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The Brazilian Soccer Experience I Needed to Have

05/06/2015 06:41 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016

Since I moved to Brazil, every day has become a new adventure, but nothing too out of the ordinary. My life essentials are music, food, and art, so when I arrived in São Paulo that's what I was looking to absorb culturally. But, lately I have wanted to break out of my comfort zone.

This realization led me to an unexpected soccer filled conversation with my neighbor and his friend. I noticed them sharing a smoke while walking home from yoga. I'm guessing it was the blissful yoga class, but something gave me the confidence to toss a thumb up and say in Portuguese, "What's up?" Next thing I knew we were in a circle talking about Brazilian soccer teams.

My neighbor was wearing a soccer jersey that said Palmeiras on it and I can tell he wanted me to be a fan. He was the most talkative and explained to me that he was a member of a local Palmeiras club. His friend was a fan of the rival team, so they were joking about which team is better, or which team I should be a fan of.

I don't know much about sports, but my neighbor's enthusiasm was intriguing. Suddenly, this moment talking about something I am completely out of touch with turned into a cultural rush. Doing it in Portuguese made it feel even better. Our conversations provided me with a dose of Brazilian culture I didn't even know I was searching for.

A couple of weeks later my neighbor invited me to watch the Santos vs. Palmeiras game at the club. I accepted the offer but I was a little worried. Sure, I've been getting confident speaking Portuguese with my neighbor, but was I ready for a room full of passionate Brazilian soccer fans?

On the day of the match, I received a text that said, "Let's meet at 3 p.m. I have a jersey you can borrow." Now I was super excited! I won't stand out as much as I thought. When we arrived at the club, fans were pulling up, playing the Palmeiras song while decked out in the team colors of green and white. Sounds of firecrackers were bursting with excitement. Game time.

When we walked inside my eyes opened wide. What a place! It was full of cheering fans getting pumped up waiting for the game to start. There were drums, horns, and men and women chanting something I couldn't comprehend. I brushed it off, smiled, awkwardly clapped my hands and continued to check out the scene. I noticed that I lost my neighbor who had disappeared into the fanatic crowd, so I kept walking wondering where to sit.

The chanting grew louder as I continued to walk into the club and I started to notice everyone was staring at me. I instantly went into defense mode thinking, "Do they not want me here? I'm wearing a jersey!" Then, I realized they wanted me to join them. So I did what anyone would do, I threw my hands up in the air, started screaming and jumped right in! I was handed a beer and greeted with a ton of high fives and handshakes. I still didn't understand what they were saying, but it was one hell of a way to be welcomed.

When my personalized chant subsided, I found my neighbor in the cigarette-filled sea of people. We laughed about the roaring entrance. He introduced me to a few of his friends and we blended into the crowd, cheering and shouting the Palmeiras' chants along with everyone.

My personalized chant made a return with a few folks as I passed them outside during halftime. One of my neighbor's friends that lived in London for a few years explained to me that my warm greeting was because I resemble Zé Roberto, one of the Palmeiras players, so everyone was shouting his name.

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What do you think? Do we look alike?

Back inside I watched between chants and beers the way fans reacted to the game. I even caught a few guys saying a prayer for the team. It was pandemonium when Palmeiras scored a goal, with hugs being tossed around accompanied by waving flags and shirts. I felt alive screaming with them. Not because I was suddenly a soccer fan, but because as a foreigner I finally felt as if I was beginning to blend in.

Unfortunately our team lost and there was a collective sadness in the room that I felt with them. We all dragged our feet on the way out. This particular match was the championship final game, so it was a tough loss.

My sadness for the match, however, ended sooner than everyone else's. By the time we pulled up to the apartment I was feeling pretty good. These are the moments that last a lifetime and I was so happy I did it.

Am I a new soccer fanatic? I don't know, but at least now I know what Brazilian team I am rooting for.

This story first appeared on my blog at stephenjgrant.com. Visit now to see Brazil from my point of view through photos, personal stories and more.

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