11 Useful Things Every American Should Know About Brazil

11 Useful Things Every American Should Know About Brazil

Brazil, the largest country in South America has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, a diverse mix of cultures, rich, vibrant street art and not to mention tons of island paradises.
Your packed and ready to go and have all the essentials, but what are some of useful things that every American should know about Brazil?

1.Wear flip flops, but leave the Asics at home!

Brazil isn’t like Europe where flip flops are considered a fashion disaster. In Brazil, flip flops are super practical and make sense for longs walks on beaches and hot pavement. Bring your favorite pair, but be sure to buy several pair of Havaianas. A popular Brazilian brand, Havaianas translates to Hawaiians in Portuguese and are considered a household staple much like beans and rice. They are super comfy and there are plenty of colors to match your pedicured toes.

As far as sneakers, people certainly wear them in Brazil but some brands like Asics are super expensive even compared to American standards so it’s best to just leave them at home. Besides, it’s better to save room in your suitcase for flip flops.

2. Cash is not king so use your credit or debit cards, but don’t let them out of sight.

It’s never wise to carry a lot of cash with you and considering that Brazil is a country that widely accepts credit and debit cards, there is no need to carry a lot of cash unless you plan on buying gas or a lot of pastries. Besides, most merchants discourage the use of cash as they prefer not to have too much cash on-site so that they may avoid being a crime target.
However, unlike in the states where you can just give your waiter or waitress your card when you pay your bill, don’t do this in Brazil. Instead, they should bring a mobile credit card processor to your table and process your transaction right in front of you.

3. Leave the jewelry and extra electronics at home next to your Asics.

During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, thieves had a grand old time robbing people of anything in plain sight even in broad day light. Like most countries, robbing people, especially Americans, is a common occurrence. These thieves aren’t always so obvious and even come in swarms of young children who are trained to rob just about anyone for anything. So, don’t be that American who is trying to take pictures with their IPad or is sporting the Beats by Dre headphones. Just leave those at home along with your blingy new engagement ring. Seriously. And on that note, only pull out your smartphone when necessary as those are easily grabbed by any thief whizzing by on their bike.

And if you must bring a laptop, like some of us who must work while traveling, just be sure that when you are finally able to cut the umbilical laptop cord, you tuck it away in a safe place in your hotel or apartment.

4. Don’t be taken for a ride by a taxi airport driver.

Once your exhausted body lands in Brazil, probably Rio De Janeiro (GIG) and you head through customs and gather your luggage, you will be greeted by a mass of people who will ask you if you need a taxi. I know you just want to get to your final destination for that much-needed shower, but don’t give into the temptation.

Instead, walk straight over to the Taxi cooperative stand located right before you exit the airport where you will be able to prepay for your trip. After you provide your destination and receive a ticket, someone will walk you to your cab. Hand your ticket to the driver and you’re all set! By the way, your driver should not turn on their meter as there is no need since you prepaid.
Basically, a cooperative is a group of taxi cab companies who pay for this service.

While this option is a little more expensive, you can be assured that you will not be “taken for a ride” which could happen if you were to ask for a cab by yourself.

By the way, Uber is not allowed at the GIG airport. They can drop you off but you won’t be able to use the service to get picked up. If you want to read a bit more about taxi cabs in Rio, check out this blog post by RioIGo.

5. Learn some key phrases in Portuguese, not Spanish.

Unlike Spanish speakers in Colombia, Brazilians speak Portuguese.
Very few people speak English and if they do, their families either spared the extra expense to send them to private English school or they work in tourism and are probably more than happy to speak with you in your native language. Otherwise, learn some key phrases!

6. Don’t be LOUD!

Every good blog for Americans should remind them that speaking loudly is not only obnoxious, but is great way to be hassled. Unfortunately, there is a stigma that all Americans are rich and in addition to the two types of English speakers mentioned above, there is a third kind which I call the “hassler”.

As soon as they hear English, they will approach you quickly and ask you, “Where are you from?” and regardless of which city or state you tell them, they will probably know the favorite, winning sports team and proceed to give you a high five as if you too are a loyal (insert sports team name here) fan.

Next thing you know they will try to very aggressively sell you something.

7. Use WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger

Whether using it for newfound friends or for keeping in touch with family back home, install and use WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Pretty much everyone uses WhatsApp in Brazil for texting or sharing videos, but Facebook Messenger does seem to prove better quality sound for phone calls. Be prepared to use both especially when WhatsApp randomly gets banned from use in Brazil.

8. No need to leave a tip.

As an American, I always struggle with this one just because it seems rude to not tip your waiter. However, when you see your bill you will notice that there is a 10% service charge added to your total price. If you still want to tip, I am sure they will appreciate your generosity. By the way, you also don’t need to tip your cab driver or hair dresser – if you just so happen to get your haircut while on vacation.

9. Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet.

This is a super important thing that every American should know about Brazil. Don’t flush it!

Like most of South America’s sewer systems, Brazil’s sewer systems are not designed to handle toilet paper either so don’t flush toilet paper or anything else for that matter down the toilet. Instead, place it in the trash bin that you will find next to the toilet.

10. Wear Sunscreen

Brazilians can easily recognize the gringos by their sun-burnt skin. Nothing can ruin your vacation worse than trying to soothe sunburned skin and besides, you want to collect memories while on vacation, not skin cancer so please wear sunscreen! Most Americans are not used to the blazing Brazilian sun that shines almost daily so be sure to slick up with sunscreen, even on a hazy day.

11. Instead of beach towel, use a “canga”.

Hardly anyone uses a beach towel on the beaches except for a few of the bright, red Americans. Brazilian woman use cangas which are lightweight, cotton blankets that can be used a dress, sarong or wrap, but also as a beach blanket. They come in a million different patterns and dry much faster than a beach towel. Joy and Journey has a great recap about the Brazilian canga so go check it out!

I hope you enjoyed this list of useful things that every American should know about Brazil. If you have a tip you want to share, please email us at triototravel@gmail.com!

Escúchame, ¿tiene la miseria? – and other misspeaks.

#1 Rule When Traveling – Learn a Few Key Phrases

Listen to me…even when I don’t speak your language.

There have been many times my eyes have glanced over a piece of paper with horizontal, faded blue lines which served as perches for various foreign words.
Foreign words strategically chosen and written very close to their English equivalent so there would be no confusion as to which word belonged with which because in a time of desperate moments, you wouldn’t want to make a mistake. (Hint: There have been desperate moments – but I will save that blog post for later.)
Sometimes, if I were lucky, Michelle would even provide the phonetic pronunciation and I would be given a brief tutorial.

Survival words. “Please?”  “Thank You.” “How much for this cocktail?”
The paper, once bright and white, would soon become soft and fuzzy by the many folds and unfolds that it would be forced to experience during the course of a trip.
Sometimes even when a word is mastered, we still pull out the paper while speaking. Kinda like a gesture to ask for forgiveness and a little mercy for tearing up their language.
And yes, the medium is paper because paper will always be available when wi-fi is not.
Michelle showed me the first magical piece of paper in 2007 when we went to Greece. Since then, she’s done this for every trip, well…except for Morocco and Bogota.
We wrongly believed that Moroccans only spoke Arabic and there was NO way we were going to attempt Arabic with or without a cheat sheet. Maybe tip #2 should be to conduct research prior to your trip.

Michelle didn’t write out a list for our trip to Colombia either. Quite possibly because they speak Spanish in Bogota and most Americans know a handful of Spanish phrases.
And we knew a handful of phrases and managed to get by, but it is always just that one word, letter or pronunciation that can make the biggest difference.

For example:
While sitting at Moulin Bleu enjoying a very generous cocktail happy hour, Michelle asks the bartenders, “Excuse me, do you have any peanuts?”
After a slight pause, the bartenders exchange looks and burst out laughing. Even the fellow bar patrons contributed to the jovial moment. Alicia and I just figured that there must be a peanut shortage and how dare someone ask!?

Michelle hands over her phone pointing to the little screen. More laughter. Her phone is returned to her with a correction.
Evidently, she demanded that the bartenders “listen to her” and asked if they had poverty (or misery).

“Escúchame, ¿tiene la miseria?”

Mystery solved.

Google translates “peanuts” to “miseria” and only Michelle can explain how she got “Escúchame”.
While we didn’t get peanuts, we did get a little plate full of snacks, enough laughter to give our abs a workout, and a memory that could never be bought.
The rule was and always will be that when traveling to a foreign country, don’t be that dumbass American that can’t at least say “please” and “thank you”.
But DO be that American that at least makes an attempt even if you are asking a waitress if they have poverty, telling the security guard you have knives, or ensuring your Uber driver goes forward and not left.

However, careful planning and paper is recommended.