Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The World Cup and Americans Abroad

So, the World Cup befell Brazil and we were all enjoying it thoroughly. Honestly. Frankly, it has felt like I were back in the U.S. – there are so many Americans in the streets that one can mistake Rio for New York easily. It is kind of disorienting, really. But our compatriots are everywhere, drinking, getting lost, losing their passports, sleeping semi-naked on the beaches,watching the games and drinking some more on the metro. I am beginning to get the feeling that the majority of American tourists (whose median age appears to be about 22) have come here under the pretext of the World Cup in order to imbibe as much beer and caiprinhas as possible.

Few days ago as I was riding on the crazy bus to the consulate, all of a sudden at one of the stops the driver started yelling at someone in the back who had gotten on the bus using the back door (reserved only for getting off the bus – you get in from the front where you pay the bus fare). After the person did not register anything, the driver went in and personally tossed him off the bus – it turned out to be a 23 year old gringo who clearly could not hold his cachaça, was wearing long beach shorts and a tank top that hadn’t seen laundry in about a year. He sauntered off towards the beach, looking dazed and confused, and a second later threw himself on the sand and fell asleep immediately. American behavior during U.S. games became even more erratic. While I was watching happily the U.S. – Germany game at the aptly named Gringo Café among many of my fellow compatriots, there was a man in a semi-naked state who would habitually run through the street where the café is located, screaming, “U-S-A” from the top of his lungs and waving a giant U.S. flag energetically in the process. Looked heavy but the guy had a great deal of enthusiasm. Too bad we did not win that game. At least it seems that soccer is becoming a thing in the U.S.

I have been watching the games religiously and believe it or not, have managed to obtain a few coveted tickets to watch the games in Maracana, the legendary football stadium of Rio de Janeiro. What is even more amazing is that we bought those tickets on the official FIFA website rather than buying scalped ones. It came to my attention that people who are unable to attend the games habitually return tickets directly back to FIFA, which re-releases them at some ungodly morning hour on its website every day. So, armed with this information, the Diplomat decided to stay up all night once and wait for tickets to appear on the website. He gave up at 11.30 pm, which I thought was a little weak. However, apparently that same night he woke up with an odd premonition around 5 am, and quietly went to the computer to check the situation. To his utter astonishment, there were a few tickets available for the finals and with trembling fingers he began the convoluted process of buying them online. And then the amazingness of what was happening took over him and he could not get himself together to complete the transaction. As a result, I was woken up by his hysterical shrieks, informing me that we are getting tickets to the World Cup, accompanied by a few eloquent expletives, clearly aimed at expressing his delight. I was made to understand that he was too excited to figure out how to use a credit card to buy the reserved tickets and we had 8 minutes left to complete the transaction. I ran breathlessly to the living room, and cursing the blurry website images managed somehow to complete the process. Then I realized that I was actually not wearing my glasses and it was a small miracle I could see anything at all. After we danced the happy “we got World Cup finals tickets” dance for a while, I changed and went to work where we irritated everyone the entire day by telling them about our success, while simultaneously falling asleep at random places around the office. The next night, using the same strategy, the Diplomat managed to buy us also tickets to the round of 16 again at Maracana. That emboldened us and we began dreaming football tickets night and day. We figured out that FIFA was releasing them at 5 am, and so every night at 4.30 am, the Diplomat would get up (somewhat noisily, I might add) and park himself at the computer, trying to score us quarter final tickets. Sadly, however, our luck ran out and he gave up the hunt largely. Until one day our evil friends from work told us that there are several programs/applications developed by fans, which somehow manage to know how many tickets are being released at the moment of their release by FIFA. The application would make a sound and you will get right on the computer frantically trying to beat everyone else who is killing themselves doing the same. Except that the sound is a police siren and the Diplomat would leave it next to his bed. There is nothing more annoying than waking up to a fake police siren sound at 5.12 am, having a disoriented Diplomat make his way haphazardly in the darkness to the living room and then come back 20 minutes later with no tickets after all. We finally decided it was not worth it.

People though are desperate for tickets and would rather get arrested and spend a night in prison for buying scalped tickets rather than just sit tight in a nice little bar and watch the game surrounded by friends. Last week, again on the proverbial bus, I saw two middle-aged Frenchmen who both had pinned pieces of paper to their shirts with the following on it, “Looking for tickets for France-Ecuador game!” I started laughing (because it was funny), which they took to mean that I have tickets for them (which I did not).

So, I ended up going to three games overall – to a 16th round to see Colombia spank Uruguay (I was actually cheering for Uruguay because blue is my favorite color, but I was surrounded by so many feisty Colombians that I did not dare say a peep), to a quarter final to watch Germany beat very polite and tactically France, and finally to be treated to a model game at the final between Germany and Argentina. Folks, Maracana is AMAZING. Like, AMAZING! It was redone for the World Cup so now the seats are very comfy and spacious and no matter where you sit, you have a great view of the game. Unless you wear glasses with really crappy prescription, like I do, in which case you don’t really see very well and keep asking, “who is Messi, wait, where, where, wait, what just happened, who is that??” every two minutes. The final game at Maracana was clearly once in a lifetime experience. Unless Brazil hosts the World Cup again when I am 89 or something and Argentina happens to play Germany again, and I happen to have tickets, in which case it will be twice in a lifetime thing. Either way, it was spectacular. Even Gisele Bundchen showed up to unveil the FIFA trophy. The whole city was filled to the brim with Argentineans who had driven over the border for the game even though only a tiny fraction of them had tickets to the game.

As some of you might know, the Brazil-Argentina football rivalry is epic and legendary. It is indeed so bad that during the final, most Brazilians supported Germany even though they had just lost to them in a staggering 7-1 semi-final simply because they are passionately against Argentina winning. As one TV commentator said, Germany gained 250 million fans overnight. The stadium was packed with Brazilians dressed in German shirts, screaming every time Germany made a pass to the goal, and booing every Argentinean move. The rest of the stadium had 23 real Germans and a ton of Argentineans wearing Messi’s number 10 jersey (for those of you who have lived under a rock the past one month, Messi is from Argentina and is the best soccer player in the world right now as evidenced by him winning the World Cup 2014 Best Player after the game). The Diplomat suddenly had the epiphany that he had loved the Argentinean team all of his life, and bought a Messi shirt on the way to the stadium to add to the blue madness there.

After an emotional game with 2 overtimes (and no penalties, thank God, can’t take any more penalties!), we headed home to what promised to be a nice, peaceful Sunday night. We needed it, as we had had a crazy week leading up to it. We had had the pleasure of hosting our very first guests here in Rio – five of the most fabulous Bangladeshi ladies ever who came to enjoy the World Cup and party with us in Rio. After a few days of dinners, drinks and incessant shopping, they left a couple of days before the final. That following night, the Diplomat and I hosted a 12 people goodbye dinner for one of our colleagues, which meant a day and a half of intense cooking, and a morning of the final game with intense hangover. And so, with all that emotion and the World Cup over, we were looking forward to cleaning up the apartment and getting ready for the new work week. Well, it was not meant to be. As we were standing in the train, watching some feisty and rather inebriated Argentineans getting tossed out of the metro, we noticed a few familiar faces – another group of good Bangladeshi friends who were obviously also coming back from the game. Turns out, they had come to Rio a few days before that, and did not realize we were there already. Since it was their last night in the city, they were mulling over going to Lapa, the party district of Rio, to celebrate the end of the World Cup. A couple of caipirnhas later, and the Diplomat and I took the most logical decision ever – to go out with them. And so we all dragged ourselves to our apartment, continued drinking while we changed, and then around 11.30pm set out to check out the club scene in Lapa. The mood there was incredible! Crowded and loud, the craze overtook us and we started ordering passion fruit caiprinhas from street vendors (yup, street vendors) while waiting to get into the club. At 2 am, good times or not, I simply could not continue to overlook the fact that I had to get up at 6 am to go to work and we reluctantly left. I am proud to say that I made it work on time and was even coherent enough to interview over 120 visa applicants.

And so, the World Cup is over. The city is none the worse for it and I think we are all about to exhale a collective sigh of relief as the tourists promptly leave Copacabana and the prices of pretty much everything go down. At least for the next two years until the Summer Olympics hit this country again.