Brazil 101 – Culture Continued

This photo in lieu of a random stock photo of teeth because here we all have toothy grins, for some reason. Also because I know my brother-in-law is one of the three people who read my blog. Looove youuuuuu, Keeeviiiiin!

Personal hygiene

As a general rule, Brazilians are extremely clean people. Personal hygiene is very important. If you hop on public transportation in the morning you will be greeted with pleasant wafts of perfume, lotions, and potions.

Brazilian custom, again as a general rule, is to shower every day. Most often in the evening. You must shower before bed. You are welcome to shower in the morning, after a workout, whenever you’d like, but you must always shower before bed. It’s an unspoken rule, but be sure everyone will observe that you went to bed without a shower. Yeah… …you will most likely be judged for it.

I reason this custom comes from the fact that Brazil is normally hot. You took a shower when you came home from the gym at 2pm? By bedtime, another shower not only sounds refreshing but will likely do you good. Regardless of the weather or the day’s activities, Brazilians will shower at least once a day, right before bed.

Speaking of showers, notice how I haven’t said “bath” or “bathe”. Brazilian homes have showers, never bathtubs. There is usually at least one drain in the bathroom, and cleaning the bathroom often involves scrubbing the tiles and everything clean with soap and bleach and then rinsing it off.

I once remarked to a Brazilian friend here in Canada about how different it is to clean bathrooms here in North America. She said, “Yeah, here we just move the dirt around.”

I mentioned in a previous post about the excellent dental care available in Brazil. Brazilians are also particular about their teeth. Braces are affordable, and people in various socio-economic classes and age groups get their teeth fixed. Men, women, children, teenagers, young adults, braces are not reserved for the pre-teens of upper-middle-class families.

It is quite common to brush your teeth after a meal. Don’t be surprised when someone says, “I’m going to my room to brush my teeth. I’ll meet you there” after lunch. Maybe now you know it’s a habit, surprise them by saying and doing it yourself. They’ll be very approving.

Random useful little tidbits

  • It is unnecessary to remove your shoes within the house. The tiles are cold, everyone is wearing shoes indoors. Please wipe your feet, but no need to remove your footwear.
  • Normally, faucets in kitchens and bathrooms will only have cold water. Hands, faces, dishes, are all washed in cold water.
  • All stoves are gas stoves. Yes, that is a propane tank in the kitchen.
  • Most Brazilian homes have no airconditioning or heating. If you go in the winter (the seasons below the Equator are the exact opposite of the seasons above the Equator. If it’s summer for you, it’s winter for them. If it’s autumn here, it’s spring there, etc.) be prepared. Brazil is a tropical country, but it is also very big. If you are visiting the South of Brazil (São Paulo and below) know that it can get quite chilly. Take layers and at least one medium jacket. There is no respite from the cold by going indoors. Houses are concrete (no insulation) and merely provide shelter from the wind.
  • 👌 does not mean what you think it means. To put it “nicely”, this gesture means “screw you”. So while you’re saying “okay,” “great” or “perfect”, the person on the receiving end might respond quite differently. Instead, use 👍.
  • Speaking of hand gestures, you will notice we speak with our whole upper body. 😂 Lots of hand gestures will be going on. Be forewarned.

Brazil 101 – Malaria, Zika, Dengue, + Safety

Continuing my mini-series of posts on visiting Brazil, I’d like to address a few less pleasant but still practical topics. If I missed a question, don’t be shy. Ask in the comments below.

What vaccines do you need to go to Brazil?

This one depends on several variables, but the most important one is: where are you staying?

As we’ve already talked about, Brazil covers a lot of land. The landscape, weather, and therefore risks for disease change drastically from one end to the other. If you plan to visit the Amazon rainforest or northwestern states, you may want to look into prevention methods against malaria/yellow fever. There are vaccines, tablets, and other options. Talk with your health care provider about what would work best for you.

As for Zika, it’s highly unlikely you are going to come into contact with it. According to the CDC’s Zika Travel Recommendation Map Brazil has no current outbreaks. There are still precautions to take if you or your partner are pregnant, though, so please look into that if applicable.

Similarly, Dengue is also transmitted by mosquitos. To prevent both, take a DEET spray and apply it especially if going hiking, etc., avoid still water where mosquitos like to gather, and don’t stress about it. If you’re a tourist doing touristy things in touristy places, it is highly unlikely you will encounter these diseases.

I mostly stick to the south of Brazil, as that’s where my family lives. I usually stay for a month or more and have never taken any of the vaccines or tablets. I only use bug spray when venturing into the outdoors, much as I do here in Canada. (To be honest, I have a much greater paranoia concerning ticks in North America than I ever have about mosquitos in Brazil.)

Bottom line: if this is a concern for you, discuss your visit abroad with your health care provider and follow their advice.

Will I get mugged?

Probably not. Have your wits about you. Keep bags closed and close, carry only the essentials (don’t take your 15 credit cards, all your ID from home, etc.) in your wallet. Pare it down when you leave home, and pare it down again when you arrive at your hotel, taking only the absolute essentials for your outings.

Don’t go out at night without knowing where you’re going and how you will get there. Take major routes instead of sketchy shortcuts.

Be aware of your belongings. Don’t flash your camera and cellphone around unnecessarily. Also don’t place them down (on a counter, table, shelf, sink) and turn around to do something else. There’s a possibility that it won’t be there when you turn around. There’s probably a better place to keep it than your back pocket.

You can have a wonderful and safe time in Brazil if you plan well and not do anything you wouldn’t do at home just because you’re on vacation.

Don’t ever let the media keep you from traveling and meeting new places, especially not Brazil. Have fun!

Brazil 101 – Currency

Ah, my dear American/European/Canadian friends. You will feel rich in Brazil. Let us take the US$ as our base currency. As of right now, US$1 is equal to BR$4 (4 Brazilian Reals). Slightly less with the Canadian dollar, slightly more with the Euro, and so on.

Exchange your currency for the Brazilian Real before you leave. Currency exchange houses at the airport will charge you more. Exchange your money at home before you leave, take a little extra in your national currency (if that currency is Dollar/Euro). In a pinch, you’ll always find someone willing to buy those off you (you give them x amount of dollars, they give you the equivalent in reals).

Come ready to spend! Be a tourist in Brazil! Hotels that are R$400 a night are just US$100. Trips and attractions are much more accessible to you!

This, of course, does not apply to things you can find in North America. Technology, imported items and foods, foreign brand name clothes, etc. are all going to be more expensive than if you bought the same product here.

What I love about shopping in Brazil is that tax is already included in the price. Whatever price is on the price tag is what you will pay at check out. I live in British Columbia where tax is 12%. What an odd (and high) number to calculate on top of every purchase! So purchases in Brazil feel a lot nicer, 😄.

Several things, however, become more affordable: food, shoes, toiletries, kitchenware, dentistry, LASIK, spa services, touristic activities in general. To find the price of something in dollars just divide the price by four.

Souvenir Ideas – General

Actually, before we talk about gifts for other people, let’s talk about gifts to yourself. Go shoe shopping. Man, woman, child, whoever you are, take some time to go shoe shopping. Brazilian shoes are quality shoes that will last a long time. They are also light and soft and comfortable. Go shoe shopping.

Buy an iconic pair of Havaianas: flip-flops made out of rubber. A pair of the original design will last you forever. But they also have numerous new designs and so many colors. They’re so comfortable and make great gifts too! Buy a pair of Havaianas with the original little flag for everyone back home. Boom! That’s souvenirs sorted. (Make sure you get everyone’s shoe size before traveling.)

Other ideas include food items like national sweets. These are some of my favorites:

  • paçoca: peanuts, sugar, salt (buy the Paçoquita brand)
  • pé de moça: peanuts + condensed milk
  • cocada: coconut + sugar
  • doce de leite: it’s dulce de leche. Buy the Aviação brand
  • goiabada: guava paste. Buy the Predilecta brand

Brazilian food usually has a much smaller shelf-life (fewer preservatives, especially in national sweets). So just be aware of the expiration date and calculate whether it will get to its intended home in time.

Above, I mentioned that toiletries (I refer to soaps, perfumes, creams, lotions, etc.) end up being affordable. These also make great gifts if you buy brands like Natura, which is Brazilian and uses Brazilian resources to make their products.

And of course, all sorts of “Brazil” paraphernalia: keychains, magnets, cangas (wraps/coverups worn at the beach, often with Brazilian patterns).

If you’re going to Brazil in September 2019, I suggest also taking money to purchase things at the event! There will be stalls selling all sorts of items.

There will be so much for you to explore. Go to farmer’s markets, adventure in downtown commerce, visit small-town businesses, stroll through malls and convenience stations on the side of major highways. Stop at fresh fruit stands on the side of roads, try the homemade sweets. Immerse yourself. Bring back gifts, but make sure you take home stories and experiences.

Brazil 101 – Hasta la Visa

Before you even buy a ticket, the first thing to consider before visiting a new country is the documentation necessary to get there. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if the only thing between us and visiting a new country was ticket prices?

Travel documents can be a hassle and present several time-consuming and expensive hurdles. Once you have a passport, Brazil should be fairly easy to get into as a tourist. Of course, this depends on your country of origin:

“Brazil adopts a policy of reciprocity regarding visas. This means that nationals of countries that require visas for Brazilian citizens will need a visa to travel to Brazil.” – Itamaraty

However, even if you need a visa, it shouldn’t be difficult to get.

Right now in 2019, you can find up to date information on whether you need a visa here on this website, which is actually for the carnival in Rio. I include it because it’s actually much more user friendly than the official government website. I’m going to sigh and that’s all I’m going to say about that.


The official government website would be the one for Itamaraty. Click here for the Itamaraty website and scroll down to “Do you need a visa?“. It will take you to a detailed document, or you can access the 2019 list here. (Ctrl-F to find your country, then look on the PASOF column. Take whatever number is there and look at the key on the first page to find out what it means.)

Here’s a list of Brazilian Consulates around the world. I think the most important thing to do is give yourself plenty of time. You can get expedited visas, everything might go very well and fast, and all things are possible, but try to give yourself plenty of time to get everything done. Try to foresee complications. Print and take more than what you think you need. Research and research and research.

You got this. See you in Brazil.

Brazil 101 – Vegan Food

Veganism is increasing in popularity in Brazil, much like it is around the world. However, it is already a great change if a Brazilian adopts a vegetarian diet.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef (hello burning of the Amazon rainforest for pastures!). Brazilian gastronomy centers heavily on meats and seafood, which are the star ingredients in so many national dishes. Brazilian steakhouses are popular worldwide.

Context given, I suppose you will not be surprised to know that Brazil is not as vegan or even vegetarian-friendly as other places (like Vancouver, BC, for example!). If you eat cheese, you will have a much easier time.

Although Brazilian cheese is not internationally famous, Brazilians do make pretty good cheese. There are often plenty of street food options if you eat cheese. Pastel de queijo, pão de queijo, rizole de queijo…(queijo = cheese), pizza de catupiry, coxinha de catupiry, (catupiry is creamy cheese, although different from cream cheese).

If you’re vegan, I suggest betting on heart of palm. Heart of palm is a classic filling in many savory dishes: savory pie, pastel, empada, all of these can be found with heart of palm, and normally end up being a vegan option. Plus they’re delicious. However, many of these dishes may have egg in the dough. You would need to ask.

To be safe, I would go with sweets:

You have not (and I cannot stress this enough) had açaí until you have had it in Brazil. Açaí bowls in Brazil are entirely different. They’re sweet, rich, give you an energy boost, and fill you right up. None of that runny banana + water with just-enough-açaí-to-make-it-purple atrocity.

Açaí is meant to be thick, sweet, and served with strawberries. Okay, whatever toppings you’d like. To make it vegan, just don’t choose dairy-based toppings like condensed or powdered milk. Choose fresh fruits, coconut flakes, nuts, etc.

Try sugar cane juice (squeeze a lime into it, or ask them to add some pineapple, mmm). Try a piece of rapadura (unrefined whole cane sugar). Or! try a piece of sugar cane itself! Find pamonhas (superior tamales) and buy the ones without cheese (either sweet or salty).

Then try some artisanal sweets: doce de mamão (papaya sweet), doce de abóbora  (pumpkin sweet), cocada (coconut sweet), doce de batata doce (sweet potato sweet), and so on.

Vegans traveling in Brazil should invest in buying local fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Enjoy the abundance at your fingertips and eat them raw and natural. Whatever deficiencies local eateries may have in serving vegan options, the natural abundance of fresh produce makes up for it.

This is especially true if you visit during the summer (December-March). Winter (June-September), may not be as plentiful, yet there will be many more varieties available than Canada in its plentiful summer/autumn.

If you are in, say, downtown São Paulo, vegan snacks would include that guy over there selling fresh guavas loaded up in a wheelbarrow, or that lady over there selling fresh corn, which she will cook and cut up and sprinkle with salt (ask for no butter/margarine), the guy over there who will peel and cut up a fresh pineapple for you to eat in a bag for easy food on the go, the lady selling salted peanuts, and so on.

In major cities, you will also find vegan restaurants. However, if you’re truly hungry and going to sit down at a “normal” restaurant, you will always be able to fall back on rice, beans, and salad. These are Brazilian staples. If there is no side of vegetables (which there will almost always be), there will always be rice, beans, and some salad (beets, lettuce, tomatoes, heart of palm, olives, cabbage, always something) even at the smallest out of the way restaurants.

Note: Feijoada is a national Brazilian dish made of black beans and all types of meat. If you go to a restaurant, the feijoada will most likely be full of meat. Opt for the pinto-beans instead.

And juice! So many natural fruit options–pure, thick, fresh, made with actual fruit not concentrate. Whenever you come across a fruit juice stand, buy some. Guava, orange (it tastes different in Brazil), acerola, strawberry, mandarin, papaya, graviola, cupuaçu, açaí, etc.

The most important thing to know is you will have options. They might not be the most obvious because everyone will want to offer you the confections, the treats, something “special”. Many take the abundance of fruits and vegetables for granted. But if you take a moment to appreciate the fresh options, you will see there’s plenty to choose from.