So you want to go to Brazil…

Hello comrades,humans, collections of star dust and other assorted material!

I could finally afford to visit Logan this year in Brazil (it’s all that Millennial avocado toast spending I do, I tell ya!). I was lucky enough to travel around the interior of the state of SP, the coast, as well as a bit of the southern part of Minas Gerais (see map below). To be fair, this is like if I went to the USA and traveled just to New York City, part of the New Jersey, and went to Maine for a bit. I’m not an expert, but I did learn a lot and wanted to share what I know!

Before I start, my biggest single recommendation is to have a Brazilian friend or family member there to meet and travel with. It’s a really hard country to get around if you don’t know what’s going on.

1. BRAZIL IS HUGE

  • Brazil is an enormous state with a ton of historical diversity and bio-diversity. Southern Brazil, like in Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, is arid and where a lot of ranching happens. It’s also where a lot of beer is brewed, and a lot of German and Dutch people settled there so there are fun touristy towns that do German-esque celebrations.
  • Northern Brazil is usually seen as poorer and lesser. A lot of Southern Brazilians see Northerners kind of like how Americans have stereotypes about Mexicans (just to clarify, fuck that). It’s not good. Northern Brazil is typically seen as poor, super rural, and there’s not a lot of opportunities there so many people head south to the bigger cities to try and start over. However, there are also a lot of beach resorts and vacation spots in the North (around Recife, Salvador, etc.), because that’s where the most famous beaches are, so a wealth divide is pretty apparent in a lot of places.
  • Where Brazil meets Paraguay is pretty much as sketch as you can get, perhaps minus the Venezuelan-Brazilian border right now.
  • The states themselves are massive. Minas Gerais is like the Texas of Brazil. Each state has a unique history and culture.

2. If you’re American, you NEED a visa.

  • If this makes you want to sigh, I’m going to tell you that it is incredibly difficult for Brazilians to get visas to come to the United States and they’re SUPER expensive, and also require two in-person appointments at the US Embassy in São Paulo, along with HOURS of waiting. In comparison what we have to do is nothing.
  • Americans pay like $45 for our visa, and you apply online. (They changed the restrictions last year and made it way cheaper and easier.) It’s a breeze. Brazil needs tourism so instead of being spiteful about Americans forcing Brazilians to go through a hellish process they’ve decided to make it easier for us.

3. Brazil has a complicated history. Know it, use The Google Machine, because it’s important.  

  • Brazil was “settled” (lol, the Portuguese showed up uninvited) in the early 1500s, but there were already hundreds of thousands of indigenous people called the Jiquabu who lived in dozens of different nations all over the country.
  • The Portuguese quickly killed a lot of indigenous people through disease introduction and labor, so started importing slaves. This did not end until 1888 (yeah, that’s late). As a result, Brazil has a huge population of Afro-Brazilians. Much of the food and culture of Brazil comes from the descendants of slaves. Anthony Bourdain (RIP) has a GREAT episode where he goes to Minas Gerais and learns about the history of Brazilian food and it’s African roots, and I highly recommend it.
  • Today, Brazil is a hugely diverse place. There are a large number of Japanese immigrants in the cities, and Nigeria’s second biggest population lives in Brazil. Lots of people from Angola come over as well. 43% of Brazilians self-identify as mulatto , which is mixed-race, and 8% identify as Black, which means it’s a majority non-white country.

4. Do NOT count on people speaking English everywhere. Also, Portuguese is really hard to understand even if you already know other Romantic languages. 

  • If you’re limiting yourself to traveling in large cities like Rio or São Paulo, or going to a beach resort in Bahia as many Europeans do in the winter, then you’ll probably be okay. Because the Olympics were hosted recently, many of the subway systems in Rio and SP have announcements and signs in both Portuguese and English. A lot of restaurants have English menus too.
  • However, if you are traveling in the interior, learn some Portuguese. Once you’re outside of the city, the odds that you’ll encounter English are fair, but not great.
  • Very few Americans bother to try to learn Portuguese before they arrive, but just learning how to say “hello” (bom dia/boa tarde/boa noite), “nice to meet you” (prazer), “thank you” (obrigado/a), “please” (por favor) and “goodbye” (tchau) will be much appreciated.

5. Brazil is not SUPER safe, don’t be an idiot, but you’ll probably be okay.

  • Keep an eye on your shit. Don’t wear flashy clothes, nice bags, or look like you’re worthy of theft. Be smart about how you get around- if you’re traveling alone as a woman, take taxis or Ubers at night rather than walking or using the subway.
  • Travel with a purpose. If you’re walking around the city, move. Don’t linger, don’t be on your phone, pay attention.
  • Street harassment is common for women. I was with my boyfriend the entire time which really cut down on that stuff, but there is a lot of that bullshit present. Being grabbed in bars, clubs, etc. is also really common.
  • If you’re traveling in a group, loudly speaking English makes you very obviously foreign and more of a target. Be smart and have common sense about where you are, how you appear, etc.

6. Brazil has a lot of racism, just like the USA. 

  • There is still a lot of racism in education and governmental systems and a lot of other barriers to keep people in place. It’s real and it’s endemic, and with Bolsonaro in power, it’s unlikely to get better (#EleNão).

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Now, more fun/practical things to know!

  • If you want to save money, go in May/June/July. 
    • This is Brazil’s winter. Prices for things are highest in December, January, and February, because this is when Brazil’s summer break is, so lots of families are traveling and vacationing. Brazil’s winters are also A LOT more manageable temperature wise (I nearly died being there in January and February!).
  • WEAR A TINY BIKINI AT THE BEACH!!
    • Brazilians give NO fucks about body types at the beach. Rock whatever you fancy. I myself have never felt comfortable rocking a tiny bikini before but went for it and it was AWESOME. 60 year old grannies were rocking smaller bikinis than me! And nobody cares!
  • Cold beer is like a goddamn religion. Take part. 
    • You typically buy 600 ml bottles that are put in protective “beer condoms” (that’s what they’re called I swear) and you sit around plastic tables and drink out of ideally cold little glasses.
      • If you’re beer is not cold, you can refuse it. Cold beer is taken that seriously. Most fridges/freezers have little temperature monitors on the front so you can see that your beer is ideally at about -1 or -2 C when it leaves the freezer.
  • Being called a gringo or a gringa is not an insult!!!! 
    • It’s not. I promise. Get over it.
  • You typically do not tip after meals. 
    • A 10% gratuity is automatically included, unless otherwise noted. You also don’t tip after things like manicures or pedicures (which are DIRT CHEAP so get one!)
  • If you go to a party or a gathering, it is common to greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON THERE. (It’s rude not to!) 
    • A kiss on the cheek and a “tudo bem?” (everything good/how are you?) is common. If you’re meeting somebody, a kiss on the cheek and a “Prazer!” is perfect. (Prazer means “pleasure”.)
    • You do this again when you leave a party. It’s exhausting and not ideal for introverts or those who like to slip away. It’s seen as rude if you do slip away. DO NOT BE RUDE. If I, an extreme introvert, can do this, you can too!
  • Abortion is illegal in Brazil. 
    • People *can* get pills and stuff but it’s usually through back channels, so be extra safe with your sex. Condoms are super easy to get there, and birth control is also pretty readily available, so be smart!!
  • Marijuana is notoriously poor quality and also just really ethically dirty there, (also illegal), so just avoid in general.  
    • If you’re an American and you’ve been in Colorado or Washington and taken part in our green goodness, I would suggest you not do so in Brazil. It is widely known that the quality of any weed in Brazil is going to be bad. It’s also illegal. Also, much like buying cocaine in the USA, by the time a lot of marijuana reaches you there’s probably been a fair amount of violence and really bad shit done so that you could partake, which is selfish and shitty on your part. Be ethical about your drug use people! 

I have SO much more to talk about but I’m going to break down my time there in a bunch of posts, so please STAY TUNED!!! (There will be at least one solely devoted to food and beverages!)

In the meantime, I recommend looking at Shannon Sim’s Twitter if you want to learn a bit more about being an American in Brazil: https://twitter.com/shannongsims

Here’s a neat video that I-D did with Grace Neutral about feminism and women’s movements in Brazil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cja_ND2iIWI

Tchau until next time!

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