Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Last Blog Post!

I flirted with the idea of changing this blog a while ago, when it dawned on me my observations on Brazilian culture are mostly filtered through my time here in Latin America’s second largest city, Sao Paulo. So I wanted a name that reflected this.
david-bowie-changes-resized-600I decided on ‘What About Sao Paulo’ when thinking about how often I’m explaining my decision to live in this city to Brazilians here. I’m aware that as a foreigner many expect me to want to live in Rio, lured by its obvious beauty and laid back lifestyle. Sao Paulo on the other hand is pretty damn ugly, prompting a lot of people to ask me what the hell I’m still doing here when I could be living somewhere much more beautiful!
On reflection this is a pretty good question, given that I never intended to even visit the city at all...let alone live here!
Back in 2009 I was planning my trip to Brazil with my friend Kazu and we were ready to skip coming here altogether. “What about this Sao Paulo?” he asked before showing me the chapter on it in his Brazilian guide book. I really wasn’t impressed by the bland looking skyscrapers I was looking at.  “Nah” I responded quite flippantly, “I mean, it just looks like any other city, doesn’t it? Why the hell would we want to go to Sao Paulo?” No sooner had I said this than Kazu was taking a second look at the picture for himself. “You’re right” he conceded reluctantly before flicking on to the next chapter.
In hindsight the reason I dismissed visiting Sao Paulo so quickly was because it just wasn’t the Brazil I wanted to buy into. When I used to think about Brazil before my first trip here, it was the picture perfect beaches, wildlife and nature that came to mind. It wasn’t a city cased in layer upon layer of concrete. Skipping it on my trip was a total no-brainer for me because I had no great desire to come and see it; not with all the other locations Brazil had to offer.
Yet as the bus journey from Rio to the Iguazu Falls was going to take almost a full day, we ended up splitting up the trip with a stopover in Sao Paulo anyway. After sampling some of the city’s nightlife on my first night here I realised that there was so much more to the city than I’d anticipated, and it intrigued me.
Corrs_12
There is a real vibrancy to Sao Paulo; it is chaotic, sprawling and exciting. I knew that it definitely wasn’t somewhere you can fully appreciate in a few days. As I considered this on the bus to the falls, a seed had been planted. It was one that would later grow into full blown intrigue about how I’d fare in Sao Paulo on a more permanent basis.
Four years on I’m still enjoying the chaos of life amongst the concrete, and am hoping my new blog can persuade you all this city really isn't the armpit of Brazil.
The blog will still contain my usual dissections of Brazilian culture from a foreigner’s perspective, but will also come with the occasional focus on city life. So if you’re thinking of coming over to Brazil and find yourself asking ‘what about Sao Paulo?’, hopefully my new blog will go some way to convince you that the trip is worth it!
I’ve been assured that the new site is much more user-friendly too. So don’t be shy; any feedback or comments on it would be much appreciated. 
http://whataboutsaopaulo.com/

Monday, January 27, 2014

Encounters In Rio....Of The British Kind!

At the end of December last year I took a trip over to Rio, where I spent Christmas day with some friends relaxing on Ipanema beach. With each visit to this beach I find myself in awe of its beauty, and on this day this was further enhanced by a spectacular sunset.  As the sun began to dip behind the sea it projected an array of enchanting colours into the sky, and I sat back to fully appreciate it. I couldn't help but think that this was a perfect end to a very relaxing Christmas day…

That was, until I heard The Voice behind me.
The sunset I'm talking about, Christmas Day 2013! Picture courtesy of Ursa Krenk 

 “Steve, look at this view. It’s fuckin gorgeous!”

I immediately recognized this accent as being British, and it was moving ever closer to where I was sat. With one hell of a view in front of me, I instinctively tried to block The Voice from my mind (A little bit like when you hear a mosquito in your room and you’re almost asleep) but this was to prove almost impossible.

“I’m off to get a picture to send to our mates at home!” she announced. “They’ll be well fuckin jealous of this!”

I curiously turned around to see who this rather coarse voice belonged to, and soon found myself locking eyes with a woman sporting a Miley Cyrus-inspired, peroxide bob. If I were to extract personality from this first look, I’d say she was the type of woman you’d imagine up first on a Bucking Bronco whilst on a hen weekend in Blackpool. For a slender woman, there was something pretty loud about her demeanour.

"Look at that” she instructed to me, gesturing over at the sunset (pointing with the hand that was already clutching a can of lager and cigarette). “Just look at it” she repeated. “It’s fuckin gorgeous, innit!” 

After having a conversation in which she discovered that I was also British, she seemed encouraged to further engage in conversation with me.

My serene moment was no more!

“I’m taking a picture for me mates back home. They can’t believe I’m down the beach on Christmas day. It’s fuckin freezing over there”.

I felt a little uneasy that I was sharing some sort of camaraderie with this woman, but at the same time, equally quite fascinated by her. 

“But I’ll tell you this right; I had the worst Christmas dinner of my life here today.

“Oh” I said, genuinely intrigued. “And what did you have?”

“Well” she sighed quite dramatically before sucking on her cigarette. After expelling the smoke over her left shoulder she continued.

“I went to a place called Gringo’s Café, cos Gringo means foreign in Brazilian. And cos it’s a place for foreigners I imagined they’d do a proper Christmas dinner. You know, turkey, veg, the works".

"Well, we got there and I asked about the Christmas dinner. Get this, they said the only turkey they had was in the turkey burgers. SERVING TURKEY BURGERS, ON CHRISTMAS DAY! Can you fuckin believe it?”

I was about to respond but realised she wasn't really asking me a question.

“So after ordering the burgers I said to our Steve, I said ‘Steve can you believe we’re gonna have turkey burgers on Christmas day?”

By now the sun was close to setting, people were up on their feet and the intense glow radiating from the evening sky looked absolutely stunning. And there I was talking about turkey burgers.

“And you’ll never guess what the burger came with?” she asked. “ CHIPS! Imagine having chips with your fuckin Christmas dinner!”

“Chips...for your Christmas dinner?”

I surprised myself here because I wasn't expecting myself to sound quite as sympathetic as I did.

“And that weren’t the worst part neither, they put these little sachets out on our table, I opened one thinking it was salt and then sprinkled it on me chips. Only it weren’t salt, were it? It were fuckin sugar. So I had turkey burger and sweet fuckin chips for me dinner. Well, I still can’t believe it!

She then took another drag of her cigarette and contemplated my face as she did so. “What did you have?”

“I just had the chicken salad my friend brought here” I said, gesturing over to a cool box that used to be full of food. The woman looked at me in surprise, perhaps because I hadn't had so much as a turkey burger on this sacred day.

“Oh right” she responded quite suspiciously, before dropping the end of her cigarette on the beach, taking a swig of beer from her can and wishing me a merry Christmas. Then she swiftly left, leaving me feeling almost baffled by our encounter.

Why did I feel like this? Well, what I was going to eat for Christmas dinner hadn't actually crossed my mind until this woman asked me about it on the beach. Having spent the majority of my adult life living abroad, over the years what I eat on Christmas day has become less of a big deal to me.

Since this conversation then, I've been wondering what other culturally significant things have gradually began to escape me. I've been told that my regional accent is weakening, I rarely drink tea and I can't remember the last time I celebrated November 5th....and now the following questions have begun to corkscrew their way into my mind...
What else have I forgotten about? 
Was I being a bad Brit for eating a chicken salad for my Christmas dinner? 
Am I slowly starting to lose my British identity? 
Is it normal to question things like this after living away for so long?

So after thinking about it for some time I've decided that this year will be different. This year I'll be damned if I'm not eating AT LEAST a bit of turkey come Christmas day 2014; even if it this turkey has to come in the form of a 'fuckin' turkey burger!

If you like the sunset picture above, be sure to check out my friend Ursa Krenk's blog right here:   

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Three Things That Brazilians Can (Probably) Do Better Than You

For my first post of 2014 I've decided to write a tongue-in-cheek account of very subtle things Brazilians excel at in comparison to us Brits. Let me know what you think!

#1 Queuing


“I know what you will say about Brazil when you get back to England” joked my Brazilian friend last year. “People will ask ‘was your favourite thing about being in Brazil….the beaches?’ and you will say ‘No!’

‘What about the women?’

‘No!’

‘Was it the parties?’

‘No!’

‘The weather?’ Then you will look at them, smile and say, ‘My favourite thing about Brazil were the lines. Like a Brazilian, now I just love waiting in lines!”

Before moving to Brazil I assumed that Brits were amazing at standing in queues, after all, it’s something we pride ourselves on. 'Brits know how to queue' I used to tell myself. But over here people have an unbelievably high tolerance for queues, more so than back home.


A few weeks ago I waited in line 50 minutes to get into a night club, then once inside I waited another 25 minutes in line to get some drinks tokens. After I’d bought these, I then waited 10 minutes to get served by the barman. I was then REALLY surprised when I walked over to the dance floor and found that the people there were not dancing in a line! 

Why was I surprised? Because Brazilians absolutely love lines. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most of the time they join lines just for the fun of it, without knowing what is at the front.

But do you know what, it isn’t only their love of lines that raise a few eyebrows from me, it’s the amount of unchallenged pushing in that goes on in them too.

“Oh no, we wouldn't say anything” have said many of my friends when I've asked them why they let people queue jump. “It’s just not worth it. I guess it’s not our way of doing things”. 

Brazilians might look incredibly passionate and feisty whenever the cameras are on them during international football matches, but stick these same people in a long queue with a few people pushing in, and they're likely to say nothing. Queues and pushers-in are like Kryptonite for Brazilians, for whatever reason they just grin and bear them.

For this reason, Brazilians are (probably) better at queuing than you are!

#2 Pictures

“Excuse me, can you take my picture?” Asked a solitary Brazilian women once when I was on holiday in Rio. Before I’d had the chance to oblige I’d been handed a camera and instructed on where I should point it.

“It’s that big button on top” this women smiled optimistically.

“Alright” I said, now focusing on the little screen in front of me. “In three…”

After hearing the beginning of the countdown this woman turned her body to a 45 degree angle and tossed her long, brown locks over her left shoulder.

“Two”

A hand was then placed on her hip, showcasing five perfectly polished and preened nails.

“One”

This woman’s lips were then pursed into one hell of a pout.

FLASH!


After taking the picture I showed it to her and she contemplated it for a moment. She then told me she wasn’t very pleased with it (I've since learnt that Brazilian women are never very pleased with the first picture taken of them), and she asked me to take another. 

The reason I found this so intriguing was because the women I know from back home would never dream of asking someone to take their picture and then pose like they’re on a shoot for America’s Next Top Model; let alone ask for a second like this. 

In comparison, British women seem much more inhibited when it comes to having a camera in their faces, a little more awkward. Brits would probably only ask a stranger for another picture if they’d blinked or unwittingly displayed a double chin; and they definitely wouldn't channel their inner Gisele for the shot. But women over here seem much more comfortable with having their picture taken, they really go for it!

For this reason, Brazilian women are (probably) better at having their picture taken than you!

#3 Ali G Impersonations

People in Brazil are pretty expressive, if they’re not hugging you they’re kissing you or punctuating what they’re saying with plenty of gestures. For example, if you ask any Brazilian to tell you about a time they were in a crowded place, it has been scientifically proven that they will feel compelled to do so by turning their palms up, squeezing their fingers together, relaxing them for a moment and then squeezing them together again. “It was just so busy” they will tell you...mid crab impersonation!

My favourite Brazilian gesture is not this one though, it is one Ali G made popular in the UK back in the ‘90’s. When he was pleased about something he used to hold his thumb and middle finger together, then whip his index finger back and forth to make a clicking noise. “Respect” he used to say, usually against the backdrop of a laughter track.

When the character of Ali G eventually wore thin, the public tired of this finger clicking fad and it died out.

But it was never an Ali G thing over in Brazil.

I was once in a Portuguese class when I surprised myself by being able to bust out one of the complicated sentence structures I’d been practicing the week before. “Yes Andrew” encouraged my elderly teacher, “yes!” And to show just how pleased he was, he whipped his fingers back and forth (just like Willow Smith does with her hair). 

I was as mesmorised at what I was seeing as I was impressed. You see, I can’t do it. When I try it sometimes happens but I can’t do it on cue, not like a Brazilian can. And when I say ‘a Brazilian’ I am deliberately including ALL Brazilians. Male, female, young and old....I have yet to meet a Brazilian that can’t do it!

And for this reason, Brazilians are (probably) better at Ali G impersonations than you!


“RESPECT!”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top 10 Finds In Sao Paulo 2013


A couple of months ago I was scanning through my Twitter feed when I came across a ‘Top 10 Must-Visit in Sao Paulo’ list. It was written by one of those international bloggers who seem to travel all over the world with the sole intention of making top 10 lists of absolutely everything. This was the first time I’d seen this particular blogger writing about Brazil so naturally I was intrigued to see if I'd been to many of the places included on her list. As I scrolled through I wasn't surprised to see some of the usual suspects on there; Ibirapuera park, the Municipal market and the bohemian district of Vila Madalena had all made the cut. However I was pretty baffled to see the cities expensive bars and restaurants making up the rest of this list. Some of these were places I've visited, had an exquisitely bland time in, paid a fortune for the pleasure and then vowed never to return.

And that was when I hit upon the idea of writing a similar list, for someone visiting Sao Paulo on a budget. The city might be an expensive place to live in, but that isn't to say you need to spend a whole lot to have a great time here. In fact, all of the places I’m about to recommend are either fairly cheap or free. My selection comes from the discoveries I've made in 2013, the places and events that I've really appreciated over the last 12 months. Some are annual events whilst others are places that are open every day; hopefully they will give some ideas about where to go and what to do if you're coming to the city for pleasure without a huge budget.

So, without further ado, my countdown:

Praça Benedito Calixto

When my friend suggested visiting a Saturday afternoon flea market my response was less than enthusiastic. I had visions of walking around stalls of old trinkets and worn out, moth-smelling women's clothing

Sometimes to discover fascinating places in Sao Paulo though, you have to suspend any preconceived ideas you have of what they're going to be like. I was pleasantly surprised when I did just this at Benedito Calixto and had a great time. As well as the live samba band playing nearby the many food stalls (one of which dishes up traditional food from the North East of the country), there is plenty of art work on sale, stalls selling vinyl records and an alternative crowd soaking up the market's laid back atmosphere, beer in hand.

Praca Benedito Calixto really comes into its own around 5pm when these vendors start packing their stalls away. This is the time crowds start to spill out of the nearby bars, gather on the street and get down to the serious business of socialising. There will be opportunistic beer vendors dotted around the street too, selling ice cold beer on the cheap. So you're likely to find that an afternoon here amongst this gay friendly crowd certainly isn't going to break the bank. 

Praça Benedito Calixto, 112, Pinheiros, São Paulo - SP, 05406-040.

Pita Restaurant

I was instantly sold on this Lebanese restaurant the moment my friends and I were seated outside in the patio area. The restaurant has a real rustic charm to  it, a charm that is further enhanced by the very reasonable prices on the menu. If you're sharing a bottle of wine with a friend and eating one of the delicious main courses, you're likely to have change for a 50 real note; which in a city like Sao Paulo is quite an attractive prospect! Especially when you consider the quality of the kebabs on offer, the intimate setting and the very friendly staff.

Address: Rua Francisco Leitão, 282, São Paulo - SP, 05414-020

Website: http://www.pitakebabbar.com.br/

Green Sunset

This party is set in the grounds of the MIS museum, which is reason enough for being included on my list! But in addition to the outdoor location there will be an internationally renowned DJ (or sometimes two) spinning electronic music from 4pm to 10pm on a Saturday afternoon, and your ticket also includes entry into the art exhibitions inside. At 14 reais, tickets for this monthly party are very reasonably priced and so perhaps unsurprisingly, they always sell out quickly.

The majority of people here are well dressed, so if you’d planned on wearing something you’d usually dig up the garden in…my advice to you is, just don't!!! To get your ticket, check out the MIS website in the weeks leading up to the event (these parties are generally held on a Saturday in the middle of the month) and then either buy online or head down to the museum to pick it up (tickets are limited to two per person).

It’s not just the tickets that are reasonably priced here, but the drinks once you’re inside. There are also vendors on hand to sell light refreshments and a free welcome drink on arrival. Green Sunset doesn't really get into full swing until around six o clock and it goes until ten at night, so works as a great pre-club party for those with stamina!

Address: Avenida Europa, 158 - Pinheiros, São Paulo - SP, 01449-000, Brazil.

Website: www.mis-sp.org.br





GVT Live Music- Show Cazuza

Last month I went to a free concert in Parque da Juventude, a tribute to the late singer Cazuza. What made this show so unique was that it wasn't just going to be a collection of singers performing his hits, but Cazuza was actually set to appear in the form of a hologram. I'd never seen a hologram included as part of a live music show before, and I was pretty intrigued to see what it was all about.

As the concert started the atmosphere within the crowd was electric. Although what I was seeing wasn't nearly as significant for me as I'm sure it would have been to the many Brazilians watching, I really enjoyed being in the midst of that crowd. Listening to Gal Costa sing for the first time and seeing Cazuza 'perform' were both pretty special. 

This event might have been a one off, but throughout the year the city of Sao Paulo plays host to a variety of other music events. Since moving here I've seen the likes of Gilberto Gil, Maria Rita, Daniela Mercury and Vanessa da Mata at free shows, as well as a whole host of other less well-known Brazilian artists. If you're in Sao Paulo for the weekend, you might want to check sites such as Time Out Sao Paulo here or MyDestination Sao Paulo here to see if there is an opportunity for you to also get a free taste of some of the big names in Brazilian music.

CALEFAÇÃO TROPICAOS 

Perhaps the most unusual space I found myself partying in 2013 came courtesy of Calefaçao Tropicaos. This free event was held in the Casa das Caldeiras, a huge disused boiler house not too far from Barra Funda station. It was large enough to accommodate three dance areas; one of which being in outside area where the DJ was spinning funk and soul on vinyl. There were also reasonably priced food and drinks on offer, clothes stalls and even a space created exclusively for children to play in. The atmosphere was very laid back and there was an eclectic mix of people of all ages there, dancing away their Sunday night blues in an incredibly unique venue.

Calefaçao Tropicaos isn’t limited to just setting, and this year I've had the pleasure of attending other free events organised by these guys in both Tracker Tower and in Parque Augusta. So my advice to you as we head into 2014 is if you want to experience Sao Paulo’s more underground scene, you could do a lot worse than check out Calefaçao Tropicaos. 


I've included a link to their Facebook page here.

Praça Pôr do Sol

Photo Credit- Remo Alberto Pierri 
In my humble opinion, there is no finer place to watch the sun set in Sao Paulo than at Praça Por do Sol. This place feels fairly intimate and on weekends is likely to be full of everyone from dog walkers to groups of friends, couples to guitar players and beer sellers and capoeira performers. And when the sun eventually dips behind the skyscrapers that dominate the city's skyline, you might just find yourself joining in with everyone caught up in the moment and applauding the suns departure from the city. 

Address: Praça Ignez Guimarães Soares Pestana, São Paulo.


Voodoohop

"There is a free party in the centre of the city this afternoon," said my friend, "let's go!" I looked at her like she was about to drop the punch line. A party in the centre of the city? In the street? Erm...Is this safe? She responded with a reassuring smile: "Trust me, you're gonna love it!"

And she was right. Not only was the party safe (and largely free of the crack addicts and beggars I'd expected to see ), but it was clearly popular with an alternative crowd. As the parent of 
Calefaçao Tropicaos, it will come as no surprise to hear that there is an underground vibe to Voodoohop Parties too (Voodoohop and Calefaçao Tropicaos often collaborate on projects), they are fairly sporadic and the venues change frequently. Voodoohop is not limited to these free parties on Friday and Saturday night events either, as the editions with a cover on the door are very popular too. Yet the one thing that is consistent is the quality of each event. Voodoohop boasts an eclectic and varied line up of DJs that never seem to fail to deliver. 

Check out the website: here or Facebook page here for more details.

Festival das Cores (Holi) Brazil

One Saturday afternoon in September, myself and a few friends went over to Vila Lobos park to check out the free Festival das Cores event (I'm fully aware by now of how tight I sound, I should point out that I do sometimes pay to go out too!). This event is based on the Indian Holi celebration, a religious Hindu festival in which dry powders of a variety of different colours are thrown up into the air to mark the arrival of summer. The event we attended had a bit of a twist though, instead of traditional Indian music we were expecting, we were offered a number of electronic DJ's, including DJ Goldfish. I'm not going to lie, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this guy with a name like this but the organisers clearly knew what they were doing by giving him the headline slot. As the cloak of darkness wrapped itself around Villa Lobos park and the party drew to a close, I heard many people say how much they'd enjoyed the event and that they'd hoped to make it to India to experience an authentic Holi festival. 

I'd love to visit India too, but 2014 isn't likely to be the year I get round to it. So in the mean time, I like many others, have my fingers crossed for another Holi edition in 2014. If you're in Sao Paulo in Spetember next year, you might want to check out the events Facebook page here.

Estadao

I’m surprised it took me so long to discover this absolute gem in Sao Paulo's culinary crown. Located in the centre of the city (not too far from Republica station) this restaurant is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is guaranteed to be packed over the weekend. Why? Well I suspect this might have something to do with one item on its menu, the Pernil (pork) sandwich. 

Costing less than 20 reais and literally cooked to perfection, this isn't just great value for money, it is like nothing I've ever tasted before. (Admittedly though, it tastes even better at 5am after leaving a night club than it does at 6pm when you’re eating it sober!)

The diner-like restaurant is just on the right side of chaotic and with incredibly fast service and some pretty interesting looking people eating here, it really is a must-visit. You’re not likely to find many tourists here (the staff are incredibly accommodating to foreign visitors though) so don`t expect to see the place listed in too many guide books. However Estadao comes highly recommended by not just myself, but the unpretentious crowds you're likely to find queuing for food at any given time of the weekend.

Address: Viaduto 9 de Julho 193 | Triangulo, Sao Paulo

O Mercado Festival Gastronomico

With some of the city’s top chefs turning out to this event to cook dishes costing 15 reais or less, O Mercadao Festival Gastronomico has certainly become a must-attend event in 2013. There are some pretty interesting drink choices on offer (Banana flavoured beer anyone?) and a DJ on hand to spin some old school funk and disco. Mercado flits between the venues of Mercado Pinheiros and Modelodromo do Ibirapuera on sporadic Sundays (generally once a month). You’re likely to find yourself amongst an eclectic mix of people; from parents with young children to hipsters and everything else in between. 

I attended my first Mercadao earlier in the year with my friends, showed up at 2pm and expected to stay for just an hour or so. However with plenty of interesting food to try and some alcohol induced dance moves to bust out, we were surprised to find ourselves being amongst the last to leave. I really can't recommend this event highly enough (unless of course, you're on a diet!).

For more information on my top find of 2013, check out the Facebook page here.


Well this will be my last post of 2013, so I'll use this opportunity to thank you all for taking the time out to read my blog this year; and also to wish you a great Christmas and all the best for 2014!

What do you think to the list? 
Did I miss out your favourite? What would have been your number one?
Any recommendations for 2014? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Brazilian Women On The Beach: Sexy and They Know It?

Last year my Brazilian friends and I took a trip to the beach with one of my friends from back home in tow. After an hour or so of sun bathing in the heat, she told me that she was going to take a dip in the sea to cool off. As soon as she'd walked out of ear-shot, my friend Carlos quickly sat up in his reclining chair, looked at me and asked me quite urgently; “why is your friend wearing an old woman’s bikini? On the beach?”

I looked at him like he was about to deliver his punch line. I mean, where else was she going to be wearing her bikini? But he was looking at me very attentively as if this was a perfectly reasonable question that demanded a perfectly reasonable answer. Perhaps sensing that I was at a bit of a loss for something to say, he continued. “Everyone is looking at her, you need to talk to her and tell her she needs to buy a new bikini, a smaller, Brazilian one”.

Can you even imagine that conversation? “Look, I think we need to go shopping, it’s your bikini. It is offensively modest!”

Now I’m no expert on bikinis, but the one in question looked retro and nothing at all like I’d expect an old lady to wear. Yet admittedly, compared to the other Brazilian bikinis on the beach it had clearly been made with much more generous portions of fabric. As a keen runner my friend also had a toned body yet obviously just felt comfortable in what she was wearing.

My friend however, didn't.

“This style is quite normal for English people”.

“Andrew, here is Brazil not England! Tell her to buy a new one!”

Another one of our friends (whose tight Lycra was accentuating his recent love of fast food) was listening in and was keen to confirm what Carlos was saying. “She should maybe buy a new bikini Andrew, you should tell her. Women don’t wear bikinis like this on the beach in Brazil”. 

Only in Brazil would you be criticized for wearing too much by someone whose gut is spilling out over his speedos. 

This incident made me wonder just why these tiny bikinis were worn by so many women here. I mean, aren't they worried that their bikinis don't tastefully conceal any lumps or bumps? Most women I know back home would never consider wearing a dental floss bikini, even if they'd spent months dieting or working out to feel comfortable in one on their summer holidays. 

“Why do women wear such small bikinis?” I asked my Brazilian friend not long after spending my first summer here. 

Her crumpled face betrayed the fact that she thought this question was pretty stupid; as if I’d just asked her to explain something obvious, like water.

“Well” she began with an air of toleration in her voice, “I wear mine because it’s practical; I know that when I wear it I’m going to get an even tan, it is going to be comfortable and also light to walk around in. Much lighter than I imagine those heavy board shorts foreign men like to wear”.

I was convinced that this response was a one off; I’d never heard of women wearing a bikini because they are ‘practical’ before. Believing I hadn't got an answer that was reflective of what most Brazilian women thought, I then asked the same question to other female friends. And when they answered that they also found these small bikinis to be ‘practical’ I became suspicious; as if everyone had somehow collectively conspired to hide something from me. 

I just didn't get it.

Weren't women wearing them because they were inviting you to look at their bodies? I guess me wondering this said more about me as a Brit than it did the Brazilian beach culture. You see, in the UK outside of ‘lads mags’ or tabloids you don’t see women sporting such small bikinis (which admittedly is down to the less than tropical weather we get!). And perhaps because the women on the front cover of 'lads mags' exude an aura of sexual confidence, recently magazines have started to conceal these images and selling the magazines in ‘modesty bags’. 

These thin sheets of dark plastic ensure that images of the women wearing very little are kept hidden away from those who find these images offensive. 

There is after all, nothing modest or tasteful about a woman in a tiny bikini, right?

Well if you’re walking onto a beach in Brazil with this mindset, you might just find yourself asking why Brazilian women didn't get this memo! Dental floss bikinis don't seem to be nearly as sinister over here, as instead they seem to be staple beachwear.

Which I imagine is great if you're a woman with a toned body, but as I mentioned before, far from it just being the attractive and toned women on the beach who demand your attention in these bikinis, it’s also larger women who do this too. In one of my earlier blog posts I mentioned how I’d seen an overweight woman in Rio sporting the tiniest of bikinis.

"She emerged from the sea, legs looking like bags of old meat and rolls upon rolls of skin over her bikini bottoms and I was absolutely mesmorised. She looked like she didn't have a care in the world"

At the time I remember contemplating how I’d expected her to look. Embarrassed? Ashamed? Apologetic? Well she wasn't at all. Looking back I’m pretty ashamed at myself for thinking this, she looked at ease with herself on that beach had every right to wear whatever she felt comfortable in. But I guess the one thing took me by surprise was that she wasn't as self conscious as I’d have expect her to have been.

Nowadays I have come to respect and even admire that many women on the beach sporting the dental floss bikini have less than toned bodies. They seem to be free of the morbid insecurities that affect so many Brits. But it was for this reason I initially thought that people here just didn't care what they looked like on the beach.


Well, I was wrong!

Larger women walking around like this don't represent all Brazilian beach dwellers, as I discovered when discussing with a student how refreshing it was to see them wearing practically nothing. 

 “Andrew, fat people on the beach in tiny clothes belong to a certain class of people; the lower classes. Very overweight middle and upper class Brazilian women wouldn't dream of going to the beach in a small bikini and walking around like this”.

Here we go again, I thought. Sometimes I feel like I could be forgiven for thinking the lower classes exist purely to rile the hell out of the middle and upper classes here.

“But what if YOU gained 20 pounds and your friends invited you to the beach?” I asked.

“Well, then I just wouldn't go, or I’d cover up! But I care about what I look like, me and my friends like to look good on the beach so we work out when we can. We do our best to never gain weight in the first place”.

Then I became incredibly confused. What I was hoping to do was identify was one homogeneous Brazilian beach culture, but the deeper I dug, the more I realised it was more complicated than this.

But what I do know to be true is this; whilst some in the UK might be too conscious to dress in a way that their Brazilian counterparts would dare to, the way most Brazilian women embrace the dental floss bikini isn't a reflection of how ‘hot’ they think they are. Admittedly there will be some women who will runway-walk down the beach in their bikinis like nobody's business, showing the world what their mama's gave them. But are all Brazilian women in their bikinis like this? 

No. 

Despite what it might look like to the untrained, unaccustomed foreign eye; Brazilian bikini wearers are certainly not ALL wearing them because they are sexy and they know it! 

What do you think about the beach attire on the beaches in Brazil?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brazilian Men On the Beach....and My Speedo-Phobia!


Summer is just around the corner, and over the last few weeks the hot weather many associate with Brazil has made a welcome return. Not only does this mean that soon I will be contending with the mosquitoes that find me irresistibly delicious, but I’ll also be making frequent trips to the beach in an attempt to bronze my lily white body. Three years have intervined between me arriving in Brazil and now, so here is the dilemma I find myself in: Should I finally embrace the one aspect of Brazilian culture I've consciously done my best to avoid, it's speedo culture?

It was during my first ever trip to Copacabana beach that I became acquainted with it. As I stepped out onto the world-famous sandy beach, I looked around and was a little taken aback by what I saw. On this particular day there were women walking around in these tiny dental floss bikinis and men sporting pretty tight speedos (or sunga as they're known over here), all parading their flesh as far down the beach as the eye could see. Almost everyone on the beach was just a slither of fabric away from being naked. 

I, on the other hand, had walked onto the beach wearing a white vest and pair of knee length board shorts. I really felt like I'd been summoned into another world, one in which I was pretty overdressed.

Fast forward a few years and I’m still wearing the same sort of clothes to the beach. Despite being aware of how different I look to most of my friends (a small percentage of whom are with me on the board shorts...until it's time to go into the sea, where they whip these off to reveal their budgie smugglers underneath), the voice inside my head telling me not to join the lycra club is still screaming at me pretty loudly. What it’s telling me is ‘don’t even think about it!’ But…should I listen? 

I would never even entertain the idea of wearing a pair of speedos if I wasn't in Brazil because in the UK it’s just competitive swimmers (and of course Tom Dailey) who get away with wearing them. There is a pretty big stigma attached to wearing a pair back home and as a result some public pools have even banned them. When you’re around women and children, the lump and bump enhancing speedo isn't really considered appropriate. 

The same rules clearly don’t apply over here though, and my reluctance to wear the sunga is often met with smirks.“Oh look, Andrew is still wearing his foreigner shorts” said one at the beach last year (in his ball-crushingly-tight sunga), before flashing me a teasing smile. The trouble is when you are the only one NOT wearing speedos in a group of your mates, its difficult to argue that you’re the one who doesn't look ridiculous.

So why do so many Brazilian men feel so comfortable wearing them? Well this was a question I found myself asking one of my friends not long after arriving here. “If you wear these surely everyone will be able to see….everything?” As soon as these words came rolling off my tongue, his face stretched into a mocking grin. “Andrew. If people can see my dick through my speedos and don't like it, this isn't my problem it’s theirs! And why would they want to look anyway?”

And I guess this is a convincing argument. That is until you’re relaxing on a reclining chair on the beach, and suddenly the sunlight you’re enjoying becomes eclipsed by your friend’s body. That's when you’re instinctively going to look up to see what's going on. Then you may well find yourself coming face to face with a less then subtle outline of your friend’s genetalia staring right at you.

#truestory

I also asked some of my male students about why they wear speedos, and the question was met with a knotted forehead and a puzzled look. “Well, why wouldn't we wear them?” was their response. Then they looked at me in genuine confusion like I’d just asked them to explain water.

The reality seems to be that a whole load of Brazilian men wear speedos simply because they are comfortable in them. But this makes me more aware that my, ‘I’m foreign, so I don’t wear sunga’ argument is starting to wear thin on every visit to the beach. So I’m wondering if its time for me to get over my cultural hangover? Should I just embrace the lycra and get it over with? 

To sunga or not to sunga...that is the question!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Encounter With An Angry Brazilian Football Fan

On the 16th December 2012 Corinthians beat Chelsea in the Club World Cup Final. It was a great game….or so I was told. You see, with the game kicking off on in Brazil on a Sunday morning at about 7am, there was absolutely no chance I was ever going to get up to watch it! As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m not much of a football fan. I'll happily watch big international games but I’ll only really go to watch club football in the bar to be sociable.

And, well, there is nothing sociable about a game that kicks off at seven in the morning!

Nevertheless, there was no escaping the noise of fireworks pounding against the morning sky as I attempted to sleep through the match (For more on fireworks going off during football matches, click here!). Enjoying my lie in was quite challenging, but I take my sleep very seriously and was definitely not to be deterred by the noise. At 10am when I eventually surfaced I checked the internet and discovered Corinthians had won, which I was pleased about because I knew how much the game had meant to a lot of my students who were avid supporters of the club.

So just after midday, myself and my housemate went over to Avenida Paulista for some lunch. As we ascended the subway escalators onto street above, we saw that hoards of cars were waving Corinthian football flags out of their windows. They'd won the game around three hours earlier, yet it was difficult to imagine that their enthusiasm for the win was waning at all. Horns were going ten to the dozen and the pavement was awash with people wearing Corinthian shirts, acknowledging each other with unrelenting grins and appreciative nods. I’d go as far as to say there was a real carnival atmosphere down here, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the midst of it all. I knew there would be people celebrating on Avenida Paulista, but I hadn't anticipated on seeing so many out to mark the occasion.

With the Sunday market we’d planned to eat at now in view, and my belly groaning at the sight of it, my friend and I attempted to cross the road. However we’d not been fortunate with our timing and only managed to get halfway across; so with cars passing both in front and behind us we waited for the lights to change on the little pedestrian walkway. I noticed that the cars were in no hurry to drive down this avenue, for many this was the place they’d come to complete several victory laps with other supporters. 

I can’t remember what me and my friend were talking about as we stood there waiting, probably how hungry we were or how passionate the Corinthian fans looked, but what happened before we even stepped off that small strip of pavement startled us.

Just as the lights were about to change to red, a car slowed to a stop in front of us. The driver (who had his elbow resting out of his window) was sporting a Corinthians shirt and had an arm full of tattoos, the type that look great on Beckham or that guy from Prison Break…but not really on anyone else.

“Oi, gringo!” he shouted over at me with a huge grin on his face. “Where are you from?”

I was a little surprised to have had my foreigner status identified so easily, but I smiled and instinctively answered “England”.

This prompted the woman in the passenger seat to crane her neck down from where she was sat to take a good look at me. She looked pretty rough with her hair scraped back into a harsh ponytail, but as we made eye contact she flashed me a warm smile, one I reciprocated.

“England?” asked the driver quietly as he continued to look at me. I noticed that the smile had long faded from his face and he was now looking sharply into my eyes. Then he looked down at his steering wheel thoughtfully. He was totally absorbed in what I’d just said. For a few seconds I was stood looking at this guy in silence, unsure of what he was thinking. 

Then he looked back up at me, and as if the link had just occurred to him, he half whispered and half said "Chelsea". There was a look of absolute disdain dominating his face. 

Then from nowhere he punched his horn, the sound of which made me jump a little. He looked at me again, this time more venomously and the woman in the car started screaming something at him.

“CHELSEA” he repeated aggressively, punching his horn for a second time, “CHELSEA?”

I looked over at my friend who then looked back at me and it was clear we were thinking the same;

“SHIT!”

“He’s not from Chelsea” argued my friend; “he’s from near Scotland”. I could almost see the panic in my friends eyes, we both sensed that the ticking time bomb sitting before us was about to go off. The driver began to shout something I couldn't quite catch to the woman in his car. She was shouting something back at him. I’d be surprised if either heard what the other was saying. Then he looked back at me and roared through gritted teeth;

“CHELSSEEEEEEEAAAAAAA!” 

With about ten cars now waiting behind this guy, I withdrew my gaze in time to notice that the lights at the pedestrian crossing had just changed to green.

They couldn't have changed a second too soon either because just as we stepped off the pavement and onto the road, the guy’s car door flew open and he hurled himself out of it. I was about halfway across the road when I turned back and saw that he was stood by his car door, fists level with his shoulders, screaming something at me in Portuguese that I didn't understand.

It was obvious from his body language that I didn't need to understand what he'd just said, he clearly wanted a fight.

Well I didn't, and there was absolutely no way I was about to square up to him.

I walked pretty quickly across the road and onto the pavement with the driver stood in the same spot screaming at me. He’d thought better of leaving his car at the lights to join me on the pavement for a brawl, but he hadn't given up on me having my face rearranged.

“Look at this foreigner, he is from Chelsea” he screamed at the people walking past us on the street.

“Somebody punch that son of a bitch”.

It didn't seem appropriate at this point to argue that I’d never actually been to Chelsea because he clearly didn't care.

Luckily nobody walking by took him up on his suggestion. 

Before long the guy got back into his car and drove off (not before eyeballing the shit out of me as he drove past of course!). "Andrew" said my friend “today you are from America, OK?”

I nodded, before starting all the false bravado a situation like this derives in order to save face. But behind it all I was a little shook up; he’d completely caught me off guard.

I really hadn't expected that this would have happened on my way to a street market to buy a taco and a can of coke.

How I remember this guy screaming at me!
I knew football fans were incredibly passionate over here, but his team had won. I didn't understand it. The students I talked to afterwards could offer little in the way of an explanation either, other than this:

“Corinthian fans can be pretty crazy, you’re best avoiding places they’ll be on match days”.


This remark naturally then led me to ask; “well if this is what people are like after a Corinthians game on a busy and fairly well policed street in Sao Paulo….how safe is it for foreigners to be around Brazilian football fans during the World Cup?”

In retrospect perhaps this question was a naive one, but like I said earlier, the world of football is one that's pretty alien to me. Each time I asked, the question would be met with the same firm shake of the head and a reassuring smile. I can’t really compare international football fans and club football fans apparently, because football fanatics generally show a lot more loyalty to their club team.

I've been warned off attending big club games here in the  past because they’re considered too dangerous. Many of my students have told me that they‘d rather watch games from the safety of their living rooms at home than risk going to the clubs grounds. Violence is common at rival club games, but many Brazilians I've talked to have looked surprised when I've asked about this extending to the international football scene.

Perhaps I've projected my own ideas on English football violence onto Brazilian fans? English football fans have a reputation for going overseas and fighting when the English team plays, and are pretty infamous for doing so during club games.

I’d never really separated the violence between club football and national football before, because for me football is football. Yet from the people I've talked to there certainly is a division in Brazil.

This has given me food for thought; because if you find yourself watching something on TV about how dangerous club football games are over here, it might be worth considering that this isn't really going to be much of a reflection of what to expect during the World Cup from the same football fans. It might be worth considering that those football thugs might not be bothering with the Cup at all. Instead they could well be just be planning to enjoy the games at home with their families, with a fridge full of beer and a belly full of barbecue...in their club's football shirt.  

What do you think? Is there as big a division between people who watch Brazilian club games and international games as I've been told? Is anyone expecting any of the trouble at the World Cup to come from football hooligans? Will Brazilians be as welcoming to foreign visitors as many here suspect? 

NOTE: For more posts on the reality behind living in a country known for its violence, click here. And if you’re coming over here and want to know the ways you could potentially be less of a target, click here.