Growing up in Canada, people often get an unwarranted poor view of other countries. Please don’t think I am suggesting Canadians are racist, or anything like that. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, Canadians simply don’t get educated about many countries around the world. By the time we learn about British History, French History, American History, and how they all integrate into Canadian History, there is not a lot of time to learn about other countries. In addition, as large as we are, Canada is fairly isolated on the map. We have one land border with another country (possibly two), and we live in one of the top ranked countries according to many different indices.
Accordingly, we can easily have rumours, singular items, or misleading headlines shape ours views of other countries. I’ve put together a list of Misconceptions about Brazil, misconceptions that I once believed, or that I’ve head from others:
1. Brazil is dangerous
Brazil is not dangerous. Canadians have an extremely low crime rate compared to the rest of the world, and we also tend to visit only countries very similar to our own, like the USA or Britain. However, all countries have places that are not safe. Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, and Newark all have high crime rates, and higher murder rates than Brazil. Yet, people don’t have the same irrational fears of those cities.
There are places in Brazil that are not safe. You simply have to stay out of the crime ridden areas though, and you will be fine. If you stay away from the Favelas, including the controversial Favela Tours, then you need not worry. This doesn’t mean don’t take precautions, but you don’t have to do anything different than you should do when visiting any foreign country, and especially when you don’t know the city.
2. Brazilians dress provocatively
I think this comes solely because of Brazilian Carnival. I haven’t been to Carnival, but the traditional Samba Dancers there dress in fairly provocative clothing. And when marketing Carnival and other Brazilian things to tourists, its not surprising that dress like this is used – sex sells, as the saying goes.
No one could rightly think this is how everyone dresses all the time. It is clearly the type of outfit worn for a special performance in one specific time and place, yet many people think about it when they think of Brazil. But, a quick thought experiment will quickly dispel these thoughts. Imagine for a second you live right on the equator, where the sun’s UV index ranges from a low of 5 to a high of 12.
Just to give those numbers some context, Vancouver ranges from 1-7, and the World Health Organization suggests that when the UV reaches just 8, that people avoid the outside during midday hours, seek shade, and that a shirt, sunscreen and hat are a must.
Would it make sense to show a lot of skin in those areas? Certainly not. In fact, when I have visited Brazil, it is almost always the tourists who are the ones provacatively dressed, and who ultimately looking like a tomato at the end of the day. While the Brazilians are the ones seeking shade, wearing hats, wearing UV-protective shirts, and actually getting through life without contracting Melenoma.
3. Brazilian animals are a constant threat.
Canadians don’t view Brazil quite as badly as we view Australia, but we aren’t used to dealing with poisonous animals. Accordingly, when visiting Brazil, we think about the horror stories of animals from the Amazon – anacondas, poison dart frogs, Brazilian Wandering Spiders, just to name a few. However, Brazil and the Amazon are not the same thing. And, this largely stems from a familiarity problem. People from countries outside of North America think of Canada and worry about bears or wolves. I’ve only ever seen a bear in the wild once or twice in my life, and that was when I was visiting small out of the way towns, and I was in a car. The same is true for Brazilian animals. You won’t see anything more dangerous than a hornet (which, don’t get me wrong, do suck – I have an irrational hatred of bees, wasps, and hornets). But, you don’t need to worry about snakes, or poisonous animals anymore than someone living in Toronto has to worry about bears.
I’ll add to this list as I encounter more misconceptions.
Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I had met the previous summer, and she’d even come to visit me over the Christmas holidays in Canada – arriving on a freezing cold day in Toronto when we broke a fifty year old record, but that is another story.
I had flown from Canada on a ‘milk run’ through the United States, and first arrived in Sao Paolo. As with most countries, I went across the border and through customs in Brazil in the first city I landed, São Paulo, it was a simple process because I had done my research ahead of time, and then I had a short layover before heading to Recife. I was actually worried I would not catch my connecting flight initially, because of a long line for checking in, but luckily there were many signs in Engliish. Following them, I saw that there was a second check-in tucked away in a corner, specifically for connecting flights, and where there was no line.
I had an uneventful flight to Recife, which is the State Capital of Pernambuco, just under two hours away from Joao Pessoa. Then I was back in the loving arms of Minha Namorada – I won’t bore you with the romantic details, but she was a sight for sore eyes.
Recife is not a city that I have visited much, or that I particularly like, and the route we took out of the City did not help. I’m sure it has many beautiful areas, and I’m sure it actually is a nice city, but if you’ve ever been to Chicago, you’ll understand how I could have accidentally seen only the bad portion of the City.
Baggage comes out much faster in Brazil, which was refreshing. One time I was standing waiting for my bag for ten minutes, and staff actually came to check on me, because it was so unusual – that time was my own fault, I followed someone I thought was on my flight, and ended up waiting at the wrong carousel.
My first stop in Brazil was at a place in the airport called Casa Do Pao de Queijo. Pao Do Queijo is one of my two favourite Brazilian foods, the other being Carne De Sol but I had yet to try Carne De Sol. Pao do Queijo, however, is common at Brazilian Steakhouses in Canada, whereas Carne De Sol is not.
After a quick snack, we were off to drive to Joao Pessoa. The countryside in Brazil was very beautiful – the part between Joao Pessoa and Recife has a number of hills, and some beautiful sugar and pineapple farms. Coming from Western Canada, as I do, I found the similarity and yet differences between the farms so interesting – also, I had somewhat forgotten that Pineapples grow in the ground.
We arrived in Joao Pessoa, and that’s when I got to meet Minha Namorada’s family. Sweaty and smelling from a long day of travel, I was welcomed with open arms. Her brother was excited to see me, and had been practicing his English specifically so that we’d be able to talk, and with a small group of people they very kindly spoke slowly and waited for Minha Namorada or her brother to translate for me so that I could respond, as at this point I basically spoke any Portuguese.
Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world, and so Mass is an important aspect of life. We went to a service on Saturday, as we wouldn’t be able to make it on Palm Sunday (it was right before Easter). Services in another language are difficult to follow, but they do give you a handout to read, and at least some parts (like the Lord’s Prayer) always have the same rhythm, so I did my best. Like many places in Brazil, it a very open building to allow a breeze, but it was still very hot.
We then went to see Minha Namorada’s mother, who is also lovely. She and I spoke through Minha Namorada and Google Translate (make sure to download Portuguese for offline use ahead of time), and we had fun.
Prior to arriving in Brazil, I had heard many of the stereotypes. First and foremost was the crime. I did some actual research, and while the crime rates are high, it is largely confined to the Favelas. Crime statistics are sometimes misleading, Acapulco in Mexico hass the third highest per capita murder rate in the world, but no one thinks twice about going there for Spring Break. If you stay out of the Favelas, then the crime rate drops significantly. There are Favela tours which some people go on, I do not. While there is debate about Favela Tours themselves, sufficed to say, they are just not for me.
However, one thing that is initially unnerving is that every building you see will have a wall. It is unnerving in the same way that it is unnerving when you see security at airports in The Netherlands carrying machine guns – why would they have them, unless they need them? But what I realized while sitting on the apartment patio, right next to the (relatively) low wall, chatting with Minha Namorada’s mother, is that a large amount of the reason for the walls are that they are a form of security theatre. I do believe it helps to make a big show of security, as it deters some would-be criminals or crimes of opportunity. Obviously, you shouldn’t take stupid risks, but that’s true of anywhere, and ultimately, I felt perfectly safe in Brazil after that night.
We then went out briefly to a bar, again it was wide open with an extended roof to protect us from the rain, and we relaxed with two of Minha Namorada’s friends. A lot of the bars have live music, and you should be aware that if you stay to listen, they’ll come around and ask you to pay a small fee to the band – essentially a cover charge, but one that comes alongside your bill at the end of the night. They play lovely music, often Forró, which is a big in the Northeastern culture, and it is definitely worth the money to experience such a riveting part of the culture. The cost will be a minor amount anyways – less than a GST/HST charge, which Canadians are used to anyways. Remember, the exchange rate is heavily in your favour.
I was tired after travelling, and while I am probably better at sleeping on a plane than most, we called an end to my first day in Brazil.