The Big Picture
On the one hand, you’re visiting a country home to some of the biggest soccer fans in the world, a generous, fun-loving population ideal for hosting the World Cup. On the other hand, you’re engaging a “disenchanted” working class who can’t afford to go to the games in their own backyard and for whom government spending on building these stadiums represents only downside—an unsettling reality that has given rise to demonstrations in recent weeks.
Anyone who’s been to Brazilian Carnival will tell travelers that it’s worth being vigilant. Partygoers balance letting loose with keeping eyes on the world around them and smartly handling their possessions. Especially in this recent, tumultuous climate, you don’t want to come off as a wealthy tourist, representing everything negative about the World Cup in the minds of Brazilian locals; you want to avoid embodying the foreigner who can afford the high-price tickets that local families can’t.
But this is more than a cautionary tale. Brazil is amazing, and the goal in blending in and being smart is in part to avoid any downside events, but more to create the opportunity for yourself to authentically experience this awesome, soccer-loving people and place.
WHAT TO WEAR
The dress code for this summer party is casual. Skip the collared shirt and don a plain tee instead, maybe one in your team’s colors. Fans may be tempted to wear their jerseys; they should know that, while a fine, spirited choice, the jersey is still on the flashy side for a local.
Go With Flip Flops
When it comes to what to put on your feet, you may think sneakers are casual and ideal for walking but heads up: everyone will be in flip-flops. Sneakers are for exercising and nice sneakers are a sign of wealth.
WHAT TO CARRY
Leave Your Passport at Home
Knowing what to have on you will go a long way towards keeping your travels smooth. Give yourself less to worry about by carrying fewer possessions and keeping copies of useful documents. Most importantly, always carry a photocopy of your passport; leave the real thing in a safe place where you’re staying.
Carry Less Money and Spread It Around
Have on your person only the money you need, no credit cards. (If you do choose to bring a credit card, don’t let it out of your sight. It may be western custom to let servers walk away with your card, but here you want to witness how it’s used.)
Don’t keep all your money in one place; spread it out if you can. Putting a few bills in your sock is a good idea unless of course you’re wearing flip flops. You can always try tucking cash in your underwear… You may also consider wearing a money belt strapped around your waist underneath your shirt. The money belt very effectively hides one’s possessions; only catch, if you’re identified as wearing a money belt, you’re outed as someone with possessions worth purchasing another possession to hide them.
Put Away the Smartphone
Don’t make yourself an obvious target. Even when the photo-opp presents itself, avoid taking out your smartphone on the street. Keep that valuable piece of technology in your pocket, leave it at home, or, if you’re serious, consider getting a cheap, local prepaid phone.
Once you’re at the game, however, feel free to whip it out. You’ll find that what’s dangerous is getting from A to B, but once you arrive at your destination you’re in safe space. CBS cites why “getting to the stadiums will be a challenge. Brazil’s major cities are notorious for constant gridlock, made worse in recent weeks by on-again-off-again transit strikes.” Sitting in this traffic, for example, is many times more precarious than sitting in the stands.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Get Ready for Some Atypical Bathroom Experiences
While in a typical western bathroom you would go about your business, wipe yourself with paper, and flush that paper down the toilet, in a Brazilian bathroom you’ll find that there is a hose attached to the wall: you spray yourself to get clean. You still use toilet paper when you’re done rinsing, but instead of using six or eight pieces, you use two, and you put the used paper in a small garbage bin close at hand.
Would You Prefer Your Showers Cold or Luke Warm?
Brazilians don’t really use hot water, and for good reason: when you’re out in the heat, cold showers are the kind you want; they feel great. When Brazilian showers do offer hot water, oftentimes they make it happen with big electric shower heads that heat the water as it passes through. The shower heads have a summer setting, which is to say, no heat, and a winter setting that heats the water until the stream is luke-warm. If you’re showering in these conditions and wishing the water were a little warmer, try slowing the flow while on the winter setting; the shower head will apply the same amount of heat to less water and you’ll have the temperature rising.
WHAT TO AVOID
Be Wary of Local Girls in Bars
Attention men: you’re at a bar and you’ve been approached by a charming local lady. She’s very attentive and you’re having an interaction out of your dreams. If at any moment the situation seems too good to be true…it probably is. For the same reasons thieves will be targeting you, desperate local women are on the prowl: you can afford to pay and in extreme cases you represent the promise of a better life. One does not wish to categorically rule out the possibility of cross-cultural romance, just to instill healthy skepticism surrounding the motivation of flirtatious strangers.
Travel in Groups and Stay Out of Deserted Areas
Don’t plan on going anywhere alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re huge or tiny in stature, male or female: use the buddy system. Ideally, you’d travel in groups larger than two; the bigger the group, the better.
Related, if you find yourself someplace where there’s no one else around…you shouldn’t be there. You don’t want to be on an empty street in Brazil. Period.
Know How and When to Take a Taxi
Continuing with avoiding deserted places, heed advice from natives and friends if they tell you to take a taxi home. It’s sad but true that for the most part Brazilian cities are not walking cities and taking a taxi will keep you from stumbling upon somewhere you shouldn’t be.
For once you’re in the taxi, keep an analog copy of your hotel address that you can pass to the driver. When you don’t speak Portuguese, this is a surefire way to communicate to the driver where you want to go.
Keep Your Eye on “People Without Purpose”
There are loads of great public spaces in Brazil, and it’s worth hanging out outside. You just have to look out for the people who don’t seem to have any reason for being where they are. These plazas offer food and drink, but vagrants can hang around without being patrons of any institution. Suspicious characters are those who don’t seem to be interacting with the environment.
WHAT TO TRY
Try the Street Food
You haven’t tasted coconut water until you’ve had a green coconut chopped open with a machete and served to you with a straw. While you’re on your way from here to there, be sure to sample the street food. In the Northeast especially, it’s not to be missed. Dishes to have on your radar: acaraje; fried yucca; popsicles in all different flavors (seize any chance to try local fruits like acai or cupuacu). When it comes to ordering, you could check out the glossary of useful Brazilian-Portuguese phrases for inspiration, but you’ll go far speaking “Globish.” Keep in mind that the vendor selling street food is harmless and well-versed in universal gestures.
Catch a Games Outside the Stadium
The opportunity to see the World Cup from the stands is what brought you to Brazil, but you’ll find you don’t have to watch every game in the stadium. Brazilians are such great soccer fans that the best watching might be in the street, or in one of the many public outdoor plazas, places where you’ll be experience the game alongside native Brazilians.
When towns have been known to gather around TVs in shop windows to go nuts over friendly games, imagine the excitement around the World Cup. You’ll know the score of the day’s game by talking to anybody on the street or just by listening to the sounds of the city: fireworks go off with every Brazilian goal while a collective groan rolls over the city when opponents score.
RULES TO LIVE BY
When you leave temporary home for the day, carry the following:
- only the cash you need, no credit cards, and spread the cash around your person
- a photocopy of your passport, not the real thing
- an analog copy of your hotel address to pass to the taxi driver
Definitely spend some time outside:
- hang in the plazas, catch a game with the locals, try the street food
- keep an eye out for people who don’t seem to have a reason to be there and don’t go anywhere alone
- and when it comes time to go home, avoid deserted areas and be very open to taking taxis
Enjoy the World Cup!
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