There is a joke in Brazil that goes something like this: when a Paulista (from São Paulo) does business he asks, “What’s in it for me?”; when a Carioca (from Rio) does a deal he asks, “What’s in it for me and you?”; when it comes to the Gaúcho (from Rio Grande do Sul), he asks, “What’s in it for YOU!?” You see, the Gaúchos have a deep sense of rivalry, always suspicious that the other guy is on the make. In other words, I don’t care about getting one up myself, but I sure as hell don’t want YOU to get one over on me.
In Porto Alegre, where I live, there are two big football teams: the Reds (Internacional) and the Blues (Grêmio). Once, a Blue guy said to me: “Of course, I like it when Grêmio win…but I LOVE it when Inter lose.” You get the idea? When I first arrived here, a taxi driver spent the whole ride begging me to be Red. He even followed me up the driveway to the door, pleading with me NOT to be Blue – anything but that. He was visibly disturbed at the thought, animated with anxiety and frustration – he seemed to believe that if I turned Blue, one of his internal organs would stop working.
The Reds versus the Blues – it seems like a schoolboy game, but it turns out to be deadly serious. The Gaúchos just don’t trust each other. One of my students once leaned across the table, fixed me in the eye and said: “I don’t trust anybody in this town, only my family and very close friends”. The following week he quit, so he obviously didn’t trust me either. This deep mistrust of the other guy goes back to the imperial wars here in the deep south: the Maragatos (Reds) against the Chimangos (Whites) – a bunch of cowboys fighting for independence and territorial rights. The embedded rivalry, now glimpsed in the fierce football enmity, still holds up progress, polluting political will and causing many projects to hit deadlock.
But hang on a minute…is this bloated Gaúcho pride very different from the superciliousness of the Yorkshireman, I ask myself? That bloke who looks upon the rest of the English as hapless wimps or scheming sharks? There is an infamous Yorkshire expression that goes like this: “Hear all, see all, say nowt; eat all, sup all, pay nowt; and if ever tha does owt for nowt, allus do it for thissen.” Roughly translated, this means: keep your mouth shut apart from when you are eating at somebody else’s expense, and never do anything for nothing. Yes folks, Yorkshire is a land of grumpy misers who somehow feel above everybody else.
I once met a Yorkshire bloke in Rio – Howard from Leeds, to be precise – who would walk a mile to save 5 cents on a glass of beer. According to Howard, everybody was out to rip you off. This deep suspicion of other people is a kind of paranoia, a surfeit of bile, a lack of inner peace. Perhaps Gaúchos and Yorkshire folk hate themselves and project it onto everybody else; perhaps they both feel bitter about being treated badly somewhere along the line. Surely the cure for this cringing resentment is to stop being self-obsessed and give a hand to others. Doesn’t happiness come more easily when we begin to be kind?
One thing I have had to learn the hard way is to love my enemies, especially at Valley Parade, where the away fans always have the last laugh. I have had to swallow my pride big time, week in week out. Thus have I learned the joy of being humble. I can laugh at my atrocious team and at myself. I can rise above the rivalry and feel serene. So my advice to Gaúchos and to everybody else is to do a good deed every day. Why don’t you knock on your neighbour’s door right now and ask if you can help change a lightbulb or fix that dripping tap? Go on – you know you want to!
Needless to say, there are some inferior, deluded people who are just not worth our sympathy. I refer, of course, to Leeds United fans, known in Bradford as “Leeds scum”. When it comes to football rivalry, the mutual hatred between Bradford and Leeds fans is so strong that when the two teams meet, the devil himself sits in the stand hoping to get some tips. Come to think of it, it makes the battle between the Reds and the Blues in Porto Alegre look like a bun fight at a vicar’s tea party.