What a year 2014 promises to be for my homeland, Brazil. The country is hosting the World Cup, possibly the most important sporting event in the world, and we have presidential elections to look forward to later in the year.
With the world about to come and visit, the nation is tightening up its game, especially in hospitality. Recently, Veja Rio, a Brazilian weekly listings magazine, did a little experiment. It wanted to find out how the tourist information desks would treat visitors to the country during this summer’s World Cup. The findings were almost uniform – guides were very friendly and tried to help as much as they could, even if their language skills left a little to be desired.
But I just returned from an extended trip home and I can report that the Brazilian experience still needs to improve. For example, when you arrive at the airport in Rio, it would be fantastic if you could get a cab without a huge hassle or an enormous queue. Dodgy taxi drivers in the city are a dime a dozen; it’s rare to get a cab where the driver doesn’t drive frenetically.
There’s also the usual large-scale infrastructure gaffes that will need eliminating before kick-off time. No one wants a repeat of what happened in the São Paulo stadium that will host the opening match of the World Cup, when a crane collapsed in November 2013 and killed two workers.
While we work on those big targets, there’s more than enough smaller goals that Brazil can be working on to make sure visitors get the right first impression. Simple things such as exchanging money at the airport or buying a new SIM card can take ages, for no good reason. They ask you so many questions, and in such detail, that you are half expecting them to demand your favourite colour. But the warmth of a Rio greeting is hard to beat and people will always try to help tourists in any way they can.
Despite dropping the ball from time to time, I think the country will still host a successful World Cup. Why am I so sure? Well Brazil regards itself as the spiritual home of football, and what if a few street protests do happen during the summer? In my opinion it’s only a good thing. It shows a country where people are learning about their rights, care passionately about democracy and will not tolerate corruption.
Living in – and visiting - Brazil may not be a smooth and uneventful experience. But, as this correspondent is happy to report, it still offers a welcome that nowhere else on the planet can match.
Fernando Augusto Pacheco is a researcher for Monocle 24