Outlets in Brazil

When travelling to Brazil, you’ll probably at some point consider the fact that you’ll have to charge your electrical devices, and you’ll wonder about the outlets – will you be able to plug everything in? Unfortunately, this is not an easy answer. Because, in Brazil, they have three different types of outlets (not counting the large-device plugs for fridges, air conditioners, etc.).

The first outlets are actually the North American standard – these are more common in older areas, but Brazil changed outlet type a couple times.

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Type B Outlet

The second type are probably the least common, but could be easily made backwards adaptable so that new devices could use prior plugs with minor modifications – this way people didn’t need adapters for their day-to-do.

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Type C Outlet

The third type are no doubt the safest – they are the only properly grounded outlets, and the outlets themselves are slightly recessed so as to avoid that short period when both the metal is exposed and the electricity is still flowing. It also helps reduce the chance of sparks when plugging/unplugging a device, as the spark is better contained in the plastic cover.

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Type N Outlet – Fasouzafreitas [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
However, this is only half of the battle – you also need to check your device, because the Brazilian power system is generally on 220v. While this has some benefits for devices that run on both (my cellphone charges so incredibly quickly), this does mean that some electrical devices can be damaged if you use them without a transformer. Most devices will be fine, but its still best to check.

So, if you are wondering what adapter to buy before travelling to Brazil, the answer is “don’t.” Buy an adapter after checking into your hotel and determining which type of outlet you need – it varies too much right now, and even Minha Namorada carries an adapter with her so that she can use outlets wherever she goes. This also has the added benefit of being cheaper, since there isn’t enough demand in Canada to make Brazilian Adapters profitable, you’d have to buy a high-end universal adapter here to ensure it covers Brazil, whereas you can get them cheap at the hotel in Brazil, or even cheaper at a local mall.

Doctors in Brazil

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I sincerely hope you don’t get sick when on vacation. Brazil has some great doctors and clinics, but being sick during the holidays is just not fun. But, should you get sick, you should be assured that you will be in well-trained hands.

Should you have to go to the doctor for an emergency, remember that most travel insurance providers require you to call them prior to receiving treatment, or at least at your first opportunity – this can often be done by someone on your behalf if you are in a life-threatening situation. It is for this reason you should keep a copy of your insurance in your wallet, and a digital copy should be sent to one of your travelling companions before you go. That way, you can access it, and your friend can access it, should you need. Most travel insurers will help you find the right care, and from someone who speaks English, which is a lot more useful in an emergency.

However, you might get slightly sick in the country, but not so much that you consider it an emergency – what if you just catch a cold, or have a bad cough. Your travel insurance isn’t designed for this, but if you want to make sure it isn’t something more serious/get some advice on the correct over-the-counter remedy, you’ll want to talk with a doctor. Now, Canadians are scared about going to see doctors in foreign countries for good reason – getting a band aid from a hospital in the United States can cost over $600, but you needn’t be as concerned in Brazil. Brazil has a mixed private-public system (as a Canadian, you’ll have to pay either way), but their system is not nearly as expensive as in Canada. If you have an illness you just want checked out while vacationing, try a policlinica. These are essentially walk-in clinics like in Canada. During one visit, I had a bad cough that worried Minha Namorada, so she insisted I go. After less than a fifteen minute wait, and about $30, I had visited a General Practitioner, and he’d suggested some medicines that I could take – of note, I could have chosen to see a specialist in the office, although those were a bit more expensive. Unlike in Canada, GP’s aren’t gatekeepers in Brazil, so you don’t need a referral.  Your only issue then is the language barrier, but time isn’t of the essence in a non-emergency situation – so either call ahead and find out if they speak English, or you can use your phone in a pinch.

When going to the pharmacist to fill any prescription, I generally ask for the generic brand of the medicine. Like in Canada, it is essentially the same product, and getting the brand name is paying for the trademark.

Christmas In Brazil

This year Minha Namorada and I spent Christmas (called Natal) in Brazil. There were both a lot of similarities, and a lot of differences. Of course, the main difference, was the weather. They don’t exactly have White Christmases in Brazil. I found it initially hard to get into the Christmas Spirit because of this – Christmas is so associated with winter in Canada that once the hot sun hit me, it suddenly felt like it was no longer December. Brazil is the land of eternal summer after all. I did somewhat miss the feeling when you come in from a bitterly cold winter day and tear off the winter gear as the warmth from inside slowly soaks into your frozen limbs. The feeling of slowly warming up is very much associated with Christmas to me, but I’m also one of those crazy Canadians who loves winter. But, watching fireworks by the beach for Christmas is pretty good too.

Brazilians, like many French Canadians, traditionally have their Christmas Dinner at midnight on Christmas Eve. Many families don’t actually stay awake that late nowadays, but it has led to many more people having “Christmas Eve Dinner” rather than “Christmas Dinner” – Christmas being a day for relaxation and spending time with family. Christmas Eve, though, has many parties and outings, which start and end late, due to family commitments that run well into the evening. For example, we were out until about 3 a.m. drinking with one of Minha Namorada’s cousins, and some other cousins were at a party until 7 a.m. Christmas morning itself, is usually spent sleeping as a result.

Santa, or Papai Noel, as he is known in Brazil, is still just as prevalent, although his clothing doesn’t make as much sense when its not cold. I’m not sure the extent to which kids believe in Santa. Minha Namorada said it wasn’t that common, but when I showed my sobrinha (niece – actually one of Minha Namorada’s cousin’s daughter) the NORAD Santa Tracker, she was fascinated and constantly asking me to update her as to where Santa was and where he was going next.

The food is actually extremely similar to food in Canada. I would not have been surprised at all to have had that exact same meal in Canada.

While Christmas gifts are common in Brazil, neither myself nor Minha Namorada come from families that are big on buying presents for Christmas. We’d both rather just spend the time together, and maybe do a little bit nicer meals around the holidays.

I don’t have all the pictures we took, as we mostly used Minha Namorada’s phone.  check out the gallery in a future update for them.

Hand Gestures in Brazil

When travelling in Brazil, you will no doubt notice that hand gestures are different. There is a distinct lack of the North American “OK” gesture, and this is not without reason. The OK gesture commonly used in North America, is very similar to an offensive gesture in Brazil (and other places), as it technically means “asshole” in Brazil, but carries a stronger connotation. It is best thought of as the equivalent of giving the middle finger – essentially, the opposite of a North American’s intention. While the Brazilian may realize your intentions – either by realizing that you are from abroad, or from their own consumption of American Media, it is still best to avoid the potential conflict.

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Instead, Brazilians use another popular North American Gesture, the standard “thumbs up”. It is used in a multitude of situations, far more than any other hand gesture. When I first arrived in Brazil, I noticed it immediately, and it really leaves a person with a feeling of friendliness. Generally speaking, I try to follow Brazilian culture when I visit, and so I try to integrate the thumbs up regularly. I use it instead of waving thank you, alongside anytime I say “obrigado” (thank you), and anytime I want to show a kind gesture. But, this is not the only reason I do this. I also know that I talk with my hands more than I should, and it would be very easy for me to accidentally use the okay gesture without thinking about it. By consciously using one gesture, it prevents me from absent-mindlessly using the inappropriately using the other.

I would note that Brazilians still will understand if you were to use The Finger, but I would highly recommend against using it in anger – my experience is that Brazil has a bit of an Honour Culture, and it is not a good idea to attempt to offend someone. Tempers can easily flare in Brazil, people do not back down as easily, and situations can develop quickly into a level of conflict that was not initially sought. It is better to avoid confrontation – luckily, Canadians are generally less confrontational than other cultures, so this should not be a significant issue.

Restaurants in Brazil

While your hotel will often include breakfast, you are most likely going to eat the majority of your meals at restaurants when vacationing, and there are some important things you will want to know about doing so.

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Beach front restaurants tend to have a building, but everyone sits on the beach under the parasols

At many restaurants in Brazil, they will have entrees for two, three, or even four people. While there will also be meals for one, I have found the norm to be at least two. There should be some sort of indication of the number of people each meal serves. You may have to scan the menu to find where it indicates though, as, like in Canada, menu designs vary wildly from restaurants to restaurant. If you don’t know, it is always best to ask. Most restaurants, in my experience, will have someone working that speaks English at all times, or if you have prepared your phone properly, you’ll be able to translate what you need – but worst case scenario, you can always pantomime for a question like that. Personally, I find the serving sizes are a bit small in Brazil, and I once basically ate a meal for three people by myself, but I think that’s more of a personal thing, than Brazil vs. Canada.

One thing that it always takes me a bit to remember at Brazilian restaurants, is that the servers do not come to the table unless called over. There is no checking if your food came out right, there is no asking if you need anything else. Instead, the server stays at the back of the restaurant and watches the tables from afar. You simply raise your hand and wave them over if you need anything. This is extremely convenient, as your table will not be interrupted in the middle of a story, nor do you have a server come by just as you’ve taken a bite to ask about the food, and generally the server will come by faster. As a Canadian, it feels rude to wave at the servers like that, but it really is a better system.

Taxes are included in the menu price, but the tip is not. A 10% tip is added to the end of the bill automatically, so the total of the bill will be the total you should pay – you do not need to tip anything above the amount they add. I find that I already calculate an additional amount in my head, because of the crazy Canadian system of adding taxes after the advertised price, and so I never really experience any sticker shock when the bill arrives like I assume most Europeans would. The automatic tip amount is also simpler than trying to decide if the waiter brought your drink out fast enough to warrant an extra percentage, although I still think it would be best to just pay servers a proper wage. You can ask to remove the tip if you choose, but that is just as awkward as you imagine it to be.

Driving in Brazil – Don’t.

I highly discourage Canadians visiting Brazil from renting a car, or driving locally.

Some people when visiting another country like to rent a car to see the sights. In fact, I have heard anecdotes of Canadians (or even Americans) taking day trips in foreign countries that to the locals would take the better part of a week.   It is easy to get lulled into a sense of confidence in Brazil, because their road signs are strongly based on the US Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Standard, which is used in the USA and is very similar to Canada’s own version. The major difference being that their signs are in Portuguese.

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Other than the Portuguese, this sign wouldn’t seem out of place in Canada

However, this is not a good idea to do in Brazil.  There are multiple reasons for this.

Brazilians are extremely aggressive drivers compared to Canadians. You may regularly find them running red lights, and disobeying other traffic laws. As much as you may occasionally see a motorcycle in Canada weave through traffic, this is something we experience at almost every stop when I am out with Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) – and they will squeeze through the smallest of gaps. Additionally, cars will often drive  erratically, seemingly without regard to the other vehicles on the road. If you grew up with this, then you’d be fine.  But for a Canadian that is accustomed to having a lot more space, it is extremely disconcerting.

Additionally, directions can be difficult. Google Maps may send you through the Favelas rather than taking you the longer, but safer route. This happens much less if you have internet on your phone, but it is always better to be with an experienced driver who can recognize the signs before you enter into the wrong part of town – I know I’m not good at noticing.  Distracting driving laws also mean you can’t use your phone while behind the wheel, making it that much harder to get where you want to go.

Finally, road quality can be an issue. This is not to say that Canadian roads are always better – about 60% of Canada’s roads are unpaved, but you don’t want to hit a pothole and get stuck in the middle of nowhere, hoping that the next person to come your way will stop and help you.  This would be especially worrisome if you don’t speak Portuguese.

The better options are to arrange travel between cities with your travel agent ahead of time, and to use Uber or have your hotel arrange a taxi for you. Uber is generally safer, as you can quickly look at the driver’s history (rating, number of rides, etc.), but I also understand that many people will not feel comfortable getting into an unknown person’s car. So, note the Canadian Government’s suggestions on taxi travel in Brazil:

  • Local law requires the use of the taxi meter to determine the legal fare. Adding surcharges to a fare is illegal.

    Should taxi rates change and their taxi meters have not been adjusted, drivers may indicate these changes by showing an authorized paper with the new fares.

    Many tourists hire “radio taxis”, also known as “commun taxis.” These taxis operate at a fixed price irrespective of the time of the day and the time it takes to arrive at your destination.

    • Only use official taxis
    • Upon arrival to Brazil, purchase your fare from licensed taxi offices in the airport arrival hall or near the taxi queues
    • During your stay, use licensed taxis from taxi stands

https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/brazil

Do not use the buses, or any form of public transit at night.

If you do insist on driving, Brazil allows Canadians to drive for up to 180 days with a Canadian Drivers’ License, although its recommended you get an international drivers’ permit, and have a translation of your license.  Brazil has a zero tolerance for drinking and driving (0.00%), with heavy fines or jail time should you be caught.

Stray animals in Brazil

Unfortunately, Brazil has a problem with many stray animals. It is likely you will see stray dogs and cats scrounging for food, or lounging in the shade during the heat of the day. Like in Canada, you should not feed these animals. You don’t know where they have been, you don’t know if they might bite, or if they have diseases.

It is an unfortunate situation to be sure, but the animals are actually fairly well socialized. Generally speaking while dogs might look at you to see if you will feed them, they largely don’t get too close. They are equally wary of humans (probably a lot have been abused). Lots of people do throw scraps and other food to the animals, so don’t be fearful that they won’t be eating.

I find cats are actually more willing to come to the table and beg for food directly. At one restaurant, I was sitting outside (as I usually do in Brazil) and I repeatedly had to shoo away a cat who wanted to jump up on my lap and share my dinner. It broke my heart to say no, but I didn’t know if the cat was healthy. I did realize the reason the cat was so intrusive, the owner of the restaurant regularly fed this cat. He even let it into his house (attached to the restaurant), although very obviously had taken measures to prevent it entering into his kitchen.

It is very hard to see these animals and not want to take them home with you. But, it definitely reinforced the importance of Bob Barker’s classic sign-offs, “don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets”.

Don’t think for a second that Brazilians don’t like animals though. Lots of people do have dogs and cats as pets though. And just like anywhere else these pet owners clearly spoil their pets. I do wonder how the animals stay cool enough with their thick coats of fur, but anytime of day you’ll see lots of pets taking a walk with their humans, exploring every interesting smell along the way, happy as can be.