Bathrooms in Brazil

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I know bathrooms are a bit of taboo subject, but there are definitely some things you will want to know before you go.

As to terminology, bathrooms are known as “Os Banheiros” or “Os Sanitarios”.   While the former is more commonly used (and found on signs), with my horrible Portuguese accent, I find people are more likely to understand me if I say the latter.  You don’t need to actually ask “where is the bathroom?” (Onde é o banheiro?), like in English, just raise your voice at the end of the word to convey that you are asking a question.

However, you probably won’t want to use the public bathrooms for anything besides urinating.  Brazilian plumbing is not the same as Canadian.  This means that bathroom tissue does not go in the toilet.  There is a small garbage in the toilet, and that is where you are supposed to dispose of the soiled paper.   The garbage is changed frequently, but it still smells.  Also, it is a somewhat small, so you have to use paper sparingly.    Airport bathrooms are the worst though, so I would definitely recommend against those.   Go during your layover in the USA (assuming you don’t fly direct), and then you should be good until the hotel.

At people’s homes, or in hotel rooms, you are more likely to find a bidet. If it doesn’t work, check the hose for a handle, not everyone uses the bidet, and some people turn it off without realizing. Bidets, however, are the wave of the future. Read the reviews of bidets on Amazon, and the only complaint you’ll find about them is that people get addicted – once you get used to a mini shower for you tushy, it’s hard to feel clean without it. I don’t understand why these things aren’t common in Canada. There is the occasional time you will find one in a public bathroom, but those are far and few between.

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Handheld units are by far the most common, use it like you would use a showerhead.   The pressure can be a bit strong before you get used to it, so start slowly.   Paper is used to dry, otherwise your bottom will be wet just like when you step out of the shower (which, you butt basically will have).

Otherwise, the washrooms are fairly normal. You may occasionally see an open air urinal behind the back of some bars. Brazil generally has signs that ask you limit your paper towel use to two sheets, to help with the environment. Note, that while hand dryers are usually even more environmental, they largely undermine washing your hands at all, and that doesn’t even consider the issues of pull doors.

Misconceptions about Brazil

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.

Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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.