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In Brazil quick-fix ingenuity paints over World Cup cracks

Reuters

By Stephen Eisenhammer

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 23 (Reuters) - A cab driver uses a smartphone to understand foreign fans. Street vendors grill meat on their doorsteps, satisfying spectators left hungry by long queues at stadiums. Locals ferry fans to venues on bikes through otherwise congested streets.

Not exactly the uber-organized sports event Brazil promised when it won the rights to host the ongoing World Cup.

But a flair for improvisation by locals, and an entrepreneurial spirit that takes advantage of shortfalls in official preparations, are taking up much of the slack around stadiums, beaches and other tourist spots frequented by the estimated 600,000 foreign visitors travelling in Brazil during the tournament.

This trait has a long history in Brazil, known as the "jeitinho." Not easily translated into English, it refers to using ingenuity to resolve an issue - often by bending the rules. A culturally related noun, "gambiarra," is an improvised quick-fix solution, which gets a machine working again - at least for the time being.

Such solutions are common in Brazil and work well when things go smoothly, but fears remain over how systems would cope in the face of a severe accident or under extreme strain.

Things looked bleak a month ago as protests, delayed stadiums and unfinished infrastructure fed concern Brazil was not ready. President Dilma Rousseff sounded almost desperate as she asked her countrymen to welcome visitors with typical hospitality days before the opening match.

But a bit of ingenuity tends to go a long way.

"When a tourist gets in, I ask them to talk into here," Ednilson, a cab driver in Rio de Janeiro, said pointing at the microphone on his mobile phone which uses a Samsung app to translate spoken words into Portuguese.

"It's really useful, because unfortunately my English is not very good," he added.

In Sao Paulo a street stall vendor had a sign ready in English for tourists asking directions for buses to the airport, while at the beach kiosks along Copacabana multi-lingual regulars have found themselves transformed into on-the-spot translators.

Meanwhile on a sidestreet a few blocks from the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro a makeshift sign with prices for beer and snacks hangs from the gate of a terraced house. In the front yard, Dario and his family cook kebabs on a portable camping grill.

MAKING RUBBISH SOUND GOOD

In Belo Horizonte, hosting six World Cup matches, rubbish-collectors have been entertaining fans and locals by banging out musical rhythms on metal bins and trucks as they trundle through the streets after dark.

Many of the enterprising binmen wear Brazil shirts and have been encouraging fans to dance along to their tunes.

In Brazil's northeastern city of Fortaleza locals have got around the FIFA ban on vehicles within 3km of the stadium by ferrying fans to the games on bicycle-taxis, news site UOL.com reported.

Despite the improving mood and the sense among visiting fans that this World Cup is lining up to be one of the best in recent times; questions remain over its legacy for Brazil. By definition the gambiarra is a short-term solution, enough to get by, but likely to break at any minute.

The dark side of the jeitinho has also been on show, with some fans having to pay through the nose for accommodation and last-minute tickets for games.

On Praça Sao Salvador, a leafy square in Rio's south zone, a television showing the football sits on top of a battered VW bus. Every 10 minutes the driver revs the engine to keep the power to the surprisingly crisp screen running as one fan plays the trumpet and vendors sell beers out of polystyrene coolers.

But from time to time, as the intensity of the game grows, the driver forgets to hit the pedal and the screen goes black. The crowd howls, afraid they have missed a moment, before the driver kicks the make-shift generator back into gear.

In Brazil, the World Cup has lifted the mood but it remains to be seen what will happen once the party ends and the hungover dawn shines on the country's problems once again. But for now the party continues... (Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Belo Horizonte; Brad Haynes and Erik Kirschbaum in Sao Paulo; Walter Brandimarte in Rio de Janeiro; editing by Paulo Prada and Justin Palmer)

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