What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Brazil? Sunshine? Beaches? Football? What about the people? Bronzed babes in dental-floss bikinis all doing the samba while the boys leer at them with a beer in one hand and a hot-dog in the other? And the culture? A mixture of illicit sex, urban chaos and dodgy dealing? Well, it seems FIFA has exactly the same idea of the place. Last week its house magazine, The FIFA Weekly, ran an article listing “10 tips for tourists” coming to Brazil in June for the World Cup. OK, so FIFA may have a bee in its bonnet about some of the stadiums not being ready for the big kick-off. But that’s no reason to turn the Brazilian people into a global laughing stock. Is it?
The article was a case of adding insult to injury after an embarrassing incident the previous week when Adidas was forced to withdraw its World Cup t-shirts. Why? Because one of them had a cartoon image of a scantily-clad beauty on a Rio beach next to the slogan: “Lookin’ to score”. Ho ho ho, what a lark! Score in Brazil – football, babes – geddit? The other t-shirt had an “I love Brazil” message, but the heart in the middle resembled a pair of buttocks and a thong – only the image is upside down. Subtle, eh?
FIFA has now removed the offending article, Brazil for Beginners, despite claiming it was tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken seriously. Funnily enough, the article appears to have been written by a Brazilian journalist and then translated into English for the FIFA website. As a Brit resident in Brazil (Rio and Porto Alegre) for a number of years, I feel qualified to add my two-penny-worth to the list of tips. So without further adieu, let’s have a look at them.
1) “Yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”: Brazilians are open and optimistic people and they will never begin a sentence with “no”. However, “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”. In fact, to Brazilians, “yes” means “maybe”. So if somebody says to you, “Yes, I’ll call you back”, do not expect the telephone to be ringing in the next five minutes.
Wow! What a great sweeping generalisation to begin with! Never start a sentence with “no”. Don’t know where they got that from. My wife is always saying no, especially when I ask if I can modify the sitting room again to accommodate my Frankenstein hi-fi system. Actually, in Rio they never say “yes”. That’s because the word (“sim”) isn’t used in normal parlance. Ha ha – got you there!
2) Timing is flexible: Punctuality is not an exact science in Brazil. When arranging to meet somebody, nobody will be there at the exact time and place – a delay of 15 minutes is the tolerated norm.
So where exactly is punctuality an exact science? Sweden? Switzerland? I love that “nobody will be there at the exact time and place”. So your new Brazza friend won’t even bother coming to the spot you arranged to meet! Of course not – she’s had second thoughts about wasting her time with a blotchy ex-pat creep like you!
3) Bodily contact: Brazilians are not used to the European code of maintaining a polite distance between one another. They speak with their hands and will not hesitate to touch the person with whom they are conversing. In nightclubs this can often lead to kissing, but that must not be misinterpreted. A kiss in Brazil is an unbinding form of non-verbal communication – and not an invitation to go any further.
I tried speaking with my hands but nobody understood me. It was either that or learning Portuguese, which is a nightmare. I also tried kissing people as a way of expressing myself. But I gave up after earning a few funny looks and suffering one or two knees in the groin. Maybe I went to the wrong nightclubs.
4) Queuing: Patiently waiting in line is not in a Brazilian’s DNA. When going up an escalator, for instance, the British example where people line up on one side does not exist. Instead, Brazilians prefer cultivated chaos, yet somehow still manage to get to the top (usually).
And where exactly do they get to when they don’t reach the top? The bottom, of course – bum bum! Cultivated chaos! Or maybe just chaos, without the cultivation? OK, so the Brits can appear to be more polite and civilized. That is until you get creamed by a gang of yobs on the commuter train to Woking.
5) Restraint: If you go to a Churrasco restaurant that offers all-you-can-eat and immediately want to get stuck into the meat menu, remember two things: eat nothing for at least 12 hours beforehand and consume food in small doses, since the best meat is usually served last.
Can’t comment on this one, having never been to a Churrasco restaurant. But I do like the idea of getting “stuck into the meat”. Whatever that means…
6) Survival of the biggest: On the roads, pedestrians are largely ignored, and even at a zebra crossing hardly any motorist will voluntarily stop. Right of way between motorists is also simply defined by which vehicle is the larger.
No – pedestrians are targets. I have watched so many drivers visibly aim their cars at me as soon as I attempt to cross the road. “Get out of my way”, they say, “unless you want to be mincemeat”. Nice.
7) Try some Açaí: Berries from the Amazon really do work wonders. They are natural slimming agents, prevent wrinkles and are said to have the same effect as an energy drink. A few nibbles on one in the half-time break can help even the most fatigued footballer back to his feet again.
A few nibbles on one what? One berry? Açaí is a normally served as a deep purplish mushy drink that you need to eat with a spoon. Very Brazilian – you can’t get it in Skegness.
8) Going topless: Bared skin and female body art may be a familiar sight during Carnival, but they are not what you will see in everyday Brazil. Indeed, although Brazilian bikinis contain less fabric than comparable products in Europe, they are still worn at all times. Tanning on the beach without wearing them is strictly forbidden and may even result in a fine.
Tourists can’t get their heads around this one. “What, no topless chicks on the beach in Rio? Might as well get pissed and get my camera stolen then – I won’t be needing it.”
9) No Spanish: People hoping to use Spanish to communicate with the locals will find that their words fall on deaf ears. The national language is Brazilian Portuguese and if you call Buenos Aires the capital of Brazil expect to be deported.
Wrong again. Spanish has enough in common with Portuguese that, if spoken well and slowly, it should be understood by many Brazilians. Uruguay and Argentina are just down the road, remember – at least from where I live.
10) Have patience: In Brazil, things are largely done last-minute and if there is one thing above all that tourists should remember it is not to lose patience and keep hold of your nerves. Everything will be all right, and ready in time. That even goes for the football stadiums. In fact, a Brazilian’s attitude to life can be summarized like this: relaxa e aproveita – relax and enjoy.
Oh dear. A feeble attempt at a joke about the stadiums. But you do need spadefuls of patience in Brazil, it’s true, with a bureaucratic system straight out of Orwell’s 1984. And I keep telling my students to relax, as English is so easy to learn (I learnt it as a baby). Of course it’s easier to enjoy yourself if you’ve got pots of money. For the millions of Brazilians who haven’t, there’s always cold beer and barbecue. But no chance of any tickets for the World Cup – they’re way too expensive. Funny that.