Mysteries of Brazil

After traveling through Brazil for three months and living in Rio for two months, I still have some unanswered questions. If you have answers or your own questions, please add them in the comments.

– Why do Brasil’s maxi-pad packages contain so few maxi-pads, say, 8? Do Brazilian women have lighter periods than American women or do we Americans buy in bulk for the menstrual apocalypse?

– How do Brazilians survive on the minimum wage of about R$500 per month in Rio or any of the other major cities in Brazil? That’s about US$270 for four forty-hour weeks. Bus fare alone is more than US$1 per ride.

– How did the telephone companies get away with such oppressive plans in Brazil (and I gather much of Latin America)? Many people use prepaid plans, and on these plans, even a local phone call can run about US$1 per minute.

– Why do Brazilians always default to party mode, while Argentineans default to protest?

– Why do Cariocas (Rio residents) use the definite article “o” and “a” before the names of people and cities? A Carolina, o Rio, por ejemplo. . . (And the rest of Brasil does not?)

– Why do most pharmacies offer scales for customers to weigh themselves near the entrance? Is it a way to lure shoppers? I saw one clever pharmacy position the scale near the weight-loss products but often drugstores don’t even sell weight-loss products. Can most people not afford scales? Does any other country’s drugstores offer free scales?

– Why are there always SO many people working in shops, juice bars, drugstores, each person with a minute job as part of a complex division of labor?

– Why are Brazilians so friendly toward foreigners?

– Why are Brazilians so obsessed with taking showers? Are other hot cultures just as shower-obsessed? I can’t believe all of them are as obsessed as Brazilians are. And why is taking a shower and going swimming both called taking a bath?

– Will abortion ever be legal here?

– Why are people so fast to make out and exchange tongues with people they meet at a party or on a dance floor? I don’t know anywhere else where making out is so light and acceptable? Sex on the other hand is treated with more caution.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Mysteries of Brazil

  1. Hello! Just wanted to pop by and say g’day. I’m a 28 year old female, about to embark on a month-long ‘solo’ journey through Brazil, your blog is really enjoyable to read. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Tarcisio

    Well, as a Brazilian raised in Rio but currently living abroad, I do have some clues:

    Overall, Brazil (like for example Spain) is a country that was recently liberated from years of dictatorial regime sustained by strong moralistic entities (government, church, bourgeoisie). Until somewhere before 1984 Brazilians were forbidden to talk about politics and could be arrested and tortured due to political oppression that was often twisted as moral repression. More about this and the military regime in Brazil: “The unpast: elite violence and social control in Brazil, 1954-2000 By R. S. Rose”. So, here for the answers:

    – Why do Brazilians always default to party mode, while Argentineans default to protest?
    Protest was severely condemned in the whole history of Brazil. Slaves were killed for protesting and most recently (60s-80s) people were tortured or killed only for participating in protests. On the other hand, “deboche” or to joke with a very important issue is something very tolerated (eg. in the carnival). Parties were also always tolerated as a way to alleviate the tension of political repression.

    – Why are there always SO many people working in shops, juice bars, drugstores, each person with a minute job as part of a complex division of labor?
    Simply: people costs 570reais a month and you are giving jobs. Once I saw an automatic parking ticket distributor with someone to operate for you. Cheap labor, it is. It also happens in countries in Africa.

    – Why are Brazilians so friendly toward foreigners?
    As many other latin american countries, Brazilians grew up with a sense of admiration for US and Europe but never had much contact with them other than movies. Also, the type of colonization was much different from other countries where people grew bitter with the colonizers.

    – Why are Brazilians so obsessed with taking showers? Are other hot cultures just as shower-obsessed? I can’t believe all of them are as obsessed as Brazilians are. And why is taking a shower and going swimming both called taking a bath?
    This is due to indian (as in native american) influences and later to the fact that when Rio became the home of the Portuguese empire, the kings were obsessed with cleaning the town. At that stage, streets were cleaned with perfumes to try to conceal the odors of a city that have been recently passed from a colonial town to the home of royalty. Today Brazilians are obsessed with body odors.

    – Will abortion ever be legal here?
    No, and the same answers covers marijuana. The catholic church together with very conservative mentality opposes different generations, urban styles. As it happens in the US, some states are traditionally very conservative and they have strong representation in the government.

    – Why are people so fast to make out and exchange tongues with people they meet at a party or on a dance floor? I don’t know anywhere else where making out is so light and acceptable? Sex on the other hand is treated with more caution.
    The sexual revolution in Brazil came out later than other countries. Only in beginning of the 80s, after the military regime phase out, morals became more relaxed about sex. However the concerns were different: AIDS and poor education on contraception methods. As a practical response, my generation and the ones after that preferred to be promiscuous in the “kissing” rather than in the “sex”. It is noted on the other hand that the newer generations (more informed about contraceptual methods and less exposed to AIDS) have been much more promiscuous when they come to sex too, which is somehow shocking for many.

  3. Wow, thanks, Tarcisio, for leaving such a thoughtful comment. Lots to think about. I heard about some kind of perfume that was used to help transform Carnaval from a truly insane bacchanal into something more civilized earlier in the 20th century, but never about perfumes being used to deodorize the streets. That´s an interesting perspective on sexual mores as well. I haven´t thought of Brazilian openness toward sex (or just making out) as being a relatively recent phenomenon since the 80s.

    Thanks again!!

  4. I have one additional question as well, which I forgot to include. I´m sure these questions will continue to occur to me for the rest of my life!

    – Why is six or seis referred to as “meia,´´ which means half? I would think that cinco or five would be “meia.´´

    • Oi querida!

      Couldn´t help participating just a little bit…

      For your last question, my non-informed guess would be that it refers to half a dozen = six.

      Another thing, for you Tarcisio. Howcome the Brazilians did NOT, as you say, grow bitter with the colonialists? This confuses me… a lot of people really got fucked over, right?

      And as for your other observations, Sasha, I just want to add one thing: the same goes for tampons. Very few. And very expensive.

      Beijos grandes
      Frida

    • Tracy

      Meia is half; six is half a dozen.

  5. Ruy

    “Meia” is used instead of “seis” because it sounds very much like “dezesseis” [16] when said quickly. It refers to half-a-dozen.

    Also, I don’t think the minimum wage salaries are for people who work 40 hours a week in Brazilian major cities. I spoke to a man who talked about needing 3 salaries [3 minimum wage jobs] to get by. He wasn’t working 40 hours at each one. Most of the people I met working an entry level full-time job got more than 1000 reais a month, and that was in Salvador.

    One more thing to add: I think Brazilians are quite a bit more open with promiscuity than you’ve indicated. I guess it may be, as Tarcisio wrote, a generational thing.

    Oh, and now that I’m just thinking of it, mobile phones and taxis are nowhere near as expensive in the rest of L. America as they are in Brazil. I don’t get it either.

    • antonia

      Well, I do know the reason for the phone fares. the privatization of the phone companies was held in such a manner to avoid reducing the profits. the companies always win. so, we have the higher fares in the developing world, if I’m not mistaken.

      I don’t think the matter about making out started in the 80’s, Leila Diniz, a brilliant, beautiful brazilian woman that lived in the 60’s and 70’s, used to say that she would sleep whit everybody but not anybody. And I do think that’s the spirit of our promiscuity. Of the making out. After all, we have to decide somehow who is anybody…

      I don’t have a clue about the scales. they’re just there. and we are used to it, and I never even notice that they are not an habit outside Brazil.

      About the showers, I do think they’re a brazilian habit. But after a hot day in Rio, they’re very, very nice.

      And about the article before some nouns: it’s not just in Rio. in the northeast they don’t use the article, but in the south the article is used. It’s actually the “correct” grammar to use it. But not in every situation. I find it cute not to use.

      the maxi-pads: I think in Europe they use small packages also. It’s more practical, I guess. You can buy some if you forgot and put them in your bag, not flaunt it everywhere…

      I really can’t answer everything. but I do think many questions just don’t have answers…

  6. Mariana

    I’m not even gonna try to comment on the other questions because Tarcisio did a pretty good job at it, but I do have the answer to the last one: “meia” comes from “meia duzia”, half a dozen. 🙂

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