Admittedly the sight of a Union Jack hanging over the sofa is unexpected, a small gesture of goodwill to new guests from England, perhaps?
Throwing an acknowledging smile in our host’s direction, I watch him pick up the flag and raise his right hand to his heart as the distinctive drum and trumpet sounds of God Save the Queen fill this small Brazilian flat.
In heavily-accented English our football-loving Brazilian host bellows: “Gord save our gracious Queen, long leeve our noble Queen…”
A feeling of discomfort rapidly turns to panic.
“Send her victowrious, happy and glowrious…” he continues with even more gusto.
What is going on? Is greeting guests with a rendition of their national anthem some quirky Brazilian custom that a plethora of guidebooks have failed to inform me of?
What is the etiquette? Am I supposed to respond by whipping out the Brazilian colours and belting out our new friend’s anthem?
Having neither possession of a flag nor knowledge of the country’s most well known tune, I fear I am about to make a huge social faux pas.
Deciding the correct protocol is to join our impassioned new acquaintance in his efforts, I become an accomplice to the murder of the patriotic anthem.
“Loong to weign over us, Gord save our Queen.”
“Made it,” says a relieved voice in my head, but the music doesn’t stop and his off-key words continue to fill the air.
“O Lord Gord awrise, scatter our eneemies.”
“What?!” spoke the now-panicked voice in my head. “How can he know the second verse? No-one knows the second verse!”
But, like a Mastermind host, I’d started so I had to finish. For several agonising minutes I incoherently mumble the four additional verses which our host knows off by heart.
Finally, my torment over, Brazil’s finest singer announces: “My heart is English and my soul belongs to England.”
We are in Salvador, the first capital of Brazil and the character who has just serenaded us with our national anthem is called Ludemar.
We have been brought together through a website called CouchSurfing, which puts people who like to travel in contact with each other. Ludemar is kindly offering us his ‘couch’ or spare bed to stay in.
“I believe I was English in a previous life,” he says with a proud grin. “I love Britain.”
Moments later, at our English-loving host’s insistence, we are enjoying the surreal experience of watching the film Elizabeth, in which Cate Blanchett plays the 16th century British monarch.
I am bombarded with questions. “Does the Queen still have the power to fire the Prime Minister? Is everyone respectful in England? You have hardly any crime don’t you?”
It’s a rose-tinted view of life in England borne from films and books, but while I know I should correct his skewed impressions of my country, I am at the same time loathe to spoil things for him.
That night, in the taxi to an outdoor party on the outskirts of the city, he insists I join him in the singing of a medley of British rock ‘n’ roll songs.
The Beatles, Queen, the Rolling Stones, The Who and Oasis all feature and once again he knows more words than me.
On our drunken return he insists we all watch the first episode of The Tudors, a BBC series dramatising the reign of King Henry VIII.
The following day, on a visit to a seaside spot called Barra, he kneels before me, kisses my hand and says ‘Your Majesty’. I fear that with my red hair and coarse beard he is actually beginning to think I am Henry VIII.
In a final act to prove his passion for England he walks me to a tattoo parlour a few blocks away and shows me the design he plans to get on his arm.
Written in a ye olde font it reads: “My heart is English and my soul belongs to England.”
And who am I to argue with a man who knows every verse of the national anthem!