Travelling round the world will undoubtedly bring us into contact with many cultures, which will each come with their own differing languages, customs and quirks. We thought it would be fun and potentially helpful to put together a brief list of those quirks that we come across in each country. Some may be more obvious than others and may not come as a complete surprise, however, if they have stuck with us as unique to a country we have noted them here.
1. Language – The most obvious thing about Brazil that sticks out and separates it from any other country in South America is its language. All other countries on the continent speak a dialect of Spanish, however Brazil is the only country that speaks Portuguese. This reflects the country’s conquest in the 1500’s by Portugal.
2. Havaianas – This applies specifically to Rio, but we did also see them elsewhere. There appears to be pretty much only one brand of flip flop available in Brazil and its shops are everywhere! Even halfway up Sugar Loaf mountain and on Ilha Grande where there are no ATM’s and no motor vehicles. Therefore, basically everyone not in a suit and tie wears Havaianas, from small children to old ladies. Crazy! (Oh and they are dirt cheap compared to the UK).
3. No toilet paper in the toilet – Due to the poor standard of Brazil’s sewer system, you are not allowed to put any toilet paper into the toilet bowl. This means that in every toilet there is a bin into which the soiled paper (and other toiletry based waste) needs to be put. In some places the bins are covered and scented but in others its just an open waste paper bin and can get quite smelly.
4. Chops – Brazilian bars and restaurants all sell beer by the “chop” a small little glass just under half a pint. Even when you purchase a 1L bottle of beer this will be accompanied by a tiny little glass to drink out of. We have assumed this is to avoid the beer getting warm whilst sat in a glass (they keep the bottles in iced containers).
5. Por Kilo restaurants – Both in the large cities and the small towns we came across these buffet style restaurants that charge based on the weight of your plate. This is also the most common eatery at service stations. Unfortunately the food isn’t always the beat quality and you technically pay for the weight of your plate!
6. Plastic bags – Brazil appeared to be very recycling conscious with different bins everywhere for plastic, paper and tin cans. However this eco-friendliness is completely ruined by their attitude to plastic bags in supermarkets. Not only do they double bag nealy everything, but the bag packers only put one or two items in each bag. This means that you leave the store carrying more plastic bags than shopping and we did not see anyone reusing bags, resulting in bins being full of plastic bags.
7. Small change ignored – In the UK we are used to paying the price as listed (I.e. £5.17) and getting the right change according to how much we paid. In Brazil most stores and restaurants tend to ignore the small amounts of centavos and either round up or down depending on your luck. Given the relatively low value of the Brazilian Real (R$) it is not too surprising.
8. Water sellers – As all health professionals and travel guides will tell you, the tap water in Brazil is not safe to drink as it is not treated. Doing so can lead to severe illness. This means that water is big business and this is clear from the entire supermarket aisles dedicated to different brands of water to the individual water sellers that are everywhere. You will 100% find them outside the entrance to any tourist attraction shouting “agua agua” but also along any public street.
9. WhatsApp – Everyone has heard of the social messaging app WhatsApp, however most see it as a slightly outdated tool only. Not so in Brazil. Firstly, everyone uses all the time including taxi drivers whilst they’re driving. But quirkier still, it is a genuinely recognised tool for doing business, with many shops having their WhatsApp contact number sprawled across their window. We even booked our Pantanal tour via WhatsApp.
10. Cake for breakfast – Breakfast is not a big deal in Brazil. The Portuguese for breakfast – “Cafe de Manha”, translates as “coffee of the morning” which is a reflection of the little amount of food consumed. However, one of the things on every breakfast menu is cake. Yes, cake, of all varieties from chocolate to cinnamon.