I finally understood why plastic sandals, including the iconic Havaianas, are so popular here: it’s not for the beach but for the rain because when there is chuva, there is muita chuva: the streets are completely flooded in inches of water. Every day, in Rio, it rained around 7:30 p.m. It always followed the same pattern: big back clouds coming from the mountains, strong wind, torrential downpour. Bonus: rats running around! The streets of Rio then become a very dirty beach.
I also realized that if there are TV broadcasting news and piece of trivia in the Pão de Açúcar supermercado downstairs, it’s because it rarely takes less than twenty minutes to complete a purchase. Lineups are long and the check-out process is infuriatingly slow—cashiers are unenthusiastically scanning articles slowly, one by one, debit or credit cards don’t work, there is no change in the cash register so a supervisor must be called… Even French employees are faster!
There are many things I don’t understand about Brazil, a common local logic Brazilians have that escapes me. Brazilians seem to follow rules without questioning them too much, problem is, I don’t have a copy of these rules. Locals don’t seem to care that I’m not fluent in Portuguese. People weren’t unfriendly, they just assumed that we knew all the quirks. But of course, we didn’t.
We are sometime so out of sync that at one point, we “lost” an hour and only realized it at night. Background: we knew that Rio (and presumably Brazil, although I’m confused with the country’s time zones) was switching to winter time (winter? What winter??) the weekend of February 20. We made a mental note of it since we were flying back on the 22, but we assumed that we would adjust the clock late Saturday night/early Sunday morning like it is done in France or in Canada.
“You know what…” Feng said Saturday night before we went to bed. “I checked the time in Brazil online, and I think we already switched to winter time.”
“What? Like, today?”
“So all day, we were an hour early?”
“Picked up the laundry an hour early?”
“I know! That’s why it was just out of the dryer!”
“Oh and the museum had just opened at 12 p.m., that’s why the lineup was so long!”
Suddenly, everything made sense. It was funny though that for a day, we were an hour early and we didn’t even know it.
My final verdict on Brazil? As a backpacker, I love the country. But I don’t think I would live here.
I have this slightly annoying (“annoying’ according to Feng) and unrealistic habit to picture myself in all of the countries we visit. “Yes, I could fit here on the short or medium term,” I think when I’m in Argentina, Chile, China or Mexico. But there are a few countries that I only enjoy as a backpacker, mostly because culturally speaking, they aren’t the best fit for me. Australia is one of them. Great land to explore but I wouldn’t stay there too long—too far, too British, not a big fan of the island mindset. Thailand (or most of South-East Asia) is another place that I enjoyed but I don’t speak the language and I don’t “click” with people. Ah… and Quebec. I enjoy Quebec (well, mostly shopping for imported French products in Gatineau). But I wouldn’t want to live there.
I enjoyed Brazil as a backpacker but I fit best in the rest of the Latin America and Brazil is not a latino country. In a way, Brazil reminds me of China. I understand the mindset (at least as much as I can), I understand the people, I can communicate, but spontaneously, I can’t think like a Brazilian or a Chinese. My thought process is different. It just is. With China, I had years of training. I can “act” Chinese if I need to but it takes efforts and there are many customs and Chinese quirks I don’t agree with as a French or as a Canadian. However, in Argentina or Guatemala, things make sense to me, daily stuff is more instinctive.
I’m fine with that. I can’t picture myself everywhere. For Brazil, I keep the postcard scenery. I just don’t want to be in it.
While we are on our way back to Canada (can’t you hear me crying?), enjoy the “People of Rio”!