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Slow down and relax

How to enjoy the beautiful game this World Cup, in the land of magic and love.

For the next month the most important sound across a vast nation will be: “Gooooooool do ... BRASIL!”. (Source: Reuters photo) For the next month the most important sound across a vast nation will be: “Gooooooool do … BRASIL!”. (Source: Reuters photo)

Here is your essential survival guide to the World Cup in Brazil. You need it whether or not you are going there. For the next month nothing much else around the globe matters.

First off, nothing works in Brazil. Or rather, everything works but in a different way. The essential word, or concept, is “jeitinho”. There’s a “jeitinho” for your every need, from getting hold of a ticket to the semifinal to getting out of a speeding fine. A “jeitinho” is the means to bend the rules, display ingenuity and conjure solutions from impossible situations. It is a core part of the nation’s “jogo de cintura,” literally its ability to adjust its belt, more loosely its endless flexibility. The poor North American “gringo,” by contrast, is literal-minded and rules-bound. Loosen up or lose.

Second, slow down. Everything is late, and even later in Bahia. So is everyone. For a dinner, usually 90 minutes late, and don’t expect anyone before the “telenovela” (TV soap opera) is over. The Rio metro is several years late, ahead of schedule by Brazilian standards. “Atrasado” — delayed — is a state of mind. The nation tends to “empurrar com a barriga,” literally push with the (soft) stomach, or put things off through artful procrastination. The only place you find twinkling speed is on the soccer field, where Brazilians have “samba no pé,” or roughly magic in their feet.

Third, relax. That is essential. “Tudo bem”, everything’s fine, there’s sun, there’s “chopp” (ice-cold draught beer) and miles of “praia” (beach). Brazil is a can-do nation of immigrants on the make. “Bola pra frente!” — keep your head up and keep the spirit (literally “ball forward!”). There is always the “jogo bonito” — the beautiful game. Which is sacred, this game of soccer, this passion, lived more intensely in Brazil than anywhere else, with Italy a close second.

For the next month the most important sound across a vast nation will be: “Gooooooool do … BRASIL!” No translation required. The second most important will be “Golaço!” (“Awesome goal”). If Neymar — latest in a long line of prodigious Brazilian talents with “samba no pé” — shines, then more than 200 million Brazilians will be happy. But if the title holders, Spain, with their “tiki-taka” high-speed precision passing, or the always menacing German “Mannschaft”, or the hated Argentines with the genius Messi up front, should steal the show, Brazilian mourning will know no end. President Dilma Rousseff’s chances of re-election later this year will suffer. Heads will roll. Few things are more certain than that. Except perhaps that the United States and England will not get beyond the quarter-finals.

Most Brazilians, in my experience of living there and being married to one, have a natural optimism, goodness and humility — the latter captured in the extraordinary and widespread expression “desculpa qualquer coisa”, or please excuse anything that may somehow, for some reason, due to some mischance, not have been pleasing. They are deeply linked to their land. No single word is more evocative for a Brazilian than “saudade” — the longing combined with nostalgia that often informs the lyrics and rhythms of Brazilian music. In no other country do gentleness and violence reside in such proximity to each other.

It is important to win. But that is not quite everything. Brazil, five times World Cup champions, has (nearly) always played beautiful soccer — creative, liquid, improvised, unpredictable and at times outrageous. It’s a land of magic and love (amor).

The New York Times

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