Tag Archives: life

Brazilians invented the selfie

I have no proof to back this claim up but there seems to be an unwritten law in Brazil that events – a holiday trip, an evening out with friends, a nice dinner – did not happen unless there is photographic evidence.

As of the youngest age, Brazilians are trained to smile at the camera which over the years converges into the same pose, the same grin repeated incessantly: Women stand slightly sideways, men as broadly shouldered as possible and both show that the money spent on the dentist was well invested.

The typical Brazilian holiday picture will show themselves in front of whatever tourist attraction they happen to visit. It’s important to note that it is not necessary to be able to recognize the attraction, the person is the relevant item to be on the photo.

Personally, I would not be surprised if hell was a place where you have to sit through endless repetitions of photos from the same people in front of something. Forever and ever.


The empty sidewalk phenomena

Unless it’s for taking out the dog or for jogging, Brazilians do not walk; they drive. For one, it’s because badly done sidewalks are another similarity between Brazil and Belgium Brussels.

For the other, it might be because the only poor devils walking are those who cannot afford a car. Or because driving is considered safer; i.e. it’s harder to rob a driving car than a pedestrian; though that certainly is not taking road safety into account.

Anyway, contrary to other cities in the world, I get to enjoy a relaxed walk to the bus station or to the next popular square without dodging fellow pedestrians, strollers or dogs, while only occasionally stumbling over roots or rocks.

Reality catching up

If a week after the delightful, almost magical experience of resolving a problem quickly and painlessly, you have neither received a call nor an email confirming that indeed, everything is ok; and you start to wonder what’s going on; the only solution (after nobody answers your calls) is to go and see for yourself.

Only to find out that your file has been, oh well, kind of forgotten. Because “your phone number was lacking”, though you distinctively remember providing this essential bit of information. Before you even get to ask why nobody thought about emailing you, it dawns on you that this is just reality setting in.

And you realize: Everything is back to normal.

The immense pleasure of things working out

Once you are used to things never being easy, such as getting a visa, a bank account or an apartment, the elevating feeling of walking into an administration & resolving a problem within 30 minutes is overwhelming.

Also, it doesn’t feel quite real. Or right for that matter. Despite having ALL necessary papers, stamps and signatures, a nagging feeling persists, that this was too easy, too good to be true.

So you go and pinch yourself, hope the best & enjoy the feeling while it lasts.

A Copa – a look back

Despite the fears and worries it started with, the world cup turned out to be quite an organizational success. In football terms, most Brazilians could have done without that semi-final* against Germany…

Though even after that stunning game and painful defeat, our Brazilian friends continued to be fantastic hosts. Having wisely made the decision to watch the semi-final apart, we came back together for the final and found our friends  cheering louder for Germany than we did. In a room that was beautifully decorated in German colours.

I probably made this comment before, still: Brazil might have many political, social and economic problems, but the people are great. The hospitality we experienced, the passion for futebol, and the cheerful yet critical pride in their own nation & its football team – it really makes a good place to live.

* Interesting side note: As the Brazilian team progressed through the world cup, the coach became “Felipão” the great Felipe – in the newspapers and on TV. After the 7-1 defeat, he was referred to as Luis Felipe Scolari again.



Flip-flops for every occasion

Floppies for every occasion
The ones for going to the movies were out…

This post is neither sponsored nor endorsed by a major company – with a name vaguely resembling one of the US states –  producing flip-flops.

Um pouco de musica

Samba is probably the one kind of music that comes to most people’s mind when thinking about Brazil; in line with carnival and Rio de Janeiro. Not surprising for a country of its size, there is much, much more with strong regional differences, trends and preferences.

Were it not for the help of a friend, I would be in no position to write about Brazilian music. I’m not really a fan of Bossa Nova and even less of  Forró – the popular music of the Northeast. Still, thanks to this friend who is fund of meaningful music, as opposed to the cheap, widely selling popular one, here below is a selection of songs he made me listen to to broaden my musical knowledge. What can I say but: Obrigada!

A loucura – the daily traffic lunacy

Brazilians are really no good at it: driving. They are not even particularly aggressive but simply incapable.

To accelerate quickly, to stay in line, to take a turn without blocking two other cars, to look where you’re driving – not one of these behaviors should be taken for granted when it comes to traffic. Even less practices like using the rear-view mirror or to look back over ones shoulder…

Behaviors that seem more popular among drivers here are the use of a cellphone, the sending of a few messages, the checking of facebook or to have a beer or two before driving back home. Really nothing unusual…

Knowing this, it doesn’t come as a surprise that traffic fatalities have been raising; even catching up with the murder rates according to some newspapers. Those who are most threatened by this development are not car- but motorbike drivers who recklessly double cars, buses or lorries left and right, always assuming that honking gives them priority and does away with the optical realities of the blind spot.

It doesn’t help that the helmet is – especially in the interior – considered as optional and that decent protective clothing is not so much unknown as unaffordable. On the other hand, Brazilians manage to turn a normal motorbike into a heavy duty transport engine, carrying not only the driver and a passenger but also two kids and the weekly grocery shopping. Or, as witnessed once by us, a driver, a passenger and the front half of a dead cow.

Truth to be told, the responsibility for the sometimes chaotic behaviors on the streets in Brazil does not only lie with the drivers. The conditions of the road and the cars is often just as frightening. Junky cars that are kept together by rust and habit only, streets with potholes of impressive depths as well as bridges that get flooded during raining season – it’s by no means easy to focus on the traffic.

Though that’s exactly what would be necessary, especially if you consider all those who ‘participate’ in it:

  • Oversized SUV whose owners’ driving capacity is inversely related to the horse power of their cars,
  • Optimistically loaded lorries whose brakes are all but reliable
  • Bus and taxi drivers who consider every centimeter of ground given away to another car as a personal defeat
  • Artisan karts drawn by horses or donkeys and often as optimistically loaded as the lorries
  • Barefoot cyclists talking on their mobile and of course without any light or protection whatsoever.
  • Plus, outside of the cities: cows, more donkeys & horses, goats, sheep, chicken, pigs and dogs. And occasionally urubuvultures feeding of the roadkill.

Indeed, driving is no easy feat in Brazil.

Arroz e feijão

Arroz e feijao

“Arroz e feijão” – rice and beans – are an essential, if not indispensable, part of every Brazilian lunch. EVERY lunch, every day, 365 days a year…
The rice and beans are joined – also every day – by a piece of meat which, depending on the budget, might be frango – chicken, carne – meat, synonymous with beef, or peixe – fish. Further depending on the region also comes on the table vinaigrette, actually a kind of tomato salad and farofa, roasted manioc flour which varies in taste anywhere between ,sand’ and ‘tasty & crispy’.

Independent of this menu, the expression ‘arroz e feijão‘ also stands for the ordinary, the business as usual, the boring monotony that Brazilians remember longingly – com saudade – once they are abroad.  Oh, yes, saudade…

There is hardly a more Brazilian word to be found. It describes the longing for the good old days, order, warm summer nights, the good time with friends, freedom, the beach and much more. In English, however, there seems to be no adequate translation for it.

In any case, ‘saudade’ is a fundamental concept that helps to understand the Brazilian way of thinking and living. Just as important in that respect is “dar um jeito”, or in its short form “o jeitinho”, best translated as ‘to find a way’. It mainly means two things: or to help someone, to take heart, to support or to cheat, to muddle through and even to play a trick on someone. However, that’s not all.

In its trinity o jeitinho represents the  complexity of the Brazilian existence: First, it states that there is always a way,  a path to cross, for example, the jungle of the Brazilian bureaucracy. Second, the range of possible uses of this beautiful idiom reflects the wide range of characteristic Brazilian – not to say human – behavior: from very generous and helpful to spiteful and selfish; with one behavior not necessarily contradicting the other.

To finish, let me add one more particularly picturesque expression to this idiomatic collection: “pé na Jaca” . Jacas – better known as jackfruit to the English speaking world – when cut open, emit a very sticky secretion that is all but impossible to wipe of with soap and water. The expression reminds me therefore nicely of the good old German “ins Fettnäpfchen treten”*. 


Well, I hope I haven’t done just that with this post.

* to put your foot in your mouth – hardly as pretty as pé na jaca

Imagina na copa

“Imagina na copa” – “Imagine, during the World Cup …” is currently one of the most heard & written sentences in Brazil.* Short, concise and said with a hint of resignation, it describes the current mood.

After years of strong economic growth and an increasing global popularity, culminating in the bid for the 2014 World Cup, a noticeable slow-down has set in. The World Cup, though not to blame for the situation, demonstrates that the foundation on which the development of recent years rested is still quite wobbly. The underlying weaknesses, may they be social, political or economic,  are as present as ever: mismanagement and -planning, corruption, poverty , inadequate education, inflation, etc.

The stadiums aren’t getting ready on time, infrastructure projects are delayed or cancelled altogether after the contracts went to the sons of mayors or senators. At the same time, rising bus and tomato prices** , minimum wages which don’t cover the cost of living… the list of misgivings long. The World Cup which was meant to show the new ascending, strong and self-confident Brazil is becoming more and more a demonstration – some may say the cause – of the country’s problems.

Baustelle Flughafen Sao P
Still, no need to be all that pessimistic. Instead, let’s focus on the best there is in this country. No, not the great landscapes, not the beaches, not the Samba or the Carnival, but the Brazilians themselves. They are outgoing, friendly and helpful, especially with foreigners . To spend time with family and friends, is incredibly important for Brazilians; so is good life. Above all, a good meal with carnezinho – a bit of meat (the ‘bit’ is not meant literally) – is very much appreciated, as is an evening on the beach or in a bar, with live music and sip of cool beer***

In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing more posts about Brazil, looking at this vast, fascinating country with its sunny and less sunny sides. Mas primeiro: seja bemvindo!

Baustelle Flughafen Brasilia

* The complete translation , including what’s not said, roughly corresponds to: “Imagine only how things will work out during the World Cup if already now…”

** Prices for public transport and food are a particularly sensitive issue, especially after the protests last year during the Confederation Cup .

*** Beer is served in Brazil chilling cold (-3° C). We’ll have to clarify why separately.