"Brazil is not a serious country," French statesman Charles de Gaulle allegedly once said. The insult would continue to haunt the country for decades to come, and has become the kind of foreigner's mentality that Brazilians have come to loath and expect. And it's the type of outlook that looks likely to come from both the foreign media and international tourists during the World Cup.
By the same token, some in Brazil already expect the worst about what others will think of their homeland. Brazilians suffer from what playwright Nelson Rodrigues dubbed the "complexo de vira-lata," or the mutt complex. Rodrigues coined the term after the 1950 World Cup, which was held in Brazil and ended in the country's devastating loss to Uruguay during the final game. Rodrigues wrote that this complex is "the inferiority in which Brazilians voluntarily place themselves in front of the rest of the world." "The problem is faith in oneself," he said.
It's important to take stock of these concepts, because while they're not unique to the World Cup, they're something that foreigners should be aware of and sensitive to. Plus, they create something of a vicious cycle.
Some international outlets may be painting a grim picture of Brazil ahead of the World Cup, but it's important to keep an open mind when you're visiting Brazil or doing business there. Just because things aren't guaranteed to be perfect doesn't mean foreigners should diminish the country entirely. By the same token, those doing business there, particularly public figures, should put effort into researching at least some basics about the country, the same effort they'd afford for countries like China or Russia.
The World Cup has brought these issues to the fore. Examples abound, whether it's FIFA calling into question whether Curitiba and Cuiabá will stay on as host cities, or a cover article of a French magazine allegedly detailing all of the things wrong with Brazil (though apparently, the text circulating on social media may not be quite as bad as what actually appeared in the magazine). Or it's the fear-mongering from foreign tabloids that make the country seem too scary to visit for the World Cup. Meanwhile, on the Brazilian side, you'll often hear the term "padrão FIFA," or FIFA standards, to describe what the organization is demanding of the country, as if nothing Brazil would produce on its own would be up to snuff.
That said, I don't think Brazil's alone in the mutt complex nor the overly critical view from foreigners. Take Russia, for example. The Winter Olympics have provided a sort of preview of what to expect from foreigners during Brazil's mega-events, with lots of complaints from journalists about their hotels and the emergence of the meme Sochi Problems, documenting both real and fake problems in the Olympic city.
Still, there was one interesting exception to the Russian Olympics media coverage: NBC hired The New Yorker's David Remnick, a Russia expert, to give historical and cultural context during the opening ceremony, as well as during select spots throughout the games. It made me wonder: will they do that sort of thing for Rio in 2016? Or will they not consider Brazil complex or intellectually stimulating enough for that sort of treatment?
When it comes to the "Brazil is not a serious country" and the mutt complex, I give you three recent examples, so you can keep your eye out for these types of issues. I've written about this before and I probably will again, so feel free to share examples you find.
- At the end of January, Huffington Post launched the Brasil Post, a major media venture. In the lead-up to the launch, Arianna Huffington was tweeting about Brazil to drum up interest. She quoted author Paulo Coelho, twice, perhaps not learning from U.S. President Barack Obama's mistake in citing the Brazilian icon, who is more of a pop culture figure than say, your Brazilian Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway. She also quoted football star Pelé, noted that Brazil has the world's most surfers per capita, and explained that Brazil has the second largest fitness industry globally. These fluffy tweets were evidence that the media mogul hadn't put much effort into researching Brazil, nor publicly gave it the due it deserves.
- American billionaire Donald Trump is building his first construction project in Rio, including a hotel and office space. In a recent interview with VEJA magazine, Trump was asked if he'd ever met with Dilma Rousseff. "No. Who is he?" Trump responded. "What about Lula, have you ever heard of him?" the journalist asked. Another no. While Trump isn't exactly known for his intellectual prowess, it's surprising that an international businessman wouldn't know that small bit of information.
- On February 15, Apple opened its first ever official store in Latin America, in Rio's Village Mall. The opening drew around 2,000 people, who sang a popular football song that goes "I'm Brazilian with a lot of pride and love." Staff unfurled a large Brazilian flag before doing a countdown to open the store. (The prices will still be incredibly expensive, though the store offers a 10 percent discount for purchases paid in cash or in full.) Amid the fanfare, people were throwing around the phrase "padrão Apple," or Apple standards, as if Apple had put its stamp of approval on the country.
- As a part of its World Cup merchandise, Adidas is selling tee-shirts that promote sexual stereotypes of Brazil, including a shirt that says "Looking to score [in] Brazil," and another with a heart meant to look like a woman's bottom.* Classy. Brazil's tourism board is up in arms, saying the shirts encourage sex tourism.
Image: Eduardo Beltrame/Flickr.
*Added point about Adidas on February 24.