RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Renata de Mouro Moitinho sambas so fast her feet blur, but her partner moves with the bumbling tentativeness of a toddler taking his first steps.
And in a way the strapping man in a tight spandex soccer jersey really is taking his first steps – his first samba steps, that is: Moitinho’s dance partner for the evening is an Italian, visiting Brazil for the World Cup, and she is giving him his very first lesson in the nation’s frenetically paced national dance.
The two met at the Fan Fest in Rio de Janeiro, where 22-year-old Moitinho and a group of friends have been going throughout the monthlong tournament in order to, as she puts it, “hunt foreigners” like the Italian, who declined to give his name.
Moitinho’s not alone.
The past three weeks’ flood of foreign soccer fans – the vast majority of them men – has been a boon for the single women of Brazil, where a demographic imbalance means they outnumber men by more than 4 million nationally. The imbalance, the result of higher mortality rates among young men, is particularly acute in Rio de Janeiro, where there are just over nine men for every 10 women, according to the 2010 census. That’s about the same as New York City, another metropolis known for its lack of eligible single men.
“There are so many men everywhere these days, it’s amazing,” Moitinho said, gesturing out over the sea of masculine faces at the Fan Fest. “The World Cup is God’s gift to women.”
Brazil’s World Cup bonanza hasn’t come without a downside, with scattered reports of Brazilian women being sexually harassed by out-of-control fans. But in most cases, Brazilian women say foreign fans have behaved well, and have displayed a more enlightened, less macho attitude than that of Brazilian guys.
Moitinho, who along with three friends braved the bus for more than two hours to get to the Fan Fest from their home in a distant Rio suburb, said foreigners just have a je ne sais quoi that their Brazilian counterparts lack.
“They’re handsome, sweet, humble and generous,” Moitinho said as her friends grabbed hold of the Italian’s hips to lead him in samba’s hallmark sway. “They respect women and don’t come on strong like Brazilian men, who just grab on to you and try to kiss you right away. They’re much more gentlemanly.”
Catia Santiago, a 35-year-old single mother, agreed.
“I’ve never had the money to travel, so I thought all men were like Brazilians – very fast, very aggressive,” Santiago said as she soaked in the rays on Copacabana beach. “Now I see that `gringos,'” as foreigners of all nationalities are known in Brazilian Portuguese, “aren’t like that at all,” she said, adding that the language barrier hadn’t proven a barrier at all. “I’m hooked.”
Not everyone is as enthusiastic.
Brazilian newspapers have run stories with local women complaining about foreigners’ wandering hands and sense of entitlement. A report in the newspaper Estado de Minas cited several women as saying they had been groped by England fans at a street party in Belo Horizonte following the June 24 England vs. Costa Rica match there.
Misperceptions about Brazilian women and misunderstandings over dating rituals here may have played a role in such incidents. Brazil, at once the birthplace of a bevy of supermodels like Gisele Bundchen and also the country with more Roman Catholics than any other, has long struggled to reconcile its reputation as a nation of beautiful, sexually liberated women in skimpy clothing with the conservative social mores that still hold sway throughout much of the country.
Matthew Coelho, a 33-year-old from San Francisco who has spent several weeks in Brazil for the World Cup, said he was perplexed by gender relations in Brazil.
“On one hand, it’s really easy to meet people here and they’re really friendly and the girls here are excited to meet guys from the U.S.,” he said. “But you sometimes have to think about people’s motivations.
“I went out with this girl in Brasilia and like halfway through the date I began to realize that she just wanted me to pay for her Friday night out. In San Francisco, I’m used to splitting the bill, so it was a little weird.”
He added that misperceptions cut both ways.
“It depends on the kind of people, but you get the impression that some women here think that if you’re a foreigner that you’re rich, which is not my case at all. I’m just a backpacker,” Coelho said, gesturing at his shorts and flip flops.
Jenny Barchfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennybarchfield