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.

hand-157251_640

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.

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.

road-sign-2438289
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.

How to avoid getting sick on a Plane

cold-3861935_640.jpg

You wait for your vacation, counting the days, only to spend the first three days sick in bed. Its horrible and you feel like it ruins your entire vacation. There are many things that can make you sick, from the lack of sleep counting down the days to the vacation, to the stress of finishing your work before you go on your trip – sometimes it is only adrenaline keeping the illness at bay. However, one major source of illness that not everyone realizes is the airport and the airplane itself.

Germs are a part of daily life, but most of those you will encounter you will already have developed an immunity against. It is only when a new germ shows up that you get sick, and that’s why (most) people only get sick a handful of times per year. However, people at airports aren’t just bringing their luggage, they also bring their own micro flora of germs to travel with them – and just because they have their own immunity, doesn’t mean you do. Additionally, lots of people are travelling for lengthy periods of times, staying in the same clothes, and not showering for days. This means your chance of getting sick at an airport is significantly increased, and you’d be well advised to take extra precautions.

Assume everything is dirty. Tables, chairs, doors – these have all been touched by people from everywhere. Even if you assume everyone washed their hands after using the washroom (a dubious assumption at best), you can’t assume they didn’t scratch an under arm itch, or touch some other germ ridden area. Their hands then come in contact with things that you later use, and you are open to infection. This is even more true on the airplane, where they have limited time to switch between passengers, and so the cleanup will necessarily be limited. One of the worst offenders is the tray table where they will place your food, people sometimes use that when changing diapers – never let anything that you eat directly touch that tray. Wet wipes can help and are generally allowed on planes.

Since you have to keep your baggage in sight at all times, if you do have to use the washroom at an airport, you’ll have to handle it with your dirty hands from the stall to the sink – everyone else has to do that to (as I said, assume EVERYTHING is dirty). Wash your hands, and if they have the hand sanitizer, rub some on the handles of your bags and belt. Take every opportunity you can to wash your hands, and it is extra important to wash up before eating.

On any intercontinental plane, you will have hundreds of passengers, and, unfortunately, some of them will be sick. You are then jammed into a small area with them, seated like sardines, for many hours, breathing the same recycled air. Your best bet in this case is to turn on the overhead fan at maximum strength, and place it directly over your face – the plane has an internal filter that will help reduce the amount of germs you breathe in. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it helps significantly.

If you can avoid it, don’t use the airplane bathroom. Those are small washrooms, not cleaned regularly between visitors, and turbulence is a thing. Toilets flushing cause enough germs to circulate, I can’t imagine how bad an airplane bathroom is on a plane. If you have to use it, wet wipes are again your friend.

Don’t order ice in your drinks. The ice machine on planes is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to maintenance and cleaning, so, you really don’t want to risk the extra bacteria just so that your pop is a bit colder.

How to Prepare your Phone for Travel

andreas-haslinger-iD6mmn89YX4-unsplash.jpg

When travelling to other countries, many people leave their phone at home. This could be because they want to be “off the grid”, are afraid of losing the phone, or simply to avoid roaming charges. However, I would say this is always a mistake. Your phone is your lifeline in another country, it is the best chance you have at responding to an emergency, your best method for remaining safe, and is incredibly useful in your day to day while travelling (presumably you’ll want to use it as a Camera either way). A little bit of preparation ahead of time will allow your phone to be that much more useful when you go travelling:

First, and most importantly, double check the emergency numbers in the place you are visiting, and record them in your phone. In Brazil these numbers are:

  • Police – 190*
  • Ambulance & Fire –  192 or 193.

*Police will generally be able to help with any of the emergencies, but it is faster if you call the right number.

You’ll also want to download a translation app for your phone, and install the offline translation. I am a big fan of Google Translate, but I don’t know its availability for non-android phones. Test the download by putting your phone into airplane mode – it should still be able to translate phrases, including using the camera mode to translate written text. This will be fairly literal translations, but it will allow you to read anything from store signs to menus with relative ease. I don’t find the conversation feature works that well yet, but it still is incredibly useful to help you communicate.

It is a good idea to download the map of the city you are visiting in advance. The downloaded map will allow you to navigate should you get lost, and also to help you plan where you want to visit.  You do not need data to use the gps. Record the hotel you are staying at and the local spots you want to check out, and check the directions to the places at the times (adjusting for the time zones) you want to go – remember, traffic can be extremely bad in some cities (Minha Namorada – My Girlfriend, doesn’t even consider Toronto at rush hour to be bad traffic), and so you’ll want to check out the directions ahead of time to ensure your fifteen kilometre drive won’t take four hours. Be careful with directions though, they may try to send you through a Favela (Google doesn’t have an option to avoid them that I’ve seen), but if you are using Google Maps, you can drive past those areas and your phone will recalculate a new path for you.  Again, test your phones ability to give directions between two local spots at your destination before your trip with your phone in airplane mode to ensure the downloaded map is working correctly.

Download and install Uber (note: referral link). If you get stranded in Brazil, you don’t know who is driving that random taxi you flag down, if you can even find one. Most places have Wifi, and an Uber will have reviews from hundreds/thousands of previous riders. It is generally viewed as much safer. While hotel-associated cabs are probably your best bet, that may not always be an option. Check the driver’s rating, and check the driver’s number of rides. It will probably be safer and cheaper for you to take an Uber.

Download and install WhatsApp. If you don’t know what it is, WhatsApp is basically a text/voice/video messaging program, that runs over data rather than through standard telephone lines. WhatsApp is incredibly popular in Brazil, with most bigger businesses advertising that you can call them regularly, or on WhatsApp.

Finally, and this is the least important, install the app for your airline company. A lot of companies are phasing out in-seat entertainment for use on your phone/tablet. If you don’t have the app downloaded ahead of time, you might be stuck on the plane with no way to use the entertainment system.

If you have an unlocked phone, consider buying a prepaid Sim Card for your phone. These are very inexpensive, and are available at countless places. This will give you a Brazilian telephone number, but more importantly, it will give you a limited amount of data for use in a pinch.  Then you won’t have to keep your phone in airplane mode the entire time.andreas-haslinger-iD6mmn89YX4-unsplash.jpg