Blending in is Hardly an Option
I am not your typical 1)gringa. I was blessed with skin that doesn´t burn. If it does, I like to tell myself like many young women do, ´´It will turn into a tan by tomorrow. Ahem.“ I have dark hair and hazel eyes. They´re somewhere between dark green and brown on most days. I have been accused of being latina–even Brazilian!– by countless drunkards on my former college campus. Needless to say, when I boarded the flight to Rio, I was pretty sure upon arrival I would look like I belonged–at least a little. WRONG.
The first time I was noticed, it was a doozy. When I exited the airplane, a security guard spoke to me in Brazilian Portuguese. I thought, ´´Great! I know what he´s saying!“ ´´Bom dia,“ he said. ´´Tudo bem?“ Nothing could be simpler than ´´Good day. Are you well?“ I returned with my well rehearsed ´´Tudo bom. E você?“ This would have been fine, except that the gesture I coupled it with was off. Waaay off. Despite advice from my family members about the American gesture for ´´okay,“ it was a natural thing for me to raise my hand and sign it, though I never recalled using it in the U.S. Well, that was it. I flicked a guard off in Brazilian sign language. And I knew it. Thank goodness he laughed as I tried to play it off like I was…stretching my hand?
I believe if you´re considering visiting Rio, you´ve done some homework. And it will help you to have a wonderful experience! But face it. If you´ve never been to Brazil, you´re going to look different to every 2)Carioca no matter how great your disguise. Perhaps not at first glance, but we all have tells. Put the 3)havaianas away and pay attention. The moment the sun rises and beams through the window shade that you forgot to close when your overnight flight took off, you will experience sensory overload. That feeling will not cease until you board another flight back to the U.S. Your facial expressions, body language, and unfamiliarity with social norms will out you. Your height (if it exceeds 5`6“) will out you. The way you walk will out you.
Tells. Even when we know better. The great part is, you can be American. Just be an alert, well-informed American. I am hoping that my experiences (mostly the things I´ve learned by trial and multiple error) will help you answer questions like how to pack, how to get around once you´re here, and how to communicate when you aren´t fluent in Brazilian portuguese. Stick around and we´ll learn together.
1)Gringo/a–´´And all the girls say I´m pretty fly FOR A WHITE GUY.“ Or girl. Note: some Brazilians now use this for ALL non-natives–not just the fair skinned ones.
2)Carioca–someone from Rio
3)Havaianas–really comfortable flip flops that are Brazilian made and very popular here. You can buy them in the US but they´ll be more expensive. I would suggest purchasing some as soon as you get to Rio. Your feet will thank you. Rio requires a lot of walking.