(This is a companion piece to “Ten Things That I Hate About Brazil”. To find out what I hate click here.)
It’s difficult to feel indifferent about Brazil. People either love it or hate it … or are in a very opinionated in between.
I have oscillated from love to hate to bewilderment more times than I can count. As I start to feel the urge to look outward towards new adventures in new lands, I feel it is appropriate to put down some of my thoughts on the land of the samba. Here are ten things that I hate about Latin America’s largest country.
1. Food – There is good food in Brazil
Food makes up an integral part of Brazilian culture, each region with its very specific brand of “traditional food”. Some of it I like, others I can pass, but it is always fun to try out new dishes. The daily food here is pretty boring and basic: rice, beans and either chicken or beef. But once you get into the more traditional dishes, especially when connected to harvest festivals, religious days, or regular food festivals, the combinations can be quite delicious. There is something for everyone – from the vegetarian to the big meat eater. Brazil is a country of a diverse mix immigrants who all brought their national dishes and add to the flavour. Along with them, Arican slaves and indigenous people also preserved their food and cooking styles. All of these distinct people and cultures create a mixed bag of what is Brazilian cuisine. São Paulo, where I live, is not only getting international attention for some of its restaurants, but is also a nexus for all these cultures. One can easily get a taste of all of Brazil while moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, so I admit I am bit spoiled on the food end as not every place in Brazil is as diverse in their food choices. That said, it is not impossible to find a place that will satisfy your taste buds nearly anywhere you roam in this large country.
2. Music Outings – Local music is everywhere and a lot of times free
I remember reading somewhere long ago that many foreigner’s first reason for learning Portuguese is to understand the music. So it is no surprise that music makes part of daily Brazilian life. In most cities one can find a small bar or establishment playing live music. On the weekends the music moves to the public squares or to the city parks. If you enjoy good sounds there is simply no excuse for not finding it. Sites like Catraca Livre are key when searching around for free events in your area, but if you are in a smaller city a simple walk around the neighborhood should keep your eyes and ears entertained. What’s best is the diversity which can be found at these music events. There is enough musical flavour in Brazil to whet anyone’s appetite – from rock to country to samba to forro to rap to Brazilian funk and much more.
3. Socializing Is Easy – Friends for a night but not for life
Although I have given up on most Brazilian’s ability to engage in long term commitment to friendship, I still appreciate their mercurial nature when it comes to having a good night out. Don’t have anyone to go out with you for the night? Don’t let that stop you from leaving the house and having a drink or two. Brazilians are extremely friendly and convivial at face value. They will share their food and drink, and even their table if they get into a good conversation with you. Brazil holds tight to its community ideals. When you enter most festive establishments you are welcomed as part of the family, and not as an individual enjoying your own time. There are some exceptions to this rule, but mostly Brazilians want to have a good time, and try their best to make sure that you are having a good time too. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for that second night out with your new group of “friends” after you exchange numbers.
4. Adventures in Nature – Brazil’s Nature Is Stunning
Brazil’s wildlife is of spectacular magnitude: it is diverse and abundant and spans the country over. There are mountains, rain forests, craggy hills, and endless beaches. It is no surprise that Brazil’s eco-tourism is a business that always seems to do well. Brazilians appreciate this natural aspect of their country, even if they don’t do everything possible to protect it. I truly enjoy what I can get out of nature here, the tropical climate allows for marvelous creations much different than what I had been used to before. If for nothing else, I recommend visiting the country to take a tour of at least one of its impressive nature-made landmarks.
5. Working The Jeitinho – Sometimes disorder works in your favour
The “Jeitinho” is often translated as “The Brazilian Way,” or the flexibility and slyness that marks most of Brazilian culture. This “Jeitinho” can be really frustrating when one is trying to do something which requires exactness and speed, but it can also work in one’s favour from time to time. Soon one learns that not every price tag means that you are going to pay that price, or that a good amount of smooth talking and smiles may get you that apartment you wanted to rent but, as a foreigner, may not have had all the documents for. The “Jeitinho” will save you when your alarm doesn’t go off and you arrive a little later than your usual self for a meeting. It is also invaluable when it comes to swindling your way out of boring family affairs. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans. I don’t particularly like how the “Jeitinho” is part of everyday life, but it is nearly impossible to survive and thrive in Brazil without having a lot of flexibility and an ability to play the game. It is important to know your own limits, though, and draw a line in the sand where you feel right is right and wrong is wrong.
6. Street Art – Art is not only for museums
I live in São Paulo where murals and graffiti dominate the city landscape, but I know this is not only a phenomenon of this city. All across Brazil there are numerous artscapes for everyone to see, and some are extremely intricate and well done. Having spent a lot of time in Philadelphia, which prides itself in having the largest mural art project in the world, I felt very comfortable in this environment. I am never bored by my walks through the city, stopping every so often to take pictures of the amazing work. But the wall art is not the only thing that catches the eye. There are plenty of sculptures, street musicians, open air theatre performances, and all other sorts of visual candy. Galleries are usually free and open to the public, and art and craft fairs are abundant on the weekends. If there is one thing Brazil gets right is its desire to always put art on a pedestal.
7. Hooking Up – If you can’t get lucky here, you are a chump
Like in most Latin cultures, sex and sensuality are a staple of everyday life. It´s a hot country and people seem to like to keep it that way. The women´s skirts are short and the men´s pants are tight. During working hours the sexual innuendo and jokes would probably make a European and American blush, or land him or her with a big lawsuit if they tried them back home. Off work the lines between playful entendres and actual come-ons blur even more. Brazilians are tactile, they love to touch and to feel proximity. If you loosen up and respectfully play along there is no reason for you to not have a lot of fun with an interested party – they don´t really try to hide their interest. It´s important to note some cultural differences. Brazilians are much more apt to kiss you and stay by your side the rest of the night as a hook-up, but that doesn´t mean there will be sex or a phone call the next day. If there is sex involved, know that the concept of a one-night stand is not as popular here as it is abroad, so that may mean further involvement with that person down the road. This can lead to something serious or to simply being a “ficante”, which is a pretty term for a booty call. In either case, getting laid or hooking up with someone in Brazil is not much of a challenge while still respecting everyone´s limits, and this can lead to quite a lot of fun.
8. The Mix of People – The face of Brazil are the FACES of Brazil
Brazil is a huge melting pot. There is not way of pointing to someone and saying, “That’s a Brazilian,” because their ancestors come from everywhere! What this means is that one section of the country can be very different from another section of the country. Also, people from all walks of life can tell you varying stories of what it took for their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents to make a life for themselves here. The cultural mix influences everything from the art, the music, the food, the architecture and even the way some people speak. Having come from one huge melting pot country to another really keeps my mind at work when trying to figure out how Brazilians see themselves, but I enjoy that challenge. If you have only been to one part of the country and think that means you have visited Brazil, you are wrong. The country more diverse than you can imagine.
9. Music – Brazilian music is world class
I have talked a lot about live music and events, but let´s not forget the essential ingredient that makes it so great – the music itself. The current popular music scene in Brazil is riddled with dumbed down lyrical and musical content, but that doesn´t diminish the absolute greatness of some of Brazil´s rich musical heritage. Probably the most recognized music from Brazil is the samba, but it´s not simply music for huge Carnival street parties. There are wonderful composers who weave deeply intricate songs about love, loss, and daily life struggles. It is to me like the Brazilian blues, there is a very set formula to the music, but when I am in the right mood it hits the spot perfectly. Brazil is also famous for its Bossa Nova, with Jobim being the most popular composer of the genre. Some of the greats in Brazil have played with other great artists from abroad like Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Sarah Vaughn, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, and David Byrne. They have also influenced musical stylings and garnered the admiration of artists like the Beastie Boys, Bjork, Beck and Nirvana´s Kurt Cobain, who even wrote a letter of appreciation to one of the members of Brazil´s famous Tropicalia era band, Os Mutantes. My favourite period for Brazilian music is certainly the 70s, where traditional tropes mixed with international flavours and the poetry and experimentation flowed seamlessly. Some of the artists that are on my constant Spotify playlists are Milton Nascimento, Maria Bethânia, Djavan, and Ney Matogrosso, but there are endless names and bands to choose from if you want to dig into the music.
10. High End Places – I like the outrageous culture
Brazil is a country of contradictions and deep disparities between the haves and have-nots. As much as I identify more with the working middle class, I am not against enjoying the high life. The amount of glitz and glam that they put into their high end malls, shops and restaurants is nearly laughable. I enjoy sitting and walking in these places every now and again, and taking a break from the confusion of the streets. It makes me wonder why they can`t put half of the effort they put into making a fully carpeted mall into other aspects of society which need a good overhaul and upgrade. But that is another discussion. I find the outrageousness of it quite titillating – it`s like being in a John Waters version of what high class society should be, as the people that make up these high ranks of society are sometimes as morally crude as any other rung of society – it’s debauchery at it`s finest.
And now that we got the nice stuff of the way, click here and let’s look at the reasons why Brazil gets under my skin.
If you are living in or have visited Brazil, what do you love about the country? Leave comments below.
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