A Student’s Guide to Brazil


Rio de Janeiro viewed from the summit of the sugar loaf mountain. Rio has an interesting mix of subtropical climate and bustling metropolis with a population of over four million citizens.

Rio de Janeiro viewed from the summit of the sugar loaf mountain. Rio has an interesting mix of subtropical climate and bustling metropolis with a population of over four million citizens.

Story and Photos by: Todd Freimuth  Staff Writer

With the 2014 World Cup quickly approaching and Rio de Janeiro playing host to the 2016 Summer Olympics as well, Brazil has increasingly appeared on the radar for many of us restless travel types.  The country of 200 million people stands apart from the rest of the South American continent with its own unique culture and global identity, beckoning to be explored.  Whether a vacationer is planning on spending all their days lounging on the soft, sandy beaches of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro or meandering among the graffiti covered streets of Vila Madalena in São Paulo, there are some things one should know to avoid being labeled as just another typical Gringo or Gringa.

The view from Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro looking towards the Leblon neighborhood during sunset.

For starters, slow down.  If the bus to Paraty from Sao Paulo is two hours late, do not panic, it is actually not even running on the time that is displayed on your wrist watch.  The Brazilians follow their own pace of life known among many travelers as “Brazilian time.”  Foreigners must realize that part of what allows Brazil to be Brazil is the laid back, relaxed mindset that its citizens carry happily day to day.  Nothing ever actually comes to pass at the exact time it is scheduled and to rush is to sin.  That goes for everything from the kick off of a futball match to a businessman’s important meeting regarding global economics.  This seems to be the hardest thing for many travelers to gain a grasp of but, in the end, there is no way of changing or navigating around it.  Complaining to the bus ticket booth attendant will only be awarded with a shrug of the shoulders or a disingenuous apology.  The pace is simply just slower.  “Calma gringo, calma.” (Relax foreigner, relax.)

The view of Sao Paulo from the Altino Arantes building. The greater metropolitan area of Sao Paulo is home to over 20 million people and is the economical and cultural center of the country.

Look into buying a Portuguese phrase book and interact with the people who live where you are visiting.  Contrary to what people may hear, Brazilian Portuguese is not all that similar to Spanish.  Spanish as a second language speakers should forget a lot of what they learned in class, otherwise be exposed to a lot of confusion.  Portuguese certainly belongs amongst the other romance languages, but the similarities end at basic verb conjugations.  Travelers should not let the unfamiliarity of the language deter them from immersing themselves among the friendly locals though.  An increasingly larger number of the Brazilian population have begun to pick up on the English language thanks to Hollywood, global trekkers and an increased amount of government funding into education.  Some phrases that could not hurt a traveler to learn though are “Eu não falo muito Português,” (I do not speak a lot of Portuguese) and “Você pode me ajudar?” (Can you help me?).  Brazilians are super hospitable and conversational, often able to talk one’s ear off if a person allows them to.  When a foreigner starts off with a “Bom Dia,” (Good Day) they will almost always achieve what they are looking for in ways of help or basic directions.  “Fala serio, tenta!” (C’mon, try!)

Found in most luncheonettes all around Brazil, this popular Brazilian snack is most often made with chicken encased in mashed potatoes and then deep fried.

A personal pet peeve of mine, travelers who spend all their time eating in overpriced restaurants that are charging patrons an arm and a leg for mediocre chicken and rice.  True explorers who want to learn about the culture and people of Brazil need to hit up the street side restaurants and vendors where the locals gather to play dominoes and watch life move on by.  Some Brazilian foods that travelers should take the time to appreciate are coxinhas and feijoada.  The drumstick shaped coxinhas can be found in the window display of almost all lunchenates.  Often filled with chicken, encased in mashed potatoes and deep fried, a few of these go great with a cool beer and some hot sauce.  Brazil’s most popular dish is the feijoada; many locals even consider it the national dish of the country.  Prepared with black beans, blood sausage and salted pork all stewed together, the salty and savory dish is served in heaping portions with a side of white rice and orange slices.  People should find a “Ma and Pa” style restaurant for a true homecooked version of this hearty meal.  “Bom apetite!” (Enjoy the food!)

There are of course countless more ways to avoid being labeled as just another face in the mass of foreigners but, these considerations will help one get on the right track to sticking out in the right ways.  So slow down, listen to the lingo and most important, do not be afraid to try new things while exploring Brazil’s methodology of living the good life.  “Tchau, ate depois.” (Bye, until next time.)