It’s hot. All the time. Consequently, I’m starting to understand why everyone is so obsessed with perfecting their bodies here: because any attempt to perfect any other part of you is completely futile. Straighten your hair? It’ll be curly in minutes. Blow-dry your hair? It’ll be a sweaty mess within seconds. Use make-up? It’ll assuredly be running down your face by the time you get wherever it is you’re going. So, really, it makes perfect sense that there are, at any given time, hundreds of people running along the beach; that there are more pull-up bars and make-shift work-out stations than there are playgrounds or benches; that Brazil holds the world-wide record for plastic surgery customers (in fact, Brazil frequently runs out of silicone in the months before Carnaval).
I never, ever thought I would say this, but I actually miss being cold. I miss wearing sweatshirts. I miss being a little chilly in the shade, so that moving into the sun feels all the better. I miss not looking (and feeling) like I just went for a run, all the time! It’s amazing what time and space can make you realize (and I have a half a year, and a whole lot of space). For instance, I’m realizing that I am a New Englander. I may complain about the cold. I may claim that I’m potentially the most ill suited person to live there. But at the end of the day, I am a New Englander. And, like it or not, living there for the first 18 years of my life has influenced me. I really do enjoy the seasons, and I really do enjoy the cold (to a certain extent). And, I really am pretty mal-adjusted to the climate here. Compared to my fellow exchange students from the University of California (there are a lot of them here), I am always hot. Furthermore, on a less superficial level, my personality has been more affected by my New England roots than I once thought. While I may be the most touchy-feely and convivial New Englander of all time, at the end of the day, I am still a New Englander. For instance, any semi-cordial person here will kiss each and every person in the room on both cheeks upon entering. Not doing so is, evidently, considered rude. But, I still just can’t get used to that! I’ve lived in Europe too (where these kisses are definitely present but their usage is somewhat less strictly enforced). But when push comes to shove, I still love big ol’ American hugs, and I still feel more comfortable dishing those out to people who I don’t know than I am giving out kisses to these perfect strangers. And, it will be a long, long time, I think, before I get used to making physical contact with every person in every room in order to not seem rude or cold.
But I love this aspect of Brazilian culture. I love its warmth. From my experience, Brazilians can seem stand-off-ish before you meet them. But, five seconds later, after you’ve told them your name, a whole can of worms (or rather, of warmth) has been opened. They will ask you about where you’re from; where you’re living here; how long you’ve been here; compliment you on your Portuguese; compliment you on your appearance; tell you that clothes and electronics are much less expensive in the states; ask you to write your full name down so they can find you on facebook and orkut (their version of facebook); ask you for your phone number; ask you what you’re doing tomorrow; plan a trip with you. And, by the time you get home, you will have received a friend request on facebook and orkut, followed up by messages on both telling you how nice it was to meet you, followed up by a phone call asking what you’re plans are that night. They are open books. They are so purely genuine, it’s incredible. And refreshing.
Here are some other particularities that I have learned about Brazil: Sometimes, the six-lane road running along the beach will have all six lanes moving in one direction, but sometimes three lanes will be moving in one direction, and three in the other (this can be both dangerous and disconcerting!). Cars have the right of way here. Always. They may have tons (literally) on us mere pedestrians, but they do have the right of way. And they will make that perfectly clear, either by running you down, or honking at you if you set one foot in their territory (I’ve gotten very good at dodging traffic here). They not only have the subway, buses, taxis, and cars here. You know that sketchy white van that mom told you to never get in? Everyone uses them here. They’re like makeshift little buses. They’ll drive down the sides of busy streets with the sliding door open yelling their destinations to nearby pedestrians. Then, next thing you know, one of these pedestrians waves an arm, does a little jog and hop, and they’re all gone with the blink of an eye. They’re very handy actually (but some of them are illegal so you have to be able to distinguish between the reliable white van and the sketchy white van that mom warned you about). Brazilians say exactly what comes to their minds when they think it; whether that be “you have beautiful eyes” or something vastly inappropriate. They all wear converse; with jeans, skirts, formal dresses; everything. They all have at least one little tattoo of a flower, star, or moon somewhere on their body. They all eat Halls cough drops like they’re gum. Sushi is very popular here. So is all-natural frozen yogurt (like Sweet Green frozen yogurt at Georgetown). They have “rodizios” (or all-you-can-eat) for everything; pizza, Mexican food, sushi… They all know at least the “bad words” in English (thank you, American rap). They all learned how to samba just as we all learned how to walk (which is a kind of dance that involves moving your feet at speeds abnormal to the human body). They sometimes write prices as, for example, 4 x 39.99 (which can make you think, at first glance, that it costs 39.99, but, it actually costs 159.96). Beer is almost cheaper than water here (too bad I don’t like it). They put condensed milk in and on everything; same with potato sticks (seriously, on pasta, rice, hotdogs…everything). They eat ham and cheese sandwiches for breakfast (which is actually a lot better than it sounds). They sell meat and cheese on a stick from stands about every other block (and on the beach, where, by the way, they sell everything you can possibly imagine). They put I’s on the end of everything (for example, facebook is face-ee-book-ee, which makes the whole language sound really cute, all the time). They have a very hard time with non-Portuguese names (AKA Paige is impossible for them and they all end up calling me Paigy, which is cute, but also makes me feel like my mother is talking to me…and that I’m about four years old again…). They love gringos (or anyone not from Brazil. This word is not derogatory here like it is in some other countries. It’s simply a statement: you’re not from here, so, welcome!). Blonde hair and blue eyes is the ideal here (because, of course, almost no native Brazilians look like that, especially in Central and Northern Brazil). Rio is full of dogs (which I love, as my friends will tell you, when I’m inevitably ten minutes late to everything because I had to stop and pet every dog along the way). They’re mostly little white dogs (that actually, literally wear shoes by the way) or big, beautiful golden retrievers. Gyms are ridiculously expensive here. Lapa is a section of Rio with almost every different kind of club you could want (although there’s definitely more samba than anything else) and so is usually a good when-in-doubt destination (although at least one person always gets mugged every night there, so you should probably keep one I open at all times). Where you are in Rio can change drastically within a couple of blocks: for instance, the side of Leblon (my neighborhood) closer to Ipanema is a relatively safe and wealthy area, but walk just two blocks in the other direction, and you are in the Cariocan version of Hollywood: chic (pronounced shee-kee here) restaurants and salons, celebrity sightings, the works. Or, walk a block past Leblon’s shopping mall, and you’re in a cluster of apartment buildings that very closely resembles American slums. Rio de Janeiro, you never seize to surprise me.
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