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Blending in with Cariocas in Rio

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Rio de Janeiro

I am absolutely amazed by this city. It has a fascinating cultural history, an active music and dance scene, some of the most outstanding scenery I've ever come across, the world's most famous Carnaval, samba, enough to inspire judges to have it be the host of both the 2014 World cup final and the 2016 Olympics, and, most important of all, Cariocas – its residents.

I came here in September of this year, with the mission of trying to become more like them (me carioquizar), and I got so much more than that from my time there!

3 months in the marvellous city

Some things that foreigners are expected to do in Rio include going up the Christ statue and sugar loaf mountain, visiting specifically during the Carnaval (or New Year), getting an apartment/hotel in Ipanema (or Copacabana), going on a favela tour, and getting to know only other foreigners or those working in the tourist industry.

I didn't do any of these in the 3 months that I was there. All expats are tourists in one way or another, but I have my own “touristy” style (not better, just different). Hoping for an “authentic experience” is the holy grail of tourists and long-term travellers. I'm not unique in that goal; but I think my way of doing it through emulating locals (both outwardly and linguistically) does make it that wee bit more achievable.

I had wanted to learn to samba, but didn't find a set-up to conveniently learn it intensively in the way I wanted, as I had done for tango in Buenos Aires, so that will have to wait for next time. However, Brazilians (and Cariocas) are not just samba, football and beaches, there are so many sides to them that I personally appreciate. Based on the response to the article I wrote about why I love Brazilians, Brazilians themselves have confirmed that I “get” them, at least better than your average gringo.

Other than that, I had gone up the Christ statue and the sugar loaf in 2006, when I was in Rio for a few short days (a visit cut short due to a “disagreement” with a federal police officer, but that's another story). This time I really wanted to get to know the city through its people.

Day to day life

I made friends mostly by just talking to them in the street and in parties (Brazilians and definitely Cariocas are very friendly) and also through Couchsurfing, meetup.com and Orkut. I love eating out, so I would socialise over dinner (always vegetarian), or go out for drinks (non-alcoholic in my case).

To save enough money to give me some financial security in case work dried up again in future (as it did when I was in Prague), I had to work about 50 hours a week for most of my stay. This meant spending most of my week at home and spending much less time with Cariocas than what I ideally could have spent.

Despite this, I achieved my goal and learned so many ways to vastly improve my Portuguese to even sound like a Carioca. I am always working full time while trying to achieve the goals in all my missions, so I remind others that lack of time from being “too busy” is not a good excuse for not realizing important projects.

Since I was to spend most of my week there, I found some really good accommodation (you can watch a video tour I made of my home). I would go out once or twice a week to parties, mostly at the weekend because I had to get up quite early during the week (since my clients are all in Europe, I have to follow European work times, no matter which time zone I may be in).

For the last month I hosted various pizza parties, where I invited up to 50 people to my penthouse apartment and we simply ordered delivery pizza and enjoyed the view and one another's company. That pizzeria absolutely loved me for the amount of business they got thanks to me!

Tips on how to become a Carioca

It turns out, (surprise surprise) that I was not the first gringo in the history of the universe to ever try to become a Carioca! (Although I may have been the first to seriously attempt and document it in such a short time frame).

There is an excellent book written for those on a similar mission, who wish to know the mannerisms of Cariocas, simply called How to be a Carioca (Amazon). It contains some excellent tips on how to act like a Carioca. It's a humorous account and most of what it says is amusingly accurate. It's got a few handy Carioca words, but otherwise does not help with actually speaking; although I found my own way of becoming fluent in carioquês.

Most things that I learned myself were confirmed in the book, the most frustrating of which was Cariocas' relationship with Paulistas (residents of São Paulo). It's the only part of Cariocas I didn't like – they make up ridiculous reasons why São Paulo and its residents are the mole on the ass of the world. “Well… I've never been there, but my sister has a friend who went once and someone was rude to him in the street!!” I heard this same explanation several times (with sister replaced by brother/friend/doorman).

If you wish to become a Carioca, you'll have to hate Paulistas for no good reason; I can't do this – São Paulo was my first port of entry ever in Brazil and I have very fond memories as well as some amazing friends there. But this competition between major cities, major universities, major sports teams etc. all in the same country is something I've seen in other cultures too. It's rarely logical.

Other than that one negative point, I loved everything about Cariocas 🙂 A few points I'll add myself that I didn't find in the book:

  • Cariocas love to take the piss (sacanear). While they are always friendly with strangers, they will play tricks on and mock friends in a cheery way. Fortunately, Irish culture has this dry humour between friends too, but it still took some getting used to, since I've been out of practise in other countries that don't do it as much (or make it really obvious, like the American “I'm kidding” frequently added to any humour so there is no confusion). It's very important not to be overly sensitive and to take this in your stride, it shows how comfortable and relaxed they are with you. I quite liked this!
  • Cariocas can be relied on. One surprise I found was that Cariocas were actually quite punctual (by South American standards). If they make a promise, they will live up to their word. However, a true promise needs to be understood from the context. For example, a casual eu te ligo should not be taken literally as written in stone that they will call you. An inability to distinguish between these “filler words” and real promises will have you feeling disappointed!

There are other points I had to work on, which are more generally Brazilian or simply non-anglophone, such as:

  • Snappier formalities. It was immediately pointed out to me that I dragged out telephone conversation formalities too much. The equivalent of “It was nice talking to you, I'll see you later, have a nice day!” is replaced with “um beijo!” (presuming you are talking with a woman). Day-to-day conversation is also much quicker and to the point. When ordering food from street venders for example, you just say what you want, you don't precede it with the equivalent of “Good morning, I'd like a…”

Closing remarks

There are many other points that I've learned in these three months that I feel may be common to other Latin cultures and languages, so I'll discuss them at some other time.

I really felt the passion that Cariocas have for Rio during my stay, especially for during the lead up to the announcement of who would host the 2016 Olympic games. I have to admit that I was almost in tears in hearing the passionate presentation given by those representing Rio, and I could feel in the resulting celebrations that they really wanted it; not out of arrogant pride, but out of genuine love for their city.

Cariocas really adore this city, and now so do I. For reasons much greater than those seen superficially by very brief visitors, I now finally understand why it's called a cidade maravilhosa; the marvellous city.

I'll summarise the results of the survey in the next post (I'm planning to make big changes in how I post thanks to your suggestions!) and then later in the week I can get started on posts relevant to the next mission 😉

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Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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