As most of us know, close to three-quarters of the world’s population will turn their attention to Brazil this summer. The mesmerizing fascination of football will be widely displayed as hundreds of athletes representing 32 different countries will arrive to play in the latest FIFA World Cup. The matches will be played in twelve different cities, next to dozens of strategically located training centres where delegations will be headquartered as the competition progresses. In short, Brazil will be living and breathing its most beloved sport from mid-June to mid-July.
From the hot and humid Amazon rain forest to the surprisingly freezing Porto Alegre in the South - a 7 hour non-stop flight away-, viewers from all over the planet will catch a first glimpse of our cultural diversity. Strikingly enough, most of them will see for the first time that Brazil has much more to offer than the hurly-burly lives of 'Cariocas' and 'Paulistas' - as we call people from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo respectively.
In the aftermath of the competition, local business communities hope to be shortlisted as favourite destinations for world travellers. Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza are only a few of the state capitals that expect to attract future tourists from Europe and North America as they present themselves as embodying a notion of deep-Brazil. On top of the beauty of white-sanded beaches and green coconut trees, it is a more convenient location for the Northern Hemisphere.
As enthusiasm wins over hearts and minds in the most remote places of the globe on a daily basis, conservative types wonder whether Brazil will be able to organize things according to FIFA’s Swiss perspective on "Ordnung". And with full justification, they wonder if local authorities - and ordinary Brazilians like millions of us - will deliver the world something similar to recent tournaments such as in Germany, France, South Korea and Japan.
The debate is far from over. Even among locals, the argument is still raging. Some of us would bet our last pennies on the likelihood of giving the global audience its most beautiful Cup ever. Others are skeptical and say exactly the opposite. The former say our joyful nature will offset unavoidable troubles. The latter say we are just counting on pure luck. If it fails, and Murphy’s Law says it will, disaster will be the result.
Of course such questions will not surface during the time of competition. It is not in Brazilians’ nature and traditions to wash their dirty laundry in public. Brazilians are above all very proud of their country’s capabilities - which does not mean proud of their governors - and at such a stage it is useless to reflect on what happened behind the curtains between FIFA and local authorities. After all we did not have the World Cup imposed on us; we fought for it. If it was too expensive, that is a different matter.
It is very hard even for an expert to predict how all of this will unfold during the event. But we can always highlight a few points taking into account that a whole generation of football fans view the World Cup as something very unique in our lives. All of us know of somebody who cherishes memories about similar events: Helsinki in 1952; Seoul in 1988 and so forth.
As a native Brazilian - even though of long forgotten European origin - I would like to share with our overseas visitors a moderate optimism on our ability to charm the world both as football players and citizens, even if we have to rely on our 'jeitinho'- the Indian equivalent of ´jugat´, or the last minute fix.
Why? Well, Brazil as a country enjoys overall a great deal of sympathy. No matter how far you travel, you will always be greeted with a gentle smile whenever you say where you are from. It is such a privilege that I would wish more nationalities could enjoy this feeling when visiting other countries. I think the only other nationals that attract that sort of spontaneous cheering would be the Mexicans.
The most striking challenge we face however is represented by our poor infrastructure which is visibly insufficient to fulfil even local demand. How shall we face unheard of demands for IT, air and land transportation, and decent accommodation for millions of people in transit, as well as reliable security in major cities?
In addition to this, authorities should be prepared for power cuts and even water shortages in major centres due to the very dry summer we had earlier this year.
Being a cross-cultural observer, it is impossible not to admit that we lack some basic tools that are abundant in most emerging countries. So don’t be surprised if even in top-ranked hotels and restaurants the vast majority of waiters and housekeepers know almost no words in a foreign language. Also be prepared for many hours stuck in traffic jams.
Our ultimate wish is for everybody to have a good time and many of us think what happens with our national team is not really as important as what happens with organization itself. Spaniards and Germans could defeat Brazil on the field and the show would go on.
In short: the World Cup is already helping us in the sense that we are becoming more mature on how to deal with our own feelings and how to respect other people’s right to fully enjoy a good moment. Just to wrap it up, let me give some advice on situations that tend to prevail in 2014 both in the papers and in the streets.
a) Brazilians love making friends and do not be surprised if they invite you to join them in their celebrations - family, working teams, bars and "churrascarias".
b) Brazilians, on average are very poor linguists so try to learn a few words in Portuguese and people will appreciate it dearly.
c) Brazilians tend to be good entrepreneurs and lots of them cherish this occasion as a gateway to make new friends and maybe to enlarge business perspectives.
d) Try to make your plans in advance in order to avoid abuses and very high prices. Don't forget Rio is squeezed between the sea and mountains so the space is as expensive as Manhattan.
e) Do not blame lousy local organization. Planning is not praised as a great advantage. Brazilians think that improvising solutions when problems arise is a indeed quite an accomplishment.
f) Do not be surprised if Brazilians forget about traditional rivalry against Argentina and support them during the World Cup. The love for the beautiful game may drive the youth to cheer for our neighbours. Moreover Buenos Aires is our favourite destination on the continent. African teams will however always be our second choice.
g) When eating a "churrasco" (some restaurants could serve as much as 20 varieties of meat) try to be moderate in the first 30 minutes of your meal. Fine beef cuts tend to be served when waiters notice you are full so you will eat less.
By Fernando Dourado Filho
Fernando Dourado Filho, current Managing Director of Merken Consultants, is a well-known business advisor on overseas trading and corporate internationalisation. He has been travelling the world since 1973 and specialises in complex cross-cultural environments and negotiations and is a licensed partner of Richard Lewis Communications (RLC). Fernando has managed overseas business units and large multicultural teams both in Brazil and overseas, and has opened more than 80 markets for Brazilian manufactured goods and commodities. Author of: "Ao redor do mundo - Convivência e negociação com culturas estrangeiras para brasileiros" (Around the World - Living and Negotiating with Overseas Cultures for Brazilians), he has also written and published more than 200 articles on how to build international competence in a global environment.