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Brazil: A User’s Guide

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Following on from the first and second dispatches from the newly appointed Ambassador to São Paulo back to his home planet, Juan Pablo Villalobos offers a guide to surviving life in Brazil.

Identity crisis (1). São Paulo and Manaus are as similar as Wales and China. Comparing Rio de Janeiro and Palmas is like comparing a shoe with a rocket. Porto Alegre and Rio Branco like a frog to a cup of coffee. Belo Horizonte and Salvador like an Other-Human hair to a constellation. The sum of these differences is called Brazil.

Tips that can save your self esteem (1). You don’t want to play in that football game on the beach, believe me.

Bureaucratic stuff (1). The Brazilian banking system was created by a Czech writer called Franz Kafka.

Ways of saying Hi (1):

– Hi, all ok?

– All ok and you?

– All ok.

– Then it is ok.

Security controls. If you want to enter to a condominium, relax. Have you ever gone to Pluto with a Green Planet passport?

On chauvinism (1). The best and largest and most beautiful things in the whole Universe are in Rio Grande do Sul.

Tips that can save your life (1). Never voice a single negative opinion about Brazilian music.

The football paradox. According to TV commentators, the Brazilian national team never loses a game (never have and never will), even when it contradicts the result. Do not try to change this idea.

Ways of liking things. Name the cool things ‘legal’, ‘beauty’ or ‘optimum’.

Speaking perfect Brazilian Portuguese. Forget it, you won’t.

Conversations with children:
– Hi uncle! or Hi aunt! (relax, you are not really his or her uncle or aunt)

– Hi little nuts! (never say: Hi nephew! or Hi niece! The actual uncles or aunts are called u-uncle and a-aunt)

Tips that can save you from shame (1). Never ask: ‘How was the run?’ based on footwear.

On chauvinism (2). The best and largest and most beautiful things in the whole Universe are in Minas Gerais.

Ways of saying collective Hi: And there, galley!

Identity crisis (2). If you ask a Brazilian human to take you to dance samba and drink a caipirinha there is a very big enormous probability that they will accuse you of being a gringo (even if you are Brazilian).

Tips for seducing Brazilian top models. Forget it, you won’t.

Ways of expressing surprise:

– Our Mrs.!

Abbreviated form (commonest):

– Our!

Bureaucratic stuff (2). The Brazilian tax system was created by an Irish writer called Samuel Beckett.

Tips that can save your life (2). If you are about to eat Bahia food and the smiling waitress asks if you want it ‘cold’ or ‘hot’. The answer is: cold.

Ways of saying Hi: (2)

– And there, beauty?

– Beauty and you?

– Little beauty.

– Then it is ok.

Food licentiousness. Yes, you can put sushi, lasagna, kibbeh and rice with beans in the same plate.

Tips that can save you from mental illness. Gisele Bündchen will not marry you, accept it.

Literary issues. If you are foreigner and you want to talk about books you should be really prepared to answer properly this next question: who is your favourite Brazilian writer?

Ways of saying Hi: (3)

– And there, all quiet?

– All quiet and you?

– All quiet too.

– Then it is ok.

Tips that can save you from shame (2). Never think he or she was making a joke about his or her name. No matter the name they told you, it’s the actual name.

Curious ways of perceiving time. If a Brazilian human says that something will not take long, relax: it will.

Religion. The most popular religions in Brazil are Flamengo and Corinthians.

Tips that can save your life (3). You don’t want to stroke that capybara.

On chauvinism (3). The best and largest and most beautiful things in the whole Universe are in Campinas.

Tips that can save your self-esteem (2). Do not try to read Guimarães Rosa in Portuguese.

Ways of saying Hi: (4)

– And there, all right?

– All little right and you?

– All right too.

– Then it is ok.

Tips that can save your life (4). Never call during the nine o’clock soup opera.

Bureaucratic stuff (3). The Brazilian buying and selling system was created by a Romanian writer called Eugène Ionesco.

Tips that can save your life and mental health: relax and enjoy. ■

Next Monday we will publish more dispatches from the alien ambassador to Brazil, by Juan Pablo Villalobos. You can read previous dispatches here and here.

The print edition of The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists will be available from 8 November. You can pre-order here or subscribe to receive it before it reaches bookshops.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos is published by And Other Stories.

Photo by Alex Schwab.

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  6. Letícia Castro

    Tue Nov 06 00:32:00 GMT 2012

    Like a true Brazilian, everything I have to say is: Then it is ok!
    Excellent post! And yes, that's nothing but reality.But you forgot to mention that we we are serial kissers, kissing everybody hello and goodbye. So, beijinhos! =)

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  7. Letícia Castro

    Tue Nov 06 00:34:56 GMT 2012

    Like a true Brazilian, everything I have to say is: Then it is ok!
    Excellent post! And yes, that's nothing but reality.But you forgot to mention that we we are serial kissers, kissing everybody hello and goodbye. So, beijinhos! =)

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    Tue Nov 06 00:37:21 GMT 2012

    HAHAHAHAHA, awesome article, so true !
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    And Leticia is right, you forgot to mention about the kissing thing haha.
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  9. AriadneChloe

    Fri Nov 23 16:19:32 GMT 2012

    Very funny - and so, so true! (except that all the biggest and best stuff in Brazil is from São Paulo, of course!). Re: Food licentiousness. I´d say eating healthy portions of heavy feijoada in boiling hot midday temperatures meets the mark. Plus curious ways of perceiving time: the New Year ALWAYS starts AFTER Carnaval - be that in Feb, March or April...

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    Thu Nov 08 14:46:06 GMT 2012

    Excelent, I never thought about how we say Hi before! Please do not forget to mention the truth in the guide version:
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    "Curious ways of perceiving time. If a Brazilian human says that something will not take long, relax: it will." - This is too much, not real at all. Doesn't work even as a joke. Might be true in some small towns and that's the end of it.

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