While sitting back and taking my time to absorb all the Carioca culture, I observed some interesting things:

Portuguese, when spoken, actually sounds closer to Romanian than any other language.  Honestly, it is also one of the most amazingly beautiful languages to listen to, and I never thought I’d say that after learning Italian.  It’s also more interesting given the fact that pronunciation is, by no means, intuitive.  There are tons of “gee,” “sh” and “ao” sounds you wouldn’t expect – for example I have now finally put to memory that things that end in “de” actually have a “gee” sound and the letter X often has a “sh” sound.  My obsession for learning languages has taken over since the moment I got here and I have already twice considered enrolling in Portuguese classes.

Stunning view of Rio de Janeiro

After visiting a few shopping malls and other boutiques around Ipanema, I learned that many items can be paid for in intallments.  For example, I saw a pair of nice leather flats marked as 189R x12.  This means that you can pay off less than US$100 in twelve installments, interest free!  Let’s just say that if I lived in Brazil, I would probably have a major shopping problem (I would always be able to rationalize only paying $10 up front!)

Things in Brazil cost a lot, and I wonder how if I think that coming here with U.S. dollars how anyone earning money here can afford to buy things.  The public bus in both cities I have visited costs more than US$1!  I balk at the New York City $2 fare, but I can’t imagine how people earning a lot less money can afford that every day.  The reality is that life here is not easy for a lot of people.

Appearance-wise, Brazilians certainly do not look in one particular way.  In some ways, this makes for a more comfortable cultural experience than in Thailand/China (where I had no hope of blending in), because some people actually mistake me for Brazilian.  But it can also make for a more frustrating experience because people approach me and start rattling off in Portuguese, and I feel bad when they pause for my response and instead get a look of confusion.  I think I had a vision of how Brazilians would look, but it was definitely a big generalization, especially after seeing the cultural diversity of a place like Salvador.

I have been very pleasantly surprised by the men I have encountered walking the streets in Brazil.  Before I left, I kept reading things that made me think it was going to be Italy all over again – men literally chasing me down the streets, non-stop “Ciao Bella” and whistling, but it’s really not like that here.  Granted I don’t know much Portuguese so people might be saying things I don’t understand, but the machismo of the men in Italy was definitely 10 times worse.  Sure the scene at a club in a place like Rio is more in line with the stereotype, it being completely normal and expected for guys to make out with 5, 6, 7 whatever number of girls in one night (and admittedly so), but everyday walking the streets and even at the beach there isn’t so much to worry about.  The Lonely Planet guide says that machismo in Brazil is less overt than in Spanish-speaking Latin America, and though I haven’t been to Argentina yet, I get the feeling that this is going to prove to be true.

The stereotype of American girls among Brazilian men is nothing short of what I expected.  I posed this question on my last night in Rio to the guys at the apartment where Stacey and I were couch surfing.  It was something  along the lines of, it doesn’t take much to get an American girl in bed – but they were quick to point out that they didn’t necessarily think that was true, something I’m not sure they were saying to be polite or because they actually thought it to be true.  Carioca women are supposedly the hardest to pick up in Brazil, so many guys from Rio like to go further South to a place like Florianopolis where the women are thought to be better looking and easier.  The beach is thought to be one of the hardest places to pick up girls.