Is Rio Ready for the Olympics?

12661932_10156537840630650_3010787923712652408_nLots of people have been asking me about the Olympics, the situation in Rio and whether the city, which the international media keeps painting as chaotic, polluted and violent, will be able to effectively host the games.

Here is what I have to say about that:

1-Yes, Rio is a large city in a developing country, so it definitely isn´t as safe as Toronto or Boston. However, the idea that you will be immediately mugged as soon as you breathe *carioca air is a bit off mark. Let´s put it this way. Better safe than sorry but don´t be paranoid. Just don´t walk around with all your money, your documents and with an expensive camera hanging from your neck in certain areas of Rio, and you should be fine.

2-Is Zika going to kill us all? No, it won´t so for the love of God stop talking about this mosquito borne illness as if it was as deadly as Ebola. First of all, we are not even sure that it is a possible threat for pregnant women. The link between the Zika infection and microcephaly has not yet been established conclusively, but my advice for pregnant women is to avoid traveling here, just in case. Secondly, during the outbreak in Rio last summer, I knew of a few people who did catch Zika and they were fine after a week. Of course, it sucks to catch it, you end up with a fever, muscle pains and some body rashes, but then you´re fine. Like any disease, a small number of people can have more serious health consequences, but that´s also the case for the common cold. Moreover, there are probably more cases of Zika right now in Florida, where it´s the summer, rather than in Rio, where it´s the winter and where cooler temperatures make it more difficult for mosquitoes to proliferate. Remember, opposite seasons for opposite hemispheres. I really think the fear of catching Zika in Rio should be the least, I repeat, the least of your concerns when traveling to the Olympic city at the moment. Shame on all the golfers and athletes who have canceled their participation in the games due to fears of contracting Zika. They are missing out big time.

3-Is the Guanabara Bay polluted? Hell yeah, some parts are extremely polluted, others less. I personally would have held the swimming competition farther away from the Bay, not sure why the Olympic organizers chose to keep the contest in Copacabana beach and other areas. That was something that could have been avoided, especially in order to avoid the bad PR. The media reports and criticism are on point on this issue.

4-Is Rio´s infrastructure, including its public transportation, unsuitable for the Olympics? Although many people have argued that that´s the case, I have to disagree with them. Compared to many cities in the world where I´ve lived in and visited, I think Rio´s transportation system is reasonably ok and functional. Has anyone ever taken the New York subway during rush hour? I mean, Rio´s subway is cleaner and more modern than New York´s subway, although much more limited as far as distances covered are concerned. Plus, the bus system is very good in Rio, I have taken the bus several times to different parts of town without any problems. Now with the inauguration of the VLT (light rail system) and the BRT (bus rapid transit) urban mobility should become even more efficient.

5- Still speaking of infrastructure, all the Olympic venues are ready for the games. This is a fact so I don´t understand why people are still worrying about this.

6-Ending on a positive note, Rio´s natural beauty and the welcoming attitudes of most cariocas are what make this tropical hub so unique. According to a Forbes survey, Rio was ranked as the happiest city in the world. That is a very significant result when considering the problems that cariocas face on a daily basis. It reflects their light-hearted spirit, always smiling, willing to help out and to welcome strangers and friends alike. It doesn´t take much to get a carioca to invite you over to their house for a coffee or just to spontaneously strike up a conversation on the street. Also, don´t be afraid of touching and kissing. We love to kiss (on the cheek) and hug and mean nothing offensive by it! We also love to start dancing spontaneously to the beat of practically any kind of music, it doesn´t matter if we are a CEO of a multinational company or simply a high school student. Cariocas of all ages and professions are spontaneous and are not bound by social conventions related to their job positions as much as in other countries.

Indeed, there is a certain joie de vivre that is very much alive and unique in this marvelous, bustling city. I would dare to say much more than in any city that I have lived in in Europe, ironically enough where the term joie de vivre was actually invented :-) As such, to summarize Rio as a Zika infested, water polluted and violent city really does not reflect its complex, multifaceted reality. I believe the media has been doing a lousy job in reporting about this year´s Olympic capital, being either unable or unwilling to pick up and report on the cultural nuances that make Rio what it truly is: a city of contrasts, of inequalities, but also of great natural beauty and laid-back people who live and smile despite their everyday concerns.

*carioca is a the word that describes a person who was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Be Happy and Take a Bus!

Happy bus. Picture take from www.travelblog.org

Happy bus. Picture take from www.travelblog.org

Buses in Brazil are full of life: people laughing out loud, talking on the phone about their personal problems as if they were locked in their rooms, interacting with total strangers as if they were close friends. Nobody cares or judges. I often joke with my foreign friends that spending an hour in a bus in Brazil is like spending an hour spilling out your life to a shrink.  It´s a great healing experience every time.

Yesterday while returning home on the bus, I literally witnessed an adolescent breaking up with her boyfriend over the phone, followed by two ladies (perfect strangers) who suddenly started pouring their life-stories out as if they were old friends to a political discussion on the absurdity of taxes and the insane cost of living in the country. The person sitting next to me started telling me how she was late for a connecting bus and that she would get home only very late at night. She was concerned about who would cook dinner for her family. At one point, an old lady rang the bell but the bus driver forgot to stop and the whole bus reacted calling out to the driver. Under such lively protests he didn´t  hesitate and stopped immediately, letting her off even though there was no official stop.

I was smiling as I got off the bus and even expected everyone to wave at me. Although thankfully this didn´t happen (it would have been kind of freaky), the bus driver did smile as I thanked him and patiently waited as I got off with all my bags.

After only 15 minutes on the bus I was feeling happy and energized, not because of WHAT people were saying but because of HOW they were saying it to each other. They were not afraid, suspicious nor judgemental. I believe that this is an accurate picture of a greater “vibe” one gets here in Brazil.

In other words, Brazil is pretty cool :-) I love being here <3

Thoughts on Moving Back to Brazil…

welcome-home-giant-plastic-banner-1186-pI thought that moving back to Brazil after living for so many years abroad would have been quite a rollercoaster of emotions, but so far I have been proven wrong. I haven´t gone through any major culture shockso far and haven´t felt for a moment as being an outsider in my own culture. Quite the opposite, after being back for almost a month, I feel like I have never actually left!

These are some of my thoughts on why I think this is the case…

1-Wherever you go people want to know about you. They are genuinely interested in the person with whom they are talking to and almost never go off on a self-centered tangent. I mean, of course people talk about themselves, but then after that, they want to hear about you too. One of the biggest difficulties I had while living in Europe was always being surrounded by people who almost ONLY and exclusively  talked about themselves (there are exceptions and I have made important friendships in my journey but the trait of extreme individualism is the rule). I remember this scene one night while out having dinner with a group. Each person just kept talking about themselves as if they were totally alone at the table. I remember how I started feeling like I had been transported into a weird Woody Allen movie, surrounded by fictitious characters, at which point I just relaxed. It was too surreal to be taken seriously.

2-When people ask you “How are you?” they really REALLY want to know and do not lose interest after you have uttered the first sentence. So if you ask a Brazilian this and expect them to answer: “Fine, thank you. How are you?” and walk away beeping like a little robot, instead of them spilling out all of their life-story to you in the most natural and unassuming way (you would be amazed at how much people can squeeze in in only 5 minutes), my advice is to just quickly cross the street when you see a Brazilian approaching 😉 People here are used to talking about the most intimate problems to each other, even to strangers, without giving a second thought to the content being revealed and expect you to tell them everything about yourself as well. The conversation is never a monologue. This is because there is no real clannish-like idea of a “stranger” or of a “self” existing detached from the social environment that surrounds them. The principle behind this is simple: everyone is on the same boat in life and there is no need to look strong and NOT talk about personal things. In fact, not talking about your personal life is even considered rude here: it would be perceived as arrogance or even a weakness, since it looks completely unnatural and even unbalanced to appear invincible and self-assured in front of others.

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Exploring Rio´s Tijuca National Park

View of the tip of Corcovado mountain from the Tijuca National Park

View of the tip of Corcovado mountain from the Tijuca National Park

Last weekend I went for a walk in the Tijuca National Forest, a huge urban National Park in the middle of the city of Rio de Janeiro (some say the largest one in the world). Given the summer-like temperatures that have swiftly melted away any winter-related memories around these latitudes, theTijuca Park is a great place to cool off one´s body and soul as the thick Atlantic Forest vegetation helps to lower temperatures by almost 10 Celsius. Believe me, this is not an insignificant number when thermometers at sea level mark 40 Celsius. Besides that, you can enjoy several chilly waterfalls and breathtaking panoramic views of the city.

My favorite stop in the Park is at the Vista Chinesa outlook. Its unique Pagoda-style gazebo and amazing view of several of Rio´s most iconic neighborhoods (i.e. Ipanema, Leblon and Lagoa) plus that of the Corcovado mountain where the statue of Christ the Redeemer stands, make it the perfect place to relax and reflect on weather beauty is in the eye of the beholder or in nature itself, after a 4 Km hike up the Park´s winding roads (all paved).

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Rio Olympic City!

Although the Olympics are still a little less than a year away, it is exciting to see the urban transformations in Rio in anticipation of the games. The image below shows Mauá Square (Praça Mauá), once a dark and shady area covered by Rio´s infamous perimetral (elevated highway). I love the new square and cannot wait for the “Museu do Amanhã” to be inaugurated (on March 1st 2016)!

Mauá Square

Mauá Square

Rio Olympic City

Rio Olympic City

Family to the rescue!

When everything fail, call mom and dad (1800 is toll free)

When everything fails, call mom and dad (1800 is toll free)

The meaning of family changes drastically from culture to culture. In some places, the organization of families takes on more clannish-related patterns while in others, families tend to me extremely standoffish and individualistic. One thing is for sure, culture plays a major role in creating patterns of family behavior: in each place there are ways in which families are expected to act.

In Brazil, the meaning of family takes on a more fluid dimension, and I believe that the positive aspects outweigh the negatives by far. I am of course reasoning in absolutes, so there always are exceptions to the rule, but we can safely affirm a few “common” patterns for families in Brazil.

First of all, and most importantly, families are always there for the rescue. No matter how old you are, if life turns out sour and things change unexpectedly, mom and dad will be there for you and will listen patiently (always with that annoying look on their faces of `I told you so`), over and over and over again, about your life-changing problems and how you did not see them coming and how things are unfair and blah blah blah. At some point the annoying look on their faces might change to sheer desparation after hearing the same story for the thousandth time, wondering when somebody will eventually rescue them instead, but they will never say that to your face 😉

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A Maid Called Maria

When I was little, my family used to have a maid called Maria. The way Maria came into our lives was mysterious, to say the least. My mom had decided to put an add in the local newspaper to hire someone to help her with the two kids and housework. Once the add was out, a Maria called almost immediately. She set an interview for the next morning and at 8:00 AM sharp the doorbell rang. A short, kind-looking and serene figure walked into the living-room and the first thing she said was that God had told her to take care of our family. For me, a ten-year-old kid at the time, that sentence was totally reassuring. My mom, on the other, more realistic hand, appreciated the gesture but had to check Maria´s worldly credentials. Still, the interview was quick and everything was agreed upon: she would start in a week. A few minutes after she left, the doorbell rang again. I remember my mom’s puzzled expression as she walked into the living-room. The Maria that we had just hired was not the same Maria who had called the day before to inquire about the job. My mom had to excuse herself profusely with the no-longer-official Maria now standing at the gate, who had gotten lost on her way to our house, and had arrived almost an hour late for her interview. However, despite the incredible coincidence, my mom did not change her hiring decision. A woman of great faith and intuition, her heart was telling her that this was too much of a coincidence to be overlooked. After all, who is to say for sure that some coincidences are devoid of a higher meaning?

This is how Maria came into my family´s life.

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The Failure of Europe and Brazil’s Potential Role in the Asylum Seeker Crisis

asylum_EU

Refugees dreaming of Europe (Photo by European Commission)

Images often times speak for a million words. As more and more bodies wash up from the quiet waters of the Mediterranean, those words and promises by EU decision-makers become increasingly emptier.
We are all aware of the humanitarian crises that have engulfed Syria and Iraq and the ongoing problems in the horn of Africa. Yet, citizens in these countries have to basically fend for themselves, escape as far as possible from their motherland; undertake deadly-journeys either by land or sea with only one hope in mind. That of saving their families, often times even before thinking of saving their own lives.

This whole situation is further complicated by the winds of the believed-to-be defunct Cold War that are blowing consistently from the East. Under these winds, any effective action from the United Nations Security Council to respond to this crisis has fallen on deaf veto ears. If nothing is done by the international community to stabilize these countries, people will do what they can to survive and that means escaping as far as they can from a conflict that threatens their very existence. Wouldn’t you?

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Car Bumper Stickers, T-shirts and Faith

The freedom of religious practice is clearly expressed in the highest law of our land, the Brazilian Constitution. Of course, since we are talking about Brazil here, the whole concept of religious freedom has been taken up a notch, in the sense that we do not only value the freedom of cult, we also value the freedom to express our deepest beliefs in public and boy, let me tell you, we can we get pretty creative!

Since the moment you are born in Brazil, you are socialized to accept that no matter what you grow up to believe in, you gotta share that faith with the largest and most diverse group of people possible. Just check out the facebook profiles of any of your Brazilian friends and you will understand that this is not an overstatement.

My favorite place to look for these public displays of religion is when driving on Brazilian highways. In less than a minute on the road,you are basically surrounded by cars with bumper stickers and signs similar to the one below, which literally reads: Jesus, I have never seen you, but I love you!

The sign says: Jesus, I have never seen you, but I love you!

The sign says: Jesus, I have never seen you, but I love you!

This next one is also great, it reads something like: God is a jewel, the rest is cheap stuff:

parachoque140512Although to many the idea of resorting to the protection of higher powers on a Brazilian highway might not seem as such a bad idea, this whole open display of religious belief is incredibly fascinating to me and it is not something that we should take for granted. Quite the opposite, it is a beautiful part of our cultural heritage that should be cherished (especially when reading the news nowadays) as a sign of openness that I hope the country never loses. Continue reading

Are We a Color-Blind Nation?

Another oldie worth republishing in light of the recent Martin Luther King Day celebrations in the USA. The debate on civil rights and racial equality in Brazil is also extremely relevant and needs to reach a broader global audience. Let us know what you think!

Students at the Federal University of Rio, after their Freshman-year prank. Photo by Victor Grigas/Wikimedia Creative Commons License

Brazilians have always thought of themselves as part of a color-blind nation, a racial democracy where the roots of racism are something relegated to our slave-driven colonial past. But is it accurate to say that peaceful racial co-existence is the same as equal racial co-existence?

The answer to this question is clear in the distribution of opportunities in education and employment, which are overwhelmingly relegated to white Brazilians. According to the *most recent study by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, IBGE, although the level of unemployment in the country is at a historical low (at around 4 percent), about 57.6 percent of the unemployed population is Afro-Brazilian/mulatto. In a society that is truly mixed in racial terms (47.7 percent whites, 43.1 percent mulatto and 7.6 percent blacks) it is surprising that few Brazilians recognize this social imbalance. Continue reading

Why are Brazilians so Happy?

Several of my foreign friends often ask me, somewhat suspiciously, why Brazilians always seem so upbeat, as if we were faking our friendliness. This is particularly true in some countries in the Northern Hemisphere where pessimism reigns freely. It’s like if you are not angry at something or someone, then there must be something wrong with you. People rolling their eyes constantly, moping about how life hasn’t been fair to them, blaming everybody else but themselves for their problems… I mean, why would anybody be so senselessly happy without a good reason to celebrate, right? Nope, wrong.

I don’t want to get all Dalai Lamaish on you so early on but, in part, I believe that happiness is a state of mind that accepts one’s choices without blaming others constantly for what goes wrong (take responsibility, you have free will, darn it!). Donating yourself, opening your soul, rather than hopelessly clinging to an unhealthy individualistic view of the world where you see yourself either as a victim or in competitions with others, is also crucial. Instead of always complaining about how the grass is greener somewhere else, accept that the gardens can be connected, not in competition for the neatest lawn. This is the life philosophy I’ve learned to cherish growing in the tropics. Continue reading

Glimpses of the Real Brazil: Moving Beyond Orientalism

Brasil stereotypes. Picture from http://joyingvancouver.blogspot.nl/2013/02/brazilian-stereotypes-presentation.html

Brasil stereotypes. Picture from http://joyingvancouver.blogspot.nl/2013/02/brazilian-stereotypes-presentation.html

I have never enjoyed looking at the world in black and white terms. Reality is a spectrum of infinite colors, where our perceptions are more than often shaped by own prejudices and opinions. This does not mean that everything is relative, just that we need to filter what we see and perceive both through reason and intuition. It is not simple, but seeing things more clearly is the pay off and I’d much rather live in clarity than illusion.

In recent months, there has been a lot of coverage of the so called “Brazilian way of life” thanks to the World Cup media exposure and I cannot help to notice that orientalist thought (the term was coined by Edward Said to express the depiction of Western patronizing attitudes towards the Middle East- it has become a term used  in relation to other cultures in the Global South as well) is pervasive when analyzing the culture. I understand that in most cases it is not meant to be disrespectful, but it nevertheless turns out to be rather simplistic.

Take New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen’s article “World Cup Survival Guide” as an example. Although the author’s intentions are to depict Brazil in a positive light and he is perfectly capable of capturing bits and pieces of Brazilian cultural traits almost as well as a native (the paragraphs that describe the Brazilian feeling of saudade and jogo de cintura are great), he ends up making the same old orientalist mistake of picturing Brazil as some happy-go-lucky place where everyone is always late, happy, relaxed, only works when they feel like it and choose to solve problems at their own pace.

Now, although there is partial truth to this, I think it misses the opportunity of picturing an emerging nation that works tirelessly (like anywhere else) and that is currently dealing with growing social issues connected to the country’s de facto democratic awakening. I call it de facto because to me democracy is not only universal suffrage and competitive elections. We have already conquered those founding stones almost 30 years ago. Democracy is, above all, the capacity of choosing consciously your political party and to demand accountability for electoral promises. I think (or hope) that we have finally reached the latter stage.

trabalho Tarcila Continue reading

Cariocas are from Rio, Milanese are from Milan

kato_zecariocaI often notice how the adjective carioca (from the tupi language meaning white man’s house- used originally by Brazil’s native inhabitants when referring to the houses of Portuguese settlers) is used by Italian newspapers to refer to Brazilians in general. This is a mistake. Nowadays, carioca is a word that describes ONLY the inhabitants of the CITY of Rio de Janeiro, not all Brazilians. It would be like saying “the Milanese government” when referring to the halls of power in Rome instead of saying just the Italian government. See the difference?

Things get even more complex because people born in the state of Rio are called differently as well. So, for example, I was not born in the city of Rio, only in the state, so I cannot claim the title of carioca, only that of being fluminense.

The mistake of using the words carioca and Brazilian interchangeably is almost always made by the Italian media when referring to Brazil’s inhabitants (eg. popolo carioca, paese carioca, bandiera carioca, etc) so I just thought it would be nice to get things straight, for the sake of semantics:

Carioca= native from the city of Rio de Janeiro

Fluminense= native from the State of Rio de Janeiro

Brasileiro (a)= native from Brazil

Latin American cultural integration: time to move forward?

Last week one of my Dutch students asked me if Brazilians felt themselves as part of a larger South American identity. Although the answer was quite straightforward to me: “no Brazil is to South America like what the US is to North America” (meaning that our culture is a bit isolationist although one could argue that this is changing) the class was puzzled with this answer, to say the least. They practically took for granted that Latin Americans, just like many Europeans, would have reached some kind of common identity at this point. This got me thinking about how it is a shame that we do not participate in this larger Latin American identity, which does not require people to necessarily speak the same language at first, but rather would allow us to share common values, to travel easily across borders and to be aware of cultural manifestations trending in the region.

latinoamerica-mapaIn my view, the problem of lack of integration at this point has very little to do with geography or cultural differences. Instead, it seems to be affected by the plain lack of political will or view of the future. Although countries have entered into international agreements to increase the economic exchanges and work towards common democratic values (i.e. Andean Community, MERCOSUR, etc), the more important element of such, meaning the societies that compose these countries, remain totally removed from the process. At least for citizens of MERCOSUR (or MERCOSUL in Portuguese) member states, we all travel around with passports that have the word MERCOSUL written on the cover, but we might have no idea what that means besides a theoretical notion of the functioning of a customs union (i.e. elimination of internal tariff and non-tariff barriers and common foreign trade among members). What about the people living in those countries (i.e. Argentina, *Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and soon Bolivia)? Most Brazilians know so little about these countries’ culture, political views, aspirations for the future and yet we are all part of the same economic block.

The Brazilian news talks only about events taking place in Brazil, Europe and the US but hardly ever mentions any Latin American country unless there’s some major natural disaster or political crisis. Unless you are a true admirer of all things Latin American, and make a conscious effort to look into the news of other countries online, there is absolutely no trickle down effect of information. At school, we also do not study in depth about South American history (I would have loved to learn about the Inca Empire, Spanish colonization and colonial resistance- especially the story of Simon Bolivar- but embarrassingly I only read about these things when I was in the university in the US).

Hopefully, still in this lifetime it won’t take an international study experience in a non Latin American country to help Latin Americans get closer in touch with their own common cultural heritage. To this extent, we could learn a thing or two from different models of regional integration, in particular from the European Union’s experience. For example, regional integration could take place in MERCOSUR or/ and the Andean Community countries through university exchange programs sponsored by a common educational fund. Similar to the Erasmus program in Europe, which has been very effective in promoting a European identity by having university students spend a semester in a different European university, this could be a first step to deeper cultural integration in Latin America.

What do you think? Would you like to see further cultural integration in Latin America?

* Paraguay has been suspended from Mercosur after the coup that removed elected president Lugo from power.

Setting Your Watch to Brazilian Time

Picture from http://www.reactiongifs.us/cookie-monster-waiting/

Picture from http://www.reactiongifs.us/cookie-monster-waiting/

There is a strange relationship between speed and time in Brazil, a relationship that would certainly leave many physicists’ puzzled. Years of observation have given me the certainty that when late for a meeting, the slower one moves in space, the higher will be the probability of this person arriving on time. Although this concept challenges all known natural laws, there is a rational (at least in part) explanation behind it. Let’s understand how this works in practice:

Imagine that there are two hypothetical friends, namely A and B, who have agreed to go grab some ice cream in the city center at 17:00. Both live relatively close to the meeting point so they won’t have any problems in getting there.

All things remaining equal (distance to the meeting point, time to get ready, etc) will both friends make it on time for their ice cream? This depends on whether they set their watches to the local Planet Earth time or to Brazilian time. Continue reading

An Ode to Carnival!

This is an oldie, but always worth republishing during this time of the year…

While the international media showcases pictures of half-naked women covered in glitter and feathers for Rio’s major carnival parade (which ended yesterday) I thought that we should get some things straight about what the celebration of carnival really represents to Rio’s inhabitants, beyond the common stereotypes.

I know this might come as a huge disappointment, but all of those gorgeous women dressed in practically nothing parading in Rio’s sambódromo do not actually walk around on a daily basis like that. Most of them are famous models, dancers and actresses who literally are playing a part in a huge and colorful parade, or in the case of Rio’s official samba league competition, a real catwalk of Brazilian stars. Think in terms of a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Samba school presentation in Rio. Photo by Sergio Luis/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

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The World Cup: Questions NOT to Ask Brazilians

Brazilian soccer fans. Photo by. Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Brazilian soccer fans. Photo by Renato Araújo/Abr. Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

The list below will help to avoid diplomatic blunders and prepare you for the World Cup in Brazil. Keep in mind that this is written by a Brazilian who has been asked these same things many times before and has mentally answered to them in the same tone :-)

So, this is what you should NOT ask or assume about Brazilians at any point in time:

1- Hablas Español?

For the millionth time, Brazilians don’t speak Spanish, they speak Portuguese. Although Portuguese and Spanish have the same linguistic roots, they are not the same language at all. If someone tries to communicate in Portuguese with a Spanish speaker they probably would get sixty percent of what the person is saying. Although the grammar of both languages has a lot of similar points, pronunciation is totally different.

2- Do you like the samba?

All Brazilians know what samba is, but just like an American might know what country music is, it does not mean that they like it or know how to dance it. It’s a real cliche to ask somebody if they like the samba just because they are Brazilian and they will take that point down mentally against you, believe me.

3- It must be nice to live in the capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, right?

Nope, wrong. Not because Rio isn’t a lovely city but mostly because it ISN’T the capital of Brazil. Rio was the capital of Brazil until 1960. After that, Brasília (built from scrap in the Midwest of the country) took over the honors of being the country’s federal district.

4- Do I have to travel with all my money in a safe from the airport to the hotel room once I get to Brazil?

Brazil is a developing country and crime rates are higher than they are in North America or Europe. This does not mean though that you are going to get instantly mugged as soon as you breath Brazilian air. On a more realistic note,  you could get ripped off by a cab driver on the way to the hotel from the airport, so make sure to ask or even look up average prices and agree on it before taking a cab. Continue reading

It’s Good to Be a Carioca

This is a guest post by Slava aka PunkyMonk. PunkyMonk is as an ex-Soviet of the former Soviet Union Inc. In 1990, at the age 16, he bid farewell to the motherland and set out on a journey that unbeknownst to him would last 20 odd years winding its way through both North and South Americas, Middle East, North Africa and Europe. He now lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. His interests include writing, teaching, spirituality, humanity and parenting. You can visit his blog at punkymonk.com or follow him on Twitter.

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“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.” – HST

IMG_0935-185x300”Le Bresil n’est pas um pays serieux”, French General de Gaulle allegedly raved in a burst of irritation five decades ago when Brazil and France found themselves locked in a dispute over fishing rights in coastal waters of what would be written in history as ”The Lobster War” of 1962.
History, however, isn’t clear if Charles de Gaulle was serious himself when he said that or if he did actually utter the infamous offhand remark at all. But what IS known that the phrase Brazil is not a serious country incorporated so deeply in the minds of Brazilians and the rest of the world that it has passed into Brazilian political folklore as a sort of permanent catchphrase. Even today when someones sees Brazilians behaving in what is perceived as an absurd or frivolous manner – the ”not serious country” criticism is revived.

But lets leave the French to their crotchety devices and instead return to the country that provoked this bitter outburst and, more specifically to the people who populate Brazil AND, more specifically, to my beloved, happy-go-lucky Cariocas, the jolly denizens of Rio de Janeiro. Continue reading

Do Poverty Reduction Policies Affect Democratic Quality in Brazil?

Former President Lula giving a Speech on Housing and the Bolsa Família in 2005. Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/PR. Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Former President Lula giving a speech on housing and the Bolsa Família in 2005. Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/PR.,Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

The year of 2014 will be extremely significant for Brazil in many fronts, including the electoral one with presidential elections coming up in October. Almost thirty years after the fall of the country’s military government, Brazil’s transition to democracy has slowly but steadily galvanized. Direct elections and open political party competition have become institutionalized processes, but extreme income inequalities still present the country with many challenges.

Redistributive measures to curb poverty have only recently become the focus of public policy. One of these is the federal government’s Bolsa Família Program (BFP), a conditional cash transfer program given to families living under the poverty line. The program is considered conditional because families must meet the requirement of sending their children to school and of taking them to regular medical check-ups if they want to become program recipients.

Brazil’s Worker’s Party (PT), known for formally introducing the BFP in 2004 under the leadership of former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, has received most of the credit for its immediate poverty reduction outcomes. About 13.5 million eligible families receive the benefits of the BFP. Not surprisingly, politicians have often claimed “ownership” of the BFP in electoral discourses and have been reelected ever since the introduction of the program, even after the party was caught in a national Congressional vote-buying corruption scandal, known as the mensalão (big monthly allowance). The scandal involved the party’s most senior level representatives (many of whom have been convicted). Continue reading

Spots and Dots

There are bits and pieces of broken cultural backgrounds strewn across our Globe and the New World has its abundant share of individuals who testify to this fact.

Within the radius of a few kilometers in either way where I am there are representatives of every race, creed and political persuasion imaginable–and I am perched atop a coastal mountain in the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.soli

We have neighbors who have fled here from Angola, Mozambique and various other conflict-weary African nations.

There are Koreans and Chinese on our miniscule main street selling hair clips, handbags, clothes and food.

There are Lebanese and Syrians both Maronite and Muslim. I always remember a father of one of these families with great respect. I watched him work at his family-owned restaurant for over 25 years to create a future for his family. Continue reading

Why is Our Indigenous History Overlooked?

20110214_104238After having a conversation on Brazilian culture with a few Italian friends over a dinner in a small town in Northern Tuscany, I realized that most people at the table had no idea that our present culture has very little to do with the traditions and language of the original Tupi inhabitants and much more to do with European and African influences that arrived during colonization. For them, it was just natural that a country, even though colonized, would preserve a substantial part of its original culture.

This is not the Brazilian case. We are much more influenced by European and African traditions than many of our neighbors, who have maintained more of their original indigenous character alive. Take the Quechua culture present in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador with its widespread language and traditions as an example. Why has Brazil lost touch with its pre-colonial culture? Continue reading