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Brazil bashing

In the last week, the articles I have both read and written about Brazil have mostly been negative.

First, there was the concern that the iconic Maracanã, host of the 2014 World Cup final, was not safe for fans, throwing the friendly with England into doubt.

Then, there were the fears that other World Cup stadiums and infrastructure may not be completed in time for next year’s tournament.

And later, there was the news that Daily Mail columnist and talkSport host Adrian Durham had been the victim of an attempted mugging at knifepoint while in Copacabana in Rio.

Brazil does herself no favours with her bureaucratic culture, inefficient government and allergy to urgency. She makes herself an easy target for criticism.

Even fellow expats and immigrants who choose to live here cannot help but complain about her tardiness, prices and safety.

But while some authorities can be deadline-shy, the transport limited and the telecommunications network frustrating, some things in Brazil do work.

Unlikely to be written about anywhere else, this is what Rio de Janeiro does well:

Community

Rio is fantastically friendly. Cariocas (people from Rio) are incredibly sociable, curious and welcoming, and it is a very easy place to make friends. The democracy of the beach reigns, along with football, music and casual drinking. Away from the beach, favela communities have wonderful characters and lively cultures with some impressive community initiatives.

Craque do Futuro in Jacarezinho favela.
Craque do Futuro in Jacarezinho favela.

Drinking

People in Rio can start drinking as early as 11am in my experience. But in seven months, I’ve yet to see a Carioca who is totally sloshed. Unlike the English, Brazilians can pace themselves, often sharing a long-neck beer with several friends or drinking a chopp (small glass of beer) at a steady rate throughout the night.

Banks

While opening a bank account as a foreigner in Brazil is as enjoyable as walking over hot coals while being chased by a bear, the banking itself is simple and easy. From an ATM, you can transfer money almost instantly, pay bills, top up your mobile phone and make deposits. And with some ATMs, your fingerprint replaces your pin number, which is handy when you already have 26,453 passwords to remember.

Carnival

Imagine the scenario: the whole of the UK gets a four-day public holiday where the name of the game is to have as many people out on the street, dancing, drinking and having a good time with non-stop music through every neighbourhood until Lent kicks in. This is how it would likely end: with tears and brawls and 300 people in court charged with public order offences. Not so in Brazil, where anyone who doesn’t like the noise and the costumes and the weeing in the streets just leaves for a fortnight. And everyone else just has a jolly good time.

One of the many blocos, or street parties, during Carnival.
One of the many blocos, or street parties, during Carnival.

Gender equality

The President is a woman. The CEO of Brazil’s oil company Petrobras is a woman. Some of the scariest police in Rio are women. See also: bus drivers. See also: labourers at the Maracanã. See also: the Brazilian army. While being a woman in Brazil may be no easier than many other developing countries, it strikes me that sisters here are making progress. In Rio, the very liberal culture certainly makes it more comfortable to be a woman, and the stares and attention you might get as a blond, white woman in more misogynistic countries simply don’t exist. Flesh is so commonplace on the beach, it’s no longer a commodity but a fact of life.

Maria Lima Pessoa, one of 270 women employed during the reconstruction of the Maracana.
Maria Lima Pessoa, one of 270 women employed during the reconstruction of the Maracana.

National brands

When I was younger, I was always amazed at how, no matter whether I was in India or the Gambia or a little island off the coast of Malaysia, some things got there: Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Nike. One of the most fun things about Brazil is that those brands play second fiddle here. Instead, we have Guarana, a fizzy drink made from the caffeine-laden Amazonian guarana berry, that’s so good, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have their own versions. We also have Bob’s, a chain that incorporates Brazilian flavours (guava, pão de queijo) into its fast food and does much better milkshakes than Maccy D. And while Starbucks is popping up throughout Rio, the best places for a coffee or a snack remain the ubiquitous juice bars where the fruit is fresh and the food is good.

The Guarana is good.
The Guarana is good.

Please use the comments section below to add your own suggestions or disagree with me.

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