Cultural Observations about Rio de Janeiro

I wrote a similar post about Buenos Aires, so I thought I’d write one for Rio de Janeiro as well.  It’s not really possible to capture everything about Rio in this one post, but this will serve for now because there’s just too much that I want to write.

– “Brazilians are just SO NICE!”  So everyone who comes to Brazil–friends of mine who have visited, people who have recently moved here–all say this same thing: “Brazilians are just so nice!”  It’s true.  Brazilian people are some of the nicest humans I’ve ever met.  They are patient with you even if you don’t speak their language.  They go out of their way (usually) to help you.  They are inviting of new people (and even foreigners) into their social circles.  They are just warm, friendly, lovely people.

– People have incredible beach bodies here.  I mean, it makes sense.  There are gorgeous beaches right in the heart of the city, and I’d guess the average carioca spends about 2.4 days out of the week on the beach.  We’re talking lean, mean, toned, bronzed, tight, fit, voluptuous, sculpted bodies for both men and women.  I’m sure it’s one part genes.  But it’s also another part working out.  People here work out constantly, which amazes me because the gyms are often very expensive (upwards of $150 USD per month) if you want a gym that at all resembles the gyms we’re used to back in the States.  The workout culture here is so prominent that there are even gyms on the beach, little stations where people can do pull-ups, dips, lateral-something-or-others… (I’m not very well-versed in workout nomenclature).  Apart from these there is Muscle Beach, an actual gym set up on the beach with real weight machines, free weights, an area for classes such as yoga and abdominals, and trainers who will give you suggestions and instruct you on how to really work your muscles.  (I was an official card-carrying member, though only went about… twice… during the several months it was by my house.)  And my favorite–the Flintstone Gym.  I have to credit Adam with bringing me here for the first time.  Picture me, a little Asian girl waltzing into an outdoor gym, made of concrete blocks and metal bars, filled with guys whose muscles are what I can only call… scary?  It’s an intimidating scene, but hey, I have just as much right to lift some weights as the next carioca meathead.  I will say the scenery there is ridiculous–a beautiful ocean view with the Arpoador rocks on one side–much nicer than a wall of mirrors inside a sweaty indoor gym.  Here’s a picture of Zachek and I getting our swell on at the Flintstone Gym:

just working on the ole' triceps and biceps before heading to the beach...

– A related point: Brazilians like (and have) bit butts and I can not lie.  Not that I’ve really been checking out everyone’s asses here, but they kind of make it impossible to ignore.  At the beach, women wear tiiiiny bikinis, which often don’t cover much of their bottoms or just expose the entire ass unabashedly–straight thongs everywhere.  And though I sort of have to give it up for the sheer ballsiness of the *ahem* older/wrinkly/cellulite-ridden/un-fit women out there who also rock these barely-there filo dental-(literally, “dental floss”) style bikinis, there are also many, many women who parade around in these tiny swimsuits because they know they be lookin good.  The obsession with the butt, the bunda, is a very Brazilian thing I think.  Carioca funk music talks about it all the time, and any respectable MC has to have at least one dancer whose job is to literally just shake her very scantily-clad ass at the audience for the entirety of the show.  And what we’ll call “magazines for men” always feature women turned around with their bundas prominently displayed–even if they are fully clothed on top.  And, most telling of all perhaps, is that it is actually not uncommon for women to get butt implants here.  Crazy.

– Brazilian men are very forward.  Zachek properly described the experience as having to “run the gauntlet.”  Suffice it to say, guys here are the opposite of shy and subtle.  They can actually be quite aggressive and annoying.  If they think you’re attractive, they will say it out loud to you (“Voce e linda“) as you walk by on the street.  And there’s no such thing as spitting game outside your league here.  Alive and still breathing?  Then apparently it’s still okay for you to hit on girls one-third your age.  If they think you’re attractive and have a shot at kissing you, they’ll probably just go right in for it, or at least ask for a kiss right off the bat, even if you haven’t even given them your name.  This subject probably deserves its own post at some point, so I won’t go on in detail now.

– Arroz, feijao, carne.  (Rice, beans, steak.)  Ask any carioca what their favorite food is, and they’ll most likely say those three words.  Brazilian food is certainly not very inventive, and it’s salty as f*ck.  But they do know how to make some great black beans, and I personally find this dish quite delicious.  But having lived here now for almost seven months, I am really craving some greater variety.  But in order to get Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, even “American” food, you have to shell out a small fortune, and I, my friends, am not in the position to do that.

– Speaking of shelling out a small fortune, Rio is expensive!  I’ve found that you don’t get a lot of BFB here (that is, bang for buck).  You’d think that at least produce would be cheap–but no.  I tried to buy an apple off the street today and the guy charged me R$1.25, which is about 75 cents in the U.S.  That’s expensive, isn’t it?  For one apple?!  (Or am I just really out of touch with how much things should cost?)  A small head of broccoli costs about $2.50 here (all prices I’m listing I’ve already converted from the Brazilian real to the US dollar).  A tiny block of cheese costs $12!  A shabby (and not-so-chic) dress can cost $40, instead of the $20 shabby but pretty chic stuff you can find at places like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara in the States.  Restaurants that serve only mediocre food charge $20 per plate.  And forget about buying any electronics here.  Brazil has ridiculously high taxes on electronics, resulting in prices here that are up to two times what you’d pay in the States for a computer, an mp3 player, a cell phone, etc.

– Sucos stands = the Brazilian answer to fast food.  On nearly every corner of the city you can find a small eatery where they sell salgados, a bready pastry that is usually filled with cheese and meat; sandwiches (hamburgers, turkey sandwiches, tuna salad, etc.); and fruit juices and smoothies.  These are a fast, easy, cheap option to getting food when you don’t have the time to sit down for a meal, but note that people usually don’t buy the food and then just eat it on the go.  Brazilians always stay at the counter and finish their food and drinks there before walking off.  This has always baffled me.  The only reason I’m buying this food is because I’m in a hurry!  Not only does my being Asian single me out as foreign; the fact that I eat salgados on the way to my next class does as well.

– So many workers, so little productivity.  I’m not sure the socio-economic reasoning behind this, and/or how companies can afford to do this, but I’ve noticed time and time again that stores here often have a serious excess of employees, and either no customers, or several customers that the employees aren’t attending to.  Even with six excess employees on hand, one still has to wait forever to pay.  I will never forget when Adam texted me one time saying that he counted TWELVE employees at the Subway in Ipanema–which is literally a 20 feet by 10 feet space, including the counter at which the sandwiches are made–and he was the only customer in the store.  It takes maybe two people to run a Subway shop: one to make sandwiches, and one to man the cash register.  Not to mention, with so many employees, doesn’t the shop just get overcrowded?  It’s an interesting phenomenon indeed.

– There is a very sharp social class division in Rio.  Perhaps this is true everywhere in every city in the world. But I’ve hung out with people on both sides of the divide and it’s interesting to me as an outsider to hear their opinions about the “others.”  There are the rich, mostly white, very stylish Brazilians who live in neighborhoods like Leblon, Ipanema, Gavea, and Jardim Botanico.  These people live in gorgeous penthouse apartments and houses on private streets.  They go out to exclusive clubs where you pay an exorbitant amount just as the cover charge, and pay even more for the pricey drinks inside.  They go to private schools, hang out in Leblon bars, and vacation in Europe.  They drive to places.  They drop $200 easy on meals.  Then there are the poor Brazilians who are mostly black or “moreno” (a term they use here, as there are few people who are truly just black or white), who live in the favelas in very simple concrete and brick homes.  They take public transportation and go to public schools.  They go to baile funk parties instead of bars, and work long hours (often serving those who live in the nice Leblon penthouses) instead of vacation.  Of course there are many people who fall in between, but the differences on either end of the spectrum are stark.

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2 thoughts on “Cultural Observations about Rio de Janeiro

  1. hi love! haven’t spent too much time in my Reader but here i found myself today–just wanted to say hello! and i’m reading your posts 🙂 sorry about your loss… hope things on that front are going as well as they can. your adventures sound great! and looking forward to the next time we get to see you! take care xo

  2. Hey, really great blog post… I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy.

    I actually work for the CheapOair travel blog. If you’re interested, we would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: gchristodoulou(at)cheapoair(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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