On our last evening in Pelotas, we met an Argentinian family from Patagonia. The parents and the two young kids stopped us in the street and asked us for directions to the tourist office.
“It’s over there,” I replied in Spanish. “But it’s closed now. Actually… most of the city is closed. It’s past 7 p.m.”
The couple looked at each other, a “oh, shit!” look on their face.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“A hotel! We just got here, we have no idea where to go.”
I gave them directions to our hotel, a few blocks further, just in case a room was available.
“Well… the city shuts down early. Like, 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m.,” I explained. “We’ve been there for a couple of days and we usually buy food from the supermarket and warm it up at the hotel later.”
The Argentinians started laughing. “Damn!”
I laughed too. I knew how they felt. Brazil is very different from the rest of Latin America, especially from Argentina where restaurants stay open late and where there is a nightlife.
“The supermarket closes at 9 p.m.,” I added. “You can still make it. And worst case scenario, go to one of the gas stations. The convenience stores are pretty good and they have groceries and food.”
They thanked me and left. I walked back to Feng who was supervising Mark on the playground and told him the story.
“Did you warn them tomorrow is a bank holiday?”
“Shit, I forgot. Maybe it’s just as well. Poor them, they already looked a bit overwhelmed.”
Two minutes later, I saw them again in the street. I caught up with them.
“One more thing!” I said. “Tomorrow is feriado, it’s Dia de Iemanjá. Ahem… the city will be dead.”
They burst out laughing. “This is just bloody perfect.”
Feng and I have been there before. Sometime, when you travelling, nothing goes your way. It happened a lot to us in Brazil. There is something that I call “Brazilian logic” we don’t get—and I’m not being condescending here, there is no right and wrong, just a different mindset we don’t understand. In the rest of Latin America I can operate fairly instinctively.
Not in Brazil.
Here are ten signs you’re definitely in Brazil!
Lunch is the main meal of the day. Most restaurants close early and unless you’re in a big city, finding food at night is difficult.
In doubt, go to the gas station. Most Brazilian gas stations have a large convenience store open 24/7 where you can buy basic groceries, including bread, and food to go, such as pasteis and cake. You can even warm everything up in a microwave!
It’s not bread with cheese, it’s a cheesy bread bite! Pão de queijo is a popular snack made with cassava flour and cheese and it has a soft and elastic consistency.
“No” doesn’t mean “no.” You use não (sounds a bit like “non” in French) to show disagreement or negation. “No” in Portuguese means “in the,” “at the,” etc. It’s very confusing at first to read “no hotel” for “at the hotel”!
The weather is very hot and humid. No more cool breeze like in Uruguyan, no more dry weather like in Santiago. Get ready to sweat!
Brazil is a country of contrast and paradoxes. You’ll see horse carriages and BMW cars, people sleeping in the street and people buying top-end foreign brands, very modern freeways and buildings falling apart.
Brazilians take their personally safety very seriously. They are quick to tell you that the country is very dangerous and they are many gates, fences, locks, etc. everywhere.
Brazilians come in all shapes, sizes and colours. The blond-hair blue-eye girl is Brazilian and so is the Black guy with an afro. There are hundreds of skin tones and hairstyles.
Fitness and a healthy lifestyle matter. There is an entire aisle in most supermarkets dedicated to “diet” products (i.e. fat free, less sugar, etc.). Calories are sometimes mentioned on menus. Yet, many favourite snacks are fried!
The rule is the rule, no exception. Brazilians tend to go by the book. The fact you’re a foreigner, can’t speak Portuguese very well or have no idea you broke a rule doesn’t matter—you’ll be lectured.