Coisa Estranha #4: flanelinhas

There’s a lot of funny things about Brazil that I am hesitant to comment on as an outsider, for fear of of potentially offending someone or because I don’t fully understand the laws or level of corruption in the government. There are some things, however, that are simply too ridiculous for me to not comment on.

One of these is the flanelinha. In short, he’s the guy you pay to watch your car when you park on the street.

A flanelinha in action. (Text reads: "Let me know when I hit the other car." "10:45")

A flanelinha in action. (Text reads: “Let me know when I hit the other car.” “10:45”)

For the longest time, I didn’t question it when my boyfriend or friends would return to their car parked on the street and hand some seemingly random dude a R$5 bill. Finally, I asked my boyfriend “Why exactly are you giving this guy money?” His response: “Because if I don’t, he will remember me and probably fuck with my car the next time I park here.”

I was dumbfounded. What I actually meant was, what service are they providing? Turns out, nothing. The term flanelinha comes from flanela, the rag they use to wash your car. Except they don’t actually wash your car. Unless you ask them to, which obviously comes as a separate charge. In essence, you’re paying them to watch your car, not wash.

But they don’t even watch your car. If someone were to come along and try to steal the car from under their noses, it’s unlikely they would call the police. Why not? Because…

This is completely illegal. This is not a “job” you can get by registering with some governmental division or some parking company. These guys just show up one day, claim a street to be their territory, and stand around collecting cash from the average commuter who just unfortunately needs a place to park. It’s not even a real job.

Of course, the police can’t be bothered to tell them to screw off, so people just go about their day, paying people for illegal services they aren’t actually providing. Because this is Brazil, and that’s how they do things here. You can’t really complain, though. All you can do is shrug your shoulders, hand them some cash, and mumble “that’s weird.” At least it’s cheaper than the parking structures.

Want to read about more weird things in Brazil? Check out Coisas Estranhas #1, 2 and 3.

filapalooza

This weekend, I checked out all São Paulo has to offer in the way of music festivals, and as it turns out, they don’t have all that much to offer.

As an avid music fan (and festivalgoer) I’m not one to hesitate when I find out there’s a Lollapalooza happening up the street from me. Especially when I find out that there’s an electronic stage featuring some of my favorite DJs in the world, including my go-to for surviving the hellish transit here, combined with the Brazilian rapper who changed my life, as well as awesome bands like the Black Keys and Cake (both of whom are surprisingly popular here).

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a hippie and I have to say that I love music festivals. I don’t mind getting a little dirty, pushing my way through crowds, or waiting in ridiculous lines to buy overpriced beer. It’s part of the experience, and at a good festival, it’s what bonds everyone together in the moment.

This comic pretty much sums it up.

This comic pretty much sums it up.

First of all, tickets to Lollapalooza were obscenely priced, even if you’re taking into account the exchange rate (which I can’t really do anymore after 8 months of living in reais). R$350 per day (that’s $1050 if you go all three), unless you can wrangle yourself a student ID card, and you can pay for meia entrada, half price. Needless to say, I had to choose my days wisely, and made a deal with my boyfriend that we’d do a more electronically-themed day on Friday (including Porter Robinson and Knife Party), with a bit of Cake in the mix (who we both love), and then meet up with the rest of our rock-loving friends on Saturday for Queens of the Stone Age, Black Keys, and of course, Criolo. I decided to forego my favorite DJ of all time, Kaskade, on Sunday (as well as a few other favorite electronic artists) in an effort to save money and not force my boyfriend to spend Monday at work hungover as hell. To be fair, I think I’ve seen Kaskade somewhere around 25 times in my life, so I shrugged it off as a small loss.

So the big day came, and we embarked on our journey to the Jockey Club of São Paulo, which unsurprisingly consisted of us walking 20 min to the train, only to discover it was not running for the weekend. So we waited in our first line of the day for the bus.

Of course, I should have known as it started to pour that this wouldn’t bode well for a festival at a racetrack (you know, where horses poop all day), but I can’t really blame Brazil for raining. This is a tropical country after all.

Besides, I heard plastic is in this season.

Besides, I heard plastic is in this season.

Upon entering, should you decide you want to consume anything at the festival, you are forced to buy pillas, which represent R$4 each. Beer costs 2 pillas, Red Bull is 3 pillas, etc.

I considered calling this post Pillapalooza, but I thought it might give my American readers the wrong idea.

I considered calling this post Pillapalooza, but I thought it might give my American readers the wrong idea.

I have no idea if they are doing this at Lolla in Chicago, or any other festival (it was a first for me), but in theory, this could be a pretty good idea. Reduce wait times in line for beer (where bartenders won’t have to worry about giving change, etc) as well as add to that festival-esque experience of being in a different world (similar to how Burning Man doesn’t allow people to bring money, but simply barter their possessions for other possessions.)

I understand it too from a business perspective: get people to give you all the money they are willing to spend upfront, and then if they end up spending less, you already have their money. Because of course, pillas were not refundable and could only be used on the same day as they were purchased. 

So okay, we understood upfront we were being ripped off. But then again, we came to a music festival, not 25 de março.

Although it was just as crowded.

Although it was just as crowded.

But the lines for these pillas were longer than I ever could have imagined. My boyfriend and I arrived early, and were lucky enough to get the short wait time of 20 minutes. Of course, we just had to wait again when we ran into several of our friends waiting in these lines later.

The people not standing in the barricades may look like they're having fun, but no, I assure you, they were in line too.

And in this magnificent way, filapalooza began.

So after escaping the fila for pillas, you’d think it would all just be beer and sunshine. Unfortunately, all that beer gets to you, and the bathroom lines were just as long. On Saturday I literally (and yes, I’m using the correct use of the word literally) think I spent more time in line for the bathroom than doing anything else at the festival.

Normally, I expect an annoying bathroom line, but this was ridiculous. Someone told me there were around 700 bathrooms for 200.000 people. I’m not an expert in port-a-potties, but that seems like it’s probably not enough. And when you’re wading through puddles of mud and horseshit, a 30 min average wait time for an overly used portable bathroom is pretty painful.

Alright, so we don’t come to music festivals to stay clean or drink cheap beer, we come for the music. My first set of the day was Porter Robinson in the “Perry” tent, which I will say I was more than satisfied with. Being in a tent (rather than a main stage) means less mud, good sound and less of a crowd.

And of course, cool lights.

And of course, cool lights.

But as soon as we moved on to see Cake at the Butantã stage, it was back to being a production disaster. The sound was horrible, and they had to stop for several minutes due to technical difficulties.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this NEVER happens at ANY festival. Actually, to the contrary, when my Brazilian friend wrote a post on facebook complaining about the infrastructure of Lollapalooza, I stood up for them (and festivals everywhere), saying these things happen at every festival, and a lot of concerts, even in that well-oiled machine called America. But by Saturday, when I had to double back to the end of a bathroom line that was tangled into a pilla line and I all but slipped in a mud/horseshit puddle between chants of “aumente o som” (turn up the sound), I conceded that this was not exactly the most fun music festival of my life.

Still, the worst day at a music festival is still better than a good day at work.

Still, the worst day at a music festival is still better than a good day of manual labor.

peculiaridade #3: polegar erguido

One of my favorite “weird things” in Brazil is the fact that the “thumbs up” gesture is completely socially acceptable, and used for everything. It is the appropriate response to “Does anyone want a beer?” and “What’s up?” It can also mean “thank you,” “you’re welcome” or “I’m sorry.” Brazilians don’t ever use it sarcastically. Instead, they make the thumbs up look like a normal, everyday gesture.

Whereas, when we use it in America, we look like this.

Whereas, when we use it in America, we look like this.

I’ve tried to explain to my Brazilian friends that in America it’s more of a goofy-dad gesture that goes along with “Good job, kiddo!” but the truth is, I love this. I’ve said before that I feel a bit like a kid here (less so now, with my portuguese improving), and constantly getting thumbs-ups from my friends subconsciously makes me feel reassured, like I’m doing a good job.

And honestly, I’ve now become so adjusted to it that I’ve begun to overuse it myself. I tend to make a lot of gestures when speaking English with Brazilians to help myself be understood (or perhaps because many Brazilians are part Italian), and throw in a thumbs up at the end when I ask “got it?”

And of course, they respond with a thumbs up.

Want to read about more weird things in Brazil? Check out Coisas Estranhas #1 and 2.

garota (que não é) de ipanema

Despite my crippling irrational fear of drowning and inability to swim or surf, I actually love the beach. Especially when it’s really, really hot out. I’ve lived near several beaches on both coasts (San Diego, LA, Miami, and several summer trips to the Hamptons while living in NYC), plus I’ve visited many others in my travels. Depending on what you’re into, however, I have to say my personal favorite beaches have been here in Brazil.

There are several things you can judge a beach on, from crowds and “culture” of the beach, to the texture of the sand and temperature of the water. Growing up on the Pacific, I don’t really mind if the ocean is freezing (as long as it’s really, really hot outside). Sand, however, is extremely important to me. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled because most of the sand at my favorite California beaches was likely imported to set back erosion. The best beaches are the ones with thick sand that doesn’t stick to your skin and make you feel dirty, but is comfortable to lay on. Also, never go to Nice, France. They don’t even have sand, they have rocks.

Although it does allow for potential stone therapy.

Although it does allow for potential stone therapy.

But this problem goes the other way too, when the sand is too fine and becomes, again, uncomfortable to lay on. In Salinas, Pará, the sand is basically dust, and the wind is so strong that lying on the ground is pretty much out of the question unless you are already blind. Also, the water there is warm and extremely salty, which makes for a hard day for your skin. However, the compact sand allows you to actually drive onto the beach in any normal car, which is pretty cool.

The most convenient beach parking ever.

The most convenient beach parking ever.

Most people agree that private beaches are better, and in San Diego I would have certainly agreed with you. But here in Brazil, the benefits of being on a popular beach far outweigh the fact that you have to spend a few extra minutes hunting for a spot. That said, I will explain why my favorite beach is Ipanema, and I’ll try not to sound too cliché while doing it.

1. It’s beautiful.

I mean, look at this.

I mean, look at this.

It’s so beautiful here, that people actually APPLAUD when the sun sets.

Also, the rumors are true. The beautiful women here are like goddesses, and are worth the awkwardness when you get caught staring. You can google that yourself, though. I’ll just say that being forced to share space with really attractive people isn’t all that bad.

2. You don’t have to bring anything.

Literally the only things Brazilians bring to the beach are some cash and a canga. No one uses towels, because let’s get real: towels suck. You almost never use them to dry off at the beach, and they just end up wet, heavy and caked in sand for the rest of the day. Brazilians use what Americans would call “sarongs” to lay out on (and less often as a “sarong”) at the beach. Simple, but brilliant.

Every single other thing you could need is sold on the beach, and you don’t even  have to stand up. When you first arrive, there are guys working at huts every 50 paces along the beach to offer to rent you umbrellas and chairs, and sell you only-slightly-overpriced water bottles, beers (see #3) and even coconuts.

Much like all drinks in Brazil, the coconut is kept on ice until it is almost frozen, and then hacked open with a machete-like knife for your thirst-quenching necessities.

The coconut is kept on ice until it is almost frozen (much like the rest of drinks in Brazil), and then hacked open with a machete-like knife for your thirst-quenching necessities.

Of course, if your particular hut doesn’t have all the options you require, there are consistently people walking by with many other options. I personally recommend the dangerous queijo coalho, which is literally dangerous. It’s illegal to sell on the beach for health reasons (namely that it’s imported without following proper health laws and cooked on makeshift foguinhos that are probably made from toxic paint cans and other things).

But who cares? It's delicious.

But who cares? It’s delicious.

3. You can drink on the beach.

Oh yeah, forget hiding your beers in red cups and pre-mixing vodka gatorades (if you went to USC, you’ll know what I’m talking about), no sneaky methods necessary. This is Brazil. Not only are you allowed to drink on the beach, but they will bring the beer to you. Relaxa.

 

4. Mate

I could have looped this in with #2 and all the stuff people will bring you, but mate deserves its own. This tea is actually from the south of Brazil, but is for whatever reason extremely popular in Rio and served on the beach by guys carrying giant metal jugs of it and screaming “MATE” at the top of their lungs, over and over.

Looking for a fun summer job?

Looking for a fun summer job?

FYI, it’s actually pronounced “mah-tche” because this is Brazil, and if you run around screaming “mate” people will probably just assume you are Australian. Or at least, I will.

5. Even the sidewalks are famous here.

The famous print of the Ipanema sidewalks are beautiful, and all over every souvenir shop. You know you’re doing it right when you don’t even have to show the ocean or sand, you can just show the sidewalk and already people want to be there.

"I went to Ipanema and all I got was this lousy sidewalk mug."

“I went to Ipanema and all I got was this lousy sidewalk mug.”

No kidding, I saw a woman (in Ipanema!) wearing a dress that was the same print as the famous sidewalk.

Yo dawg, I heard you like Ipanema...

Yo dawg, I heard you like Ipanema…

 

 

Writing this just gave me horrible saudades for the beach. Lucky for me, I’m heading up to Rio for Carnaval and I’m looking forward to spending more time with my favorite beach in Brazil, and perhaps get to know some new ones! And it looks like it will be nice and hot (did I mention I love the heat?)

Coisa Estranha #2: não jogue papel no vaso

When you move to a new country, you usually notice a lot of things that are very strange right away. Or, sometimes, there are socially accepted rules and procedures that you don’t immediately notice because you don’t understand the nuances of the language or you simply don’t like reading signs.

This is one of the latter.

It’s been almost 6 months now since I moved to Brazil, and I am embarrassed to say that I have just learned about this rule. As it turns out, my parents did a great job potty training me 23 years ago, and I never forgot the normal mechanics of wiping and flushing. Here in Brazil, as it turns out, it doesn’t work the same way.

When you visit Brazil, you may go into a bathroom where you a sign that looks like this:

It even has a descriptive image to go with it.

It even has a descriptive image to go with it.

Now, either I never noticed a single one of these signs, or I simply imagined that the idea of not throwing toilet paper into the toilet was preposterous and obviously a typo.

But guess what? Here in Brazil, you throw your toilet paper in the trash next to the toilet. Otherwise, the toilets don’t flush properly. And here I was assuming that toilets just don’t flush properly because it’s some element of third would country living that I wasn’t used to.

Furthermore, this is something Brazilians are so used to that according to a poll on this website (I put a lot of work into my research here, people), only 27% of Brazilians throw toilet paper in the trash, ever. So… that’s weird.

So, to all my friends whose toilets I’ve clogged in the past 6 months, I am sincerely sorry. I am even more sorry to my loving boyfriend, who had to explain this to me after I almost clogged his toilet.

Coisa Estranha #1: novelas

I’ve decided to start doing a feature on here about things that are weird in Brazil. Because there are a lot of things that are weird in Brazil, and constantly make you feel the need to reference this meme:

33356449

 

 

So right now, I need to talk about novelas. As you may or may not know, latin countries have obsessions with novelas. But as an American, I imagined a Brazilian soap opera to have the same sort of cultural relevance as a soap opera in America does to an American housewife. It’s nothing like that.

First of all, novelas are widely believed to be “realistic” and “relatable” by viewers. They “realistically depict” the plights of the working, middle and upper classes rather than throwing in countless twists of bringing people back from the dead or secret twin brothers previously unknown to the cast (like an American soap opera). I’d venture so far as to say Avenida Brasil is probably more relatable than The Hills or any show about the Kardashians is to the average middle class American.

Furthermore, novelas are watched by everybody, and I do mean everybody. 20-something dudes, old women, kids, everybody knows who Carminha is and what she did last night. Oh but, what’s that you say? You can’t watch it because you’ll be at dinner? Fine. It’s playing in the restaurant. Locked out of your apartment? Don’t worry, your doorman will be watching it on his tiny TV next to the feed of those people making out in the elevator.

"I don't care if the whole building's being robbed, did you see what happened with Carminha?"

“I don’t care if the whole building’s being robbed, did you see what happened with Carminha?”

Every “season” there are 3 novelas running simultaneously every weeknight. At 6pm, you have a more romantic (and often times historical or religiously-themed) novela for the whole family to enjoy. A novela das sete (7pm) is usually more comedic, still toned-down in the sex and bad language department, but also less important. The most important novela socially is the novela das oito, which literally means, the novela at 8pm, except that in reality it starts around 9pm, sometimes 8:30 (Brazilians).

I can’t begin to explain why these novelas are so popular, because between my rusty Portuguese and 4 subplots, I can’t follow a single episode. And my friends are usually too engrossed while it’s on to explain anything.

The only thing I can tell you is that this chick is always crying, and every single viewer seems to love her anyway.

The only thing I can tell you is that this chick is always crying, and every single viewer seems to love her anyway.

And if you do happen to miss it, despite it being played in every single location imaginable, there are actually recaps on public transportation. Yes, so if you are worried about spoilers, don’t ride the bus.

a alma gorda

While some people view it as a nutritional substance used to create energy needed to sustain life, I see food as something much more important. Quite frankly, I love to eat. I love eating like a fat kid loves… well, eating.

I should say upfront that all of the photos in this post will be borrowed from Google, because I’m not one of those instagrammers that takes photos of every meal. In truth, this is only because, typically, by the time my meal arrives, I’m too excited to stop and take a photo, add a filter, and wrestle with Brazil’s somewhat lacking 3G service. No, usually I dive right in, and by the time instagram comes to mind, my meal isn’t quite as pretty. Luckily for me, there are plenty of people photographing food, so I’ll likely be able to make your mouth water with someone else’s photos.

The food in Brazil differs depending on the region, but there are definitely country-wide staples such as rice, beans, and meat.

Oh my god, the meat.

Oh my god, the meat.

Growing up, my family didn’t eat red meat. I don’t think that would have lasted very long if I had grown up in Brazil. The meat here is so good that they usually don’t need to season it with anything but salt.

Restaurants here mainly use 2 ways to buy food beyond the typical American style of ordering per plate off a menu. The first is rodizio, which means eat-until-you-explode, and depending on the restaurant is usually around R$35-50. They have rodizios for everything from barbecue to sushi, and are usually (but not always) set up like a buffet. The second type of restaurant, where food is sold per kilo, is more common around lunchtime. These are also set up like a buffet, but your plate is weighed at the end, and you pay (obviously) per kilo. If you love trying new foods and have to have a bite of everything like me, both are equally dangerous.

Here’s a few of my favorite Brazilian staples:

1. Churrasco

The best typical Brazilian meal you can get is churrasco. It’s barbecue, but not exactly the same way we imagine barbecue in America. You won’t find hot dog buns or hamburger patties here. And you definitely don’t eat churrasco with potato salad, collard greens and mac & cheese.

Also, nobody dresses like this.

Also, nobody dresses like this.

Barbecue here is typically served with rice, sometimes beans, vinagrete (which is basically a delicious salsa made with vinegar and olive oil) and farofa.

The first time I heard about farofa was long before I visited Brazil, in a bar in the Lower East Side with my at-the-time Brazilian roommate, Rodrigo. We had come to the bar to meet an American friend of his who had spent some time in the north of Brazil, where both farofa and Rodrigo come from. He described it to me as something that “looks like sand, and tastes like sand.” Rodrigo seemed offended, but when I finally had a chance to see it for myself… Well, I can’t lie…

It kiiiiind of does look like sand.

It kiiiiind of does look like sand.

But trust me when I tell you, it’s much better than sand. It’s made from a plant called mandioca, and the process seems to be incredibly arduous. But in the end it’s basically a flour-like substance that is fried with butter, and then bacon and other deliciously fattening things are added. I caught a glimpse of the process when I was in Belem.

This is the step of the process that smells really bad.

This is what happens to the rest of the mandioca plant after the yummy part is used for farofa. The leaves become something called maniçoba, which as I mentioned before, is not delicious.

Unfortunately, being so far from its origin means that the farofa in São Paulo doesn’t quite measure up to the farofa of the north, but that doesn’t stop my paraense friends from dumping bowlfuls onto their plates. And of course, paraenses have a tendency to request food from anyone visiting SP, or bring back coolers full of food every time they go home for a holiday, so there tends to be enough good farofa to go around when hanging out with my friends.

You just have to pay attention if you're ever eating it near the beach.

You just have to pay attention if you’re ever eating it near the beach.

2. Feijoada

You can’t write a blog post about Brazilian food and not include feijoada. It’s not necessarily my favorite, but it’s such a big part of the culture that it simply cannot be overlooked. On Saturdays and Wednesdays here in São Paulo (or Sundays in Rio de Janeiro), everybody eats feijoada.

Rodizio-style feijoada. Not exactly Hometown Buffet.

Rodizio-style feijoada. Not exactly Hometown Buffet.

Feijoada is made up of beans and pork and served with rice, farofa, and sometimes cute little smiling potatoes. When I say pork, though, I mean the entire pig. Anything and everything that can be considered edible is tossed in there.

All of the above.

All of the above.

Some places have multiple feijoada dishes labeled with each type of pork, and one pot of regular beans in case that’s all you’re into. If not, I usually stick with the farofa and batata smiles.

You think it would be difficult to eat something so cute, but it's not.

You think it would be difficult to eat something so cute, but it’s not.

3. Pão de Queijo

The first time I came to Brazil, I landed in Guarulhos at 6am and was immediately lost. My friends hadn’t arrived at the airport yet, and I was frantically trying to discover how to use the pay phones to call them, with 0 knowledge of Portuguese. With a stroke of luck, I ran into the guy I had been sitting next to on my flight and his sister, who immediately rushed to my assistance. Not only did they let me borrow their cell phone, but when they heard it was my first time in Brazil, they brought me something called pão de queijo and made me taste it immediately. Pretty much anything would taste good to a girl lost and alone in a new country, but this was more than that. It was love at first bite.

Directly translated, it means “bread of cheese,” but it’s not exactly bread with cheese on top, or cheese melted inside. It’s bread whose batter is actually mixed with a special cheese from Minas Gerais and baked into a blob of deliciousness that I can hardly explain.

Little balls of cheesy heaven.

Little balls of cheesy heaven.

You can’t go a block in São Paulo without finding a place that sells it, and thank god for that because it’s ridiculously addicting. They even sell them at Starbucks and McDonald’s.

4. Suco

I always thought juice was a somewhat boring concept before coming to Brazil. I mean, I love juice boxes (who doesn’t?) but with all the added sugars and “concentrates,” juice in America probably isn’t even that good for you.

I always assumed the main function of grape juice was to pretend you were drinking wine.

I always assumed the main function of grape juice was to pretend you were drinking wine.

But here, the opportunities for fresh squeezed juice are countless. Nearly every lanchonete or padaria has a menu with a dozen different types of fresh juice. Including fruits that I wasn’t aware could be juiced. You can’t chock it up to the abundance of fruits here either, because most of the fruits consumed in Brazil are not native to South America at all. 

Personally, I’m in love with suco de melão, or honeydew juice, which is even better than it sounds. Most of these places offer crazy mixes of fruit juices, such as abacaxi com hortelã (pineapple with mint) or all kinds of different fruits mixed with ginger or coconut water.

I love the word abacaxi so much I am thinking about buying a cat just to name it this.

Not only a delicious drink, but “abacaxi” is also fun to say!

Since salads are not exactly a strong suit of Brazilian cuisine, I love drinking fresh juice to pretend that I’m still eating healthy. Fruits might be everywhere in Brazil, but people here seem to avoid vegetables as much as possible. I must say, despite all the delicious food here, I do miss a good salad!

Até mais!