BLOG: An American in Brazil: 10 Lessons from the World Cup


After a two-week jaunt in Brazil and meticulous research (drinking caipirinhas with Brazilian friends while watching World Cup matches on TV), I’d like to chime in on the World Cup commentary and speculations about “how Brazil feels at this moment.” I can assure you that no Brazilian shed a tear over Argentina’s loss yesterday. Yes,  Germany destroyed Brazil 7-0. Ripped them out of the standings, perhaps like hair in bikini wax (Thank you, John Oliver!). Even so, my research suggests that no one in green and yellow rooted for their blue and white South American compadres. And why? The answer is #1 on my list of Top 10 Lessons I Learned in Brazil During the World Cup.

Top 10 Lessons I Learned In Brazil During the World Cup:

1.  *Argentina sucks. Now, I know this may sound harsh, especially after their defeat by Germany yesterday that left blue and white fans crying in the stands and ignited riots in the streets of Buenos Aires. However, I’m speaking purely from a Brazilian perspective. See, Brazilians loathe all things Argentinian. Why? Because Argentina  thinks it is the best country on the continent –  Everyone knows that Brazil holds that honor. I wager that this sibling rivalry trumps their humiliation-inspired vengeance towards Germany. Regardless, the arrogant Argentinians arrived by the VW Bus-load. I mean just look at them:

Argentinian Fans "dressing" for the game

Argentinian Fans “dressing” for the game

 In a small bar nestled in the colonial town of Paraty, the room rooted for Iran, rather than giving love to these Smurfs. (Note: we also cheered for Ghana over Germany) Outside of Brazil *I have heard only wonderful things about Argentina and have found the people lovely.

However, when in Brazil, if you know what’s good for you, don’t root for Argentina – root for Iran, China, ISIS – anyone, but Argentina.

2.  Wear your country with pride. Speaking of Smurfs, I learned that the World Cup provides a unique opportunity for both nationalism and Halloween-style exhibitionism. On my one venture out for a caipirinha without my phone/camera, I missed snapping shots of Americans in Cat in the Hat-sized Uncle Sam hats draped in the American flag. Even our Independence Day can’t drum up this kind of support. Here are a few examples from other countries: IMG_6922 - Version 2IMG_6899 - Version 2





3.  “Futbol” is pronounced Foocheebowl in Portuguese. If you are an American who, out of reverence for American Football, clings to the term “soccer” when referring to the game at the center of the World Cup, no worries. You, too, can join the rest of the world. No one will confuse Foocheebowl for the NFL.

4.  Futbol (Foocheebowl) is an international language. On a playground in Rio my five-year old son approached a couple of boys and in butchered Portuguese attempted to ask them to play. The boys passed confused glances back and forth, then dropped a futbol between them and they were off! The ball, a Rosetta Stone. For the next hour they spoke the language of Foocheebowl. Before this moment, my son was not a fan of soccer. He’d taken a class when he was three, but lost interest when he realized that the “games” the coaches led were just drills masquerading as fun. But, in Brazil everyone speaks Foocheebowl. As a matter of fact, the World Cup demonstrated that everyone in the world speaks Foocheebowl. All you need is a ball – no helmet, no expensive equipment. Despite FIFAs excesses, the game still has a purity to it. Now, my son is hooked – and our customs form declared a green and yellow flagged foocheebowl.

It’s ON!


5.   Protesting is better with Superheroes. If you’re in the mood to protest something it’s always good to bring along an internationally recognized superhero. Batman works well. Here he is supporting a teacher strike at the Camara dos Vereadores (equivalent of their city hall) downtown… …and later at Copacabana beach for a protest against privatization of health care.

Education Batman

Education Batman



Health Care Batman

Health Care Batman


6.  When in doubt, bring out the military police.

Here’s the view out of our window near Copacabana…  IMG_6819 - Version 2

And here they are bringing up the rear of Batman’s health care protest…


7. Nothing is more important than the World Cup. Nothing. During one round, the games were scheduled for 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm Brazil time. EVERYTHING shut down when the games started. Even the bars. Streets were deserted. Businesses were shuttered. At bars that showed the game, employees huddled around TVs in the back. And the government helped out by declaring national holidays whenever Brazil played.

An abandoned street in Paraty during a game

An abandoned street in Paraty during a game

The employee TV in our restaurant's kitchen

The employee TV in our restaurant’s kitchen

8.  Brazil fever is contagious! As we learned this week, national pride and team pride are inseparable. And demonstrations of this pride are everywhere, from big city to small hut (with the notable exception of the protests). It is nearly impossible not to fall in love with this country and their passion for their team simultaneously. I mean, who doesn’t love Brazil? (Perhaps Argentina, but who else?)

An American stricken with Brazil Fever

An American stricken with Brazil Fever

Actual Brazilians with Brazil Fever

Actual Brazilians with Brazil Fever


Even the fruit is patriotic

Brazil Fever is found in the most remote Brazilian  locations

Brazil Fever is found in the most remote Brazilian locations

9.  Brazilian “team spirit” is passionate, but not blind. (i.e. They ain’t Redskin fans). I grew up in DC, and we cheered for the Redskins through the rain and snow, through strings of defeats, like happy minions, and after the occasional win, the city shut down. There is a saying in Brazil that people trade wives, but never teams. Brazil fans are crazy passionate and committed. But, don’t mistake that passion for blind love. Theirs is a tough love. It is the job of every Brazilian fan to gesticulate wildly, curse in front of small children and babies and throw things at the screen if a player misses a goal the fan deems unmissable. Otherwise kind, gentle people, pacifists even will mutate temporarily into blood-thirsty colliseum-goers. Nobody is blowing sunshine here.

An otherwise gentle, kind, and peaceful Brazilian doing her part for her team

An otherwise gentle, kind, and peaceful Brazilian doing her part for her team

A halftime with a tied score does not invite encouragement, but rather, depression.

Halftime Brazil vs. Chile

Halftime Brazil vs. Chile


But if the team makes a dramatic turn around fans will take you back. And with a win that same baby we just ranted to will be showered with kisses and thrown up in the air with something more joyful than ecstasy. A win – well, there’s nothing quite like it. I had the privilege of watching (on TV) Brazil beat Chile in the World Cup with my Brazilian friends in Copacabana. It was an emotional rollercoaster ride – ups and downs, twists and turns and a triumphant return.

And in the end, the Brazilian fans are resilient. They may trade wives after their crushing defeat, but never teams.


10.  And finally, #10 – Did I mention that Argentina sucks? 

Goodbye to Brazils World Cup

See you at the Olympics!

See you at the Olympics!

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Radio Story aired Friday, 7:30am during Morning Edition on WMUK radio!

Friday, April 11th, 7:30am –  WMUK (NPR, 102.1 FM, aired our 2nd radio documentary story in our series about LGBT identity and acceptance during Morning Edition.  We rushed to get it done to line up with the Day of Silence, an annual day of action to protest the bullying and harassment of lesbiangaybisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and supporters.. The piece, “One Day in Michigan” is a collage of experiences from newly married gay couples and their allies at the Washtenaw County Courthouse on Sat. March 22nd. The piece celebrates the day, the community, and the experience created as a result. Listen to the piece here!

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“The Living Room” Radio Series August & September episodes air this week!

Lake Michigan, August 2013Listen to the PODCAST of the August episode of The Living Room Storytelling Radio series on Michigan Radio. It aired Thursday, August 29th on Michigan Radio‘s daily news show Stateside with Cynthia Canty. This episode features a whimsical end of summer story by my friend, Michigan storyteller and artist, Karen Czarnik.  Karen recounts a memorable road trip she took with her kids to Northern Michigan where they invoked the family tradition of swimming in every new body of water. Downey curated this piece and co-produced it with independent media producer, Zak Rosen.

If you listen, please feel free to post your comments on their website or email

The September episode of The Living Room airs Thursday, September 5th, 3-4pm EST; 10-11pm EST on Michigan Radio‘s daily news show Stateside with Cynthia CantyAiring on the first day of school for many, this episode is dedicated to education. The piece begins with a collage of voices from interviews I conducted with Kalamazoo pre-school and elementary school students the last week of classes this past June. The rest of the episode features a story by Living Room producer Zak Rosen about The James and Grace Lee Boggs School (named after the nationally known authors and activists) that opens in Detroit this week.

Listen on your radio: 91.7 FM /Ann Arbor/ Detroit; 91.1 FM Flint; 104.1 West Michigan; stream live at www.michiganradio.orgListen to the podcast on the Stateside webpage ( for it the next day, or check back here to my website and the new episodes will be posted after they air.

Hope you enjoy!

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“The Living Room” Wins the Excellence in Broadcasting Award

Happy Spring! It’s official – our snow has melted! And my fishermen friends are rushing to the rivers. Our next episode of The Living Room just aired on Michigan Radio. The theme is fishing in Michigan. It features writer/fisherman Pete Markus, my friend Jeff Jones and his sons, and a song by my producer buddy Michael Crittenden.

BIG NEWS: Our pilot radio show, “The Living Room” won the Excellence in Broadcasting award from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters for the Special Interest and Cultural Programming category. I served as host, storyteller, and songwriter for this episode, produced by Zak Rosen with help from me. To learn more about “The Living Room” and listen to the podcast:

Enjoy the rain! Allison

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