was ‘the talker’ on checkout 4, and the 8 other people waiting in line. Eventually though it was my turn, but as I put my groceries down I looked up to see the checkout woman was staring very attentively at me.

“You’re not from here, are you?” she asked in Portuguese.

“No, I’m from England” I replied. This comment was met with a knowing nod. She then sat and contemplated me for a while longer before turning to the woman on the checkout behind her. “Michelle! He’s a gringo, he’s not from Brazil!”simon cowell

“Ooooooooh”” this elderly woman replied, popping her head up from behind her chip and pin machine to take a good look at me. She even stopped scanning her customer’s food to do this.

“And where is he from?”

“Says he’s from England, Michelle!”

“Ooooooooh! And what’s he doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” the checkout woman probed.

“I’m a teacher”

“Oooooooooh, he says he’s a teacher Michelle”

“Ooooooooow, a teacher!” They then both looked me in fascination, like I was an unusual exhibit in a museum. By this point I’d become conscious that the massive line of people behind me was playing audience to this conversation too. With all these eyes fixed on me, my face began to flush a light shade of pink.

You see, usually I don’t mention that I’m a foreigner when I’m running errands in the city; just in case there is an opportunistic thief listening in who might wrongly assume I’m rich (Unfortunately, this is one ‘gringo’ stereotype I fail to live up to!).

The young lad packing bags on a nearby checkout heard what we were talking about, and came over to talk to me under the guise of helping me with my shopping. “I love English football” he said in Portuguese as he put my Frosties into a plastic bag. He then reeled off a list of names of footballers who were going to be playing for the English team.

Unfortunately for me, England has a relatively new team playing in the World Cup this year. So I had no idea of what he was talking about until he mentioned ‘Gerrard’. For a moment I thought he was using Portuguese words I didn’t know! (For those of you who aren’t regulars to this blog, football certainly isn’t one of my strong points. It was only last week I learnt that Oscar wasn’t just a Calvin Klein model in commercials over here, but a Brazilian footballer too!)oscar

After paying for my things, quite a few people in the line shouted over to wish me luck for the game for Saturday, which I found very touching. I’ve been here for over four years now, and Ihave to say that I’m really enjoying the warmth of the Brazilian people at the moment.

Another reason a foreigner will be feeling very welcome in the city is by some night clubs promising free entry for international visitors, and the metro now has English speaking announcements before each station stop too. São Paulo feels like a very tourist-friendly place right now. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that never before have I felt so comfortable with my foreigner status in this city.

Having said this, I noticed that the English team have been at the receiving end of some gentle mocking by one particular beer brand. The advert (below) was made by Skol, and they point out that whilst football might have come from the UK, England hasn’t won the cup for almost 50 years. “I’m surprised they’re mocking England” said one of my friends, “usually it is Argentina we like to make fun of during the World Cup!”

One week into the event and São Paulo is vibrating with enormous energy, which seems to have lifted the atmosphere of uncertainty and unrest felt here just a few weeks week ago…it will be very interesting to see what effect the tournament will have on this city in the coming weeks.

Are you a tourist in São Paulo right now? What do you think to the place?

If you’re watching from outside Brazil, how have the games shaped you opinion of the country?

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