It’s a common misconception to think Rio is the capital of Brazil and that it’s the metaphorical centre of the country. In fact, Brasilia is the capital, and as amazing as Rio de Janeiro is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the country has to offer. The north of the Brazil has been largely influenced by African cultures and is filled with natural attractions; the south is defined by its European heritage; and in between this all are forests, wetlands, national parks, vibrant cities, various religions and countless music genres.
Many people think they know what a ‘typical’ Brazilian looks like. After living there, you’ll learn that this is simply a misconception and that the country is very ethnically diverse. The influence of European, Japanese, indigenous and African ancestry has created a true melting pot of cultures and physical characteristics, and people’s appearances vary greatly across Brazil.
If you love red wine, you’ll probably be used to drinking it at room temperature. However, in Brazil’s warmer regions, it is perfectly normal to drink red wine that has just been served to you in a bucket of ice. While this may seem borderline sacrilege for the average wine connoisseur, once you’ve experienced a Brazilian summer, you actually come to love and appreciate cold red wine.
Brazil is tied to the stereotype that when it’s not struggling through waves of violence and crime, it’s all about samba dancing and partying. Undeniably, the country does have high levels of crime, but tourist spots tend to be very safe and most people go about their day-to-day lives without encountering any problems. There are also so many other music genres than samba.
Mixing beans and rice takes some time to get used to, but after living in Brazil, it’s hard to imagine replacing this combination with anything else. You will also learn to love farofa, fried cassava flour occasionally mixed with eggs and bacon. The taste alone is literally like cassava with oil, which isn’t especially exciting, but when you stop eating it, you’ll miss the extra texture and flavour it brings to all your food.
Brazil is wonderful; its bureaucracy not so much. Things such as visas, buying property or starting a business require mountains of paperwork that has to go through a labyrinth of processes. Sometimes, you will want to scream and give up, yet you soon realise that no matter what you say, this is the way it’s done in Brazil. It’s frustrating, but it serves as a good lesson that some things are out of your control and you just have to go with the (complicated) flow.
Punctuality is something that is quite lax in Brazil. If you have a party that starts at 8pm, most people will arrive after then, and this is considered perfectly normal. It may irritate prompt and punctual people in the beginning but you get used to it. You’ll eventually feel a sense of freedom when you lose those rigid time constraints and learn that sometimes, arriving at on time doesn’t always have to be a priority.
Brazilians are emotional people, and don’t think twice about telling someone how they are feeling. Many will openly discuss situations when they feel stressed, angry or jealous, something people from other cultures and backgrounds may be more inclined to bottle up. If a Brazilian likes or loves you, you’ll know about it. They tend to let themselves feel what they’re feeling, rather than hiding it. They also tend to seek out the positive in any bad situation. It’s a life-changing lesson when these characteristics start rubbing off on you.
After living in a tropical climate, you will learn how good it feels to have almost constant sunny days and warm weather (unless you are in the south of Brazil, where it gets extremely cold in the winter). It’s hard to go back to a cold and rainy climate after as you learn how great it feels to be in the sun most of the time.
Most of us may think cake sounds great for breakfast, but it’s not seen as the healthiest way to start the day. Yet in Brazil, it’s totally normal and makes for a good, hearty meal. Usually, the cake is corn cake or orange cake without any icing. It’s more like a sweet bread than a dessert.
Places like São Paulo are centred around work and business, but if you live in coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro or Recife, you’ll come to appreciate a more balanced way of life. The approach to work is to do it and do it well, yet as soon as it’s time to go home, there is no waiting around. It’s straight to the beach, to the gym, to the park to go running or to the bar to enjoy a few chilled beers with colleagues.
On the metro, in elevators, in the park, at the bar – public displays of affection are perfectly normal and people barely bat an eyelid in Brazil. For foreign travellers and expats however, this is something that’s hard not to notice, especially when you’re stood next to a particularly romantic couple in the line at the supermarket. You might not feel comfortable doing it yourself, but after a few months in Brazil, you won’t even notice other people’s displays of affection.
Moving from one country to another in Europe is quick and easy and a one-hour flight can leave you in a totally different country, culture and language. However, the sheer scale of Brazil is huge. Fly from São Paulo and after four hours you will be preparing to land in Manaus in the north of the country. Suddenly, distance becomes relative and long flights increasingly become a norm.
Brazilians tend to be welcoming and open to strangers, and are great makers of small talk. For people coming from countries where this is less common, seeing this interaction between strangers is eye-opening and can change the way you interact with new people.
It is common to see rich regions in Brazil next to poorer areas and the contrast between them is evident, but brings a new perspective on the intricacy of other ways of living.