Monday, October 22, 2012

Brazil and the World Cup 2010

With Brazil being a country famous for both its football and its carnival, when I arrived in Sao Paulo a few months before the start of the 2010 World Cup, I was very interested to see how much of this carnival spirit would spill over into the tournament.

When the cup started I was working in both a call centre during the day, and I was teaching English on an evening. I’d sit in a small, windowless room for 10 hours a day, five days a week, cold calling Brazilian business executives in English. My job was to persuade these guys to buy finance packages. 

My call centre job was a commission-based one, and it was one I obviously sucked big, donkey balls at….because I made barely any money. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there were kids in Bangladeshi sweat shops out-earning me! On the day of Brazil’s first World Cup game against North Korea, I was very excited about having the afternoon away from my desk and from that friggin phone.

"Seriously, women in the UK go shopping during the football!?!"
Over here a lot of businesses and companies, although not all, give their employees time off work to watch the games during the World Cup. They either set up rooms within their offices for people to watch them in, or they authorise time away from the office.

I guess it makes sense; it’s not wise to mess with Brazilians and their football if you can help it!

Brazil V's North Korea

I’d finished my last cold call around twelve in the afternoon. “So just to confirm…you’re really not interested in putting your life savings in an offshore bank account with my company…..the one you’ve never heard of? Well, thanks for your time, I’ll send you an email and call you back in a few days anyway, just to piss you off check!"

Myself and my colleagues headed to the nearest bar which was inside a shopping centre. The roads leading up to it were usually busy at lunchtimes. But on this day, they were almost dead.

The shops, which were generally rammed with people, these had their lights off and shutters down.

"Hello....I'm just after a sandwich! Is there anyone around?"
The food court, usually full of people holding food trays and aggressively trying to claim vacant seats….well, this was empty too. The area of Sao Paulo I was in looked like a low budget 28 Days Later.

The shopping centre was eerily quiet….well, that is, quiet until we close enough to the bar to hear the mob of white collared Brazilian supporters gathered inside.

After ordering our beers we managed to find ourselves a decent view of the TV, and from there we watched kick off. After about five minutes I took a look around me and noticed that I was probably the only one NOT screaming at the players on the other side of the screen! The atmosphere was initially quite intense.

The game itself proved to be pretty unexciting, and North Korea were anything but the walkover the Brazilian fans had expected. After about twenty minutes one of my Brazilian co-workers obviously thought the same, and to my relief he struck up a conversation with me. I find it difficult to resist the urge to start chatting 15 minutes into ANY football game at the best of times, so I welcomed his banter.

Brazilian Football V's English Football

“So Andrew, tell me…have England ever won a World Cup?” he asked with a smile playing around the corners of his lips.

England's 1966 win...when we used to be good!
“Well of course, we won it in 1966!” I replied.

“Oh” he responded, “ you've won it just the once, and in the 1960’s? How nice!” By now his voice had a  patronising tone to it. He was obviously winding me up.

“Well, you know Andrew, we've won it…FIVE times!”

BOOM! I mean, how are you supposed to reply to that? He’d successfully put into perspective with just that one comment how lame our win 45 years ago is compared to the dominance of the Brazilian team.

A few weeks later I watched the quarter final Brazil lost to the Netherlands in a bar. As that final whistle blew on Brazil’s hopes of winning the cup again, the look of deflation on so many Brazilian faces afterwards was painful to see.

In the days following Brazil’s defeat, the Brazilians I spoke to mentioned the following two things.

Brazil V's Argentina

“We didn't win it, well OK  neither did Argentina (they’d also been knocked out at the quarter final stage) so, it’s not all bad news for Brazil”.

I'd frequently heard the Argentinean team being mocked here during the tournament, and even with Brazil crashing out of the competition, this showed no signs of stopping. If Brazil weren't going to win it, the Brazilians I’d talked to were satisfied with anyone  BUT Argentina winning it.

Historically the two countries are two of footballs greatest rivals; both are evidently very passionate about football (I was in Buenos Aires in the middle of this World Cup. Like Sao Paulo, this city also came to a complete standstill during the national games)…and also both claim to have produced the greatest footballer of all time. Whilst many Brazilians appreciate Messi will one day be a contender for this title, right now it's still all about Pele and Maradona.

Fifa copped out of choosing between them when deciding on the ‘Player of the Century’ award, giving it to both of them. Yet over here, when it comes to the debate on who the greatest footballer of the last century was….well it’s not really much of a debate. If you were to ask any Brazilian, 99.9999% of them would give you their answer….as Pele!

I made the mistake just a few months into my teaching career of joking with my students that I preferred Maradona.

To say it went down like a lead balloon would be a bit of an understatement.

I saw four utterly shocked faces glaring back at me. When I say shocked, perhaps this word doesn't do justice to what I was seeing. So let me try to be a bit more descriptive. I’m not talking ‘ I've just got home and realised left my keys at work’ shocked. I’m talking ‘I’m right in the middle of watching 2 girls 1 cup for the first time’ shocked.

(On a side note, if you've never seen 2 girls and 1 cup, do it right now. ESPECIALLY if you’re at work!)

"Oh dear God....did you just say the, the M word!?!"
These guys were visibly appalled, surprised, stunned AND even a little disgusted all at the same time. Not one person laughed…I sense that this was not just because my joke was shit, but because when it comes to discussing who you prefer, Pele or Maradona…you just don’t drop the 'M bomb' in front of a Brazilian.

Brazil 2014

The second thing my students all seemed to be saying was this; “ OK, well whatever, the World Cup we really want to win is not this one, but the one in four years time here in Brazil”. From the moment they got knocked out of the 2010 tournament, I've heard a 2014 win on home soil being talked about and speculated upon numerous times.

So are they going to do it?

Well recently it’s become clear the team aren't performing as a potential World Cup winning team are expected to, with many here now questioning just how likely a sixth win actually is.
Just a couple of months ago, I attended a Brazil V’s South Africa friendly and despite winning, the Brazilian team were practically booed off the pitch. The Brazilian supporters there obviously felt that their team wasn't playing to a high enough standard, and boy did they want them to know this!

A huge portion of the blame for Brazil's recent uninspiring performances has been placed on the national coach Menezes, who failed to steer the team to Olympic victory this year in London. The consensus seems to be that if Brazil replaces their national coach with someone more competent, someone better equipped to bring the team together as one, and someone who can take over very soon….then a Brazilian World Cup win is still possible.

Should they accomplish this feat (with or without a new manager) in 2014, I am in little doubt that there will be no greater party going on anywhere in the world than the one Brazil is likely to be throwing.

An Argentinean win however….will probably give the riot police here a bit of overtime!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rush Hour On The CPTM

The CPTM, looking a lot less crowded than it does during rush hour!
It was a hot afternoon in Sao Paulo, and I’d been on the CPTM train for little over five minutes. My journey was from Pinheiros to Morumbi and the train was just a minute or so away from Berrini station, just one stop before I needed to get off. The carriage I was on was packed tightly, so tightly in fact that there were a lot of hot sweaty bodies pressed up against each other, and very little personal space.

It might sound sexual, but trust me…it really wasn't!

I looked around the train and saw a woman’s face dangerously close to some guy’s sweaty armpit as he held onto the handrail. I saw another woman sat down on a seat, trying to stop her baby crying. Its piercing screams were filling the carriage, another sign that this journey was going to be anything but pleasant. There were at least four sets of headphones pumping out different types of music into the train too, including some heavy metal (which is surely every commuters favourite type of music to be listening to through someone else's headphones!)

You're all just gonna LOVE the music I'm listening to today!
Yet this journey on the rush hour CPTM was pretty standard. There would have been nothing remarkable about my journey, had there not been a tall foreign guy in the same carriage, looking very anxious.

Initially I saw him out of the corner of my eye as he attempted to get from his seat to the train doors.

How could I tell he was foreign? It wasn't by his blue eyes, or even by his blonde hair, but by the way he was repeating “excuse me”, in English, to the people he was trying to move around. He then continued in his deep, southern, American accent; “I’m just trying to get past, I need to get off at the next stop”.

Again, in English.

This naturally confused the hell out of the Portuguese speakers he was talking to. Everyone was looking over in his direction, and I’m pretty sure we were all thinking the same thing. ‘Are you shitting me? You’ve left it far too late to get off this train!’

"You're NEVER going to make it!"
With about 30 seconds to go until those doors opened there were still about 15 people he needed to navigate his way around. But people in his way either couldn’t or wouldn’t move to help him. He was screwed. I knew it, the old woman stood next to me (whose saggy tits were now pressed into my back) knew it. The business man who was looking on whilst loosening the knot on his tie, well he knew it too…I’m sure even that screaming baby knew it.

This guy was never going to make it out.

When those doors opened, he was little over a meter away. He’d covered an impressive amount of ground and had come so close….but he was now seconds away from realising that he was, unfortunately, not close enough.

Those doors opened to a stampede of passengers ramming their way in, pushing him further back. Understandably, when the doors closed again with him inside, he looked incredibly frustrated in defeat.

He was going to be on the train for at least one more stop. I felt bad for him because he was obviously a stranger to riding the CPTM during rush hour.

And it is for this reason, being the seasoned CPTM pro that I am, I feel it is now time use this blog as a platform from which to pass on my words of wisdom.

Lenny Henry,
his son was on the X Factor you know!
Rush hour on the CPTM….is an absolute BITCH, and I hope I never again have to see a fellow foreigner in the same situation.

I can just hear the words of Lenny Henry on Comic Relief night in my mind as I am writing right now, “if you can help just one person, it will all have been worth while”. Well Lenny...that's what I hope to do right now!

Rush hour is awful on the CPTM; to be fair it’s awful on most train lines in Sao Paulo (except the new, yellow line. This one has been good to me so far), but the CPTM is especially bad.

So, here is my advice for anyone taking the train from Pinheiros and getting off at Berrini, Morumbi or Granja Julieta.

1. How To Approach Getting On the CPTM

Any time between 10am and 4pm, this train isn’t too bad and you will find that people are generally relaxed. You will see families and friends chatting to each other inside the train, smiling and joking. However some time between four and five o clock this all changes.

As the train rolls into Pinheiros station close to 5pm, the crowds behind you will start pushing forward.

That’s when you know…it’s GAME TIME!

"No, after you...wait, HELL NO!"
Rush hour on one of the other train lines in Sao Paulo
For the first couple of months I used to be very polite, giving people beside me time to get on (I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right…. I'm such a gent!). However I soon realised that this is not how it works here. People won’t thank you for giving them this opportunity to get on comfortably.

From what I've seen nobody seems to worry too much about letting people off the train. Having them struggle to get past you as you push the other way seems to be all part of the rush hour experience.

You are less likely to successfully get on if you're hesitating and even if you do get on, those lost few seconds may have just cost you a prime spot.

2. What To Do When You’re Inside

When your chance comes, you don’t JUST want to get on, you want to get on as close to the train doors as possible, next to the metal hand rails. If you’re getting off before Santo Amaro then don’t even think about going to sit down, because if you do this you will never get out. And make sure you are by these metal handrails, because if you’re stood even a foot away from them you will soon find yourself in trouble. From here, I advise you to stand with your back to the doors. 

The next two stops aren’t going to be too bad. Very few people get on at Hebraica- Reboucas or Cidade Jardim. Enjoy the journey during these two stops, because as soon as the doors open at Vila Olimpia…well this my friends, is where things get ugly.

3. Vila Olimpia- The Smell

In the summer, the first thing that will hit you as these doors open will be a smell of raw sewage. The CPTM runs alongside the polluted Tiete River, and at somewhere around this point sewage must be getting pumped into the water. I have no evidence to back this up, other than this is the point in which the river literally smells like shit. On a hot day, those with sensitive noses might want to cover their airways. I’m really not exaggerating. It can be foul.

I've seen other people with more delicate airways than my own physically gag as this odor fills the carriage. My advice is to cover your nose until the doors close again, the smell isn't nearly as strong at Berrini which is your next station stop.

4. Vila Olimpia- The Crush

The second thing that will probably hit you at the doors open at Vila Olimpia is likely to be an elbow or a handbag. A lot of people will be getting on here. If you've got your back turned to the baying mob desperately trying to get inside, and you’re next to the handrails then you can close your eyes and imagine you’re somewhere else. It’s a bit like being on a roller’re safe in the knowledge that you will be ok, because if you just hold on it will all be over soon.

If you don’t have your back to the door, you’re likely to be looking at the crazy faces of people pushing against you to get into the train.  There might not be space for them, but these people don’t care about that. They too have places they need to be, and waiting another 10 minutes for the next train is naturally not something they want to be doing.

"Do you REALLY think I'm not going to get on this train!?!"
What you will generally find is that these people crushing you against the metal rails will be doing it whilst smiling at you. Almost as if to say “Oh! What am I like, I’m squashing your head against the metal pole, aren't I! I'm SO NAUGHTY!”

Naturally, it’s hard not to really feel a strong sense of dislike towards these people….especially if they’re elbowing you in the stomach and giving you breathing problems.

‘The next station is Berrini / Morumbi / Granja Julietta’ the train driver will announce over the knackered, old, tannoy system. You are nearly there, but definitely not out of the woods yet.

5. How You Could Still Fall At The Last Hurdle

Yea sure, open these doors and join us!
Passengers rammed inside the train don’t want to be crushed any further whenever the doors open, so the prospect of having these doors opened again for a lot more people to try their luck isn't inviting. So what people sometimes do is hold the doors together to give the impression to those outside that there is not one more inch of space inside the carriage, and that the crammed bodies have jammed the doors shut.

If you need to get off when they are being held together, you've got problems. Just this week I had to plead with people to stop pushing the doors together to let me out. I was called 'a son of a bitch' and 'an annoying foreigner' (the downside to studying Portuguese is that I can now understand these insults), but I made it out, just! Luckily, this door holding doesn't happen too often.

Once the doors are open, you need to contend with the crowd who will probably be trying to push you back in. If you can get past these then you have just survived rush hour on the CPTM.


If not, Santo Amaro is just a few stops away and this is where the majority of people will be getting off. So you can get off here and try your luck again on a returning train.