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13 cliches about Brazil you (definitely) want to avoid

January 9, 2013 5 Comments

“People regurgitate the same old cliches and it becomes like a photocopy of a photocopy of something that’s vaguely interesting”, said British actor Steve Coogan in an interview, not long ago.

If you feel the same about the way Brazil and Brazilians are portrayed internationally, you might like TVTropes. This “catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction” lists conventional knowledge that can be used by authors to give some color to their creation, while keeping it reality-based.

society culture  13 cliches about Brazil you (definitely) want to avoid

Carnival parade in San Francisco. Photo by

The creators of this project, built in a cooperative mode, wiki-style, claim it is not meant to list cliches (“the word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite”. In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries.”), but it ends up giving us a pretty cool list of cliches to avoid.  The website includes a few pages about Brazil and related topics (The capital of Brazil is not Buenos Aires; São Paulo). Check, for instance, this fun series of comparisons between Brazil-as-seen-on-American-TV and Real Brazil:

1 – Fictional Brazil: Animals roam free in the cities.

Real Brazil: You’re as likely to find a monkey in São Paulo as you are to finding a deer in New York.

2 – Fictional Brazil: The Amazonian rain forest spans the whole country and it is the only kind of vegetation seen.

Real Brazil: Brazil has one of the most diverse climates in the world, ranging from rain forests to swamps, deserts, temperate fields and savannahs. It’s a lot more like the good ol’ US of A than most people think, except the US mainland lacks tropical rainforest, and Brazil doesn’t have anything most people would recognize as mountains [My comment: I beg to differ about this one] or tundra.

3 – Fictional Brazil: The women wear elaborate dresses and hats with fruit or plumes of feathers on them, à la Carmen Miranda.

Real Brazil: The tutti-frutti hat is a Hollywood fabrication, and the extravagant feathered headdresses are only worn on the annual Carnaval street parades.

4 – Fictional Brazil: Everyone lives in abject poverty, and every urban location is a favela.

Real Brazil: One of the main social problems in the country is precisely the huge income difference between rich and poor people, with the richest in a state similar to Belgium’s upper classes and the poorest looking more like India’s or even Africa’s lower classes — between them there’s a whole range of middle-class citizens.

5 – Fictional Brazil: All women and most men are insanely beautiful (and slutty, if the fiction work in question is particularly fond of stereotypes). The Latino stereotype pervades, down to the cultural references. Black people are virtually unseen.

Real Brazil: Black people are rarer than in the US, but various white/black mixes are very common. Brazil has a massively mixed population  with immigrants from all over Europe and Asia.

6 – Fictional Brazil: Geography, as in most Hollywood Atlas tropes, is completely messed up, usually overlapping the Iguazu Falls, the Amazon Forest and Rio de Janeiro in the same place.

Real Brazil: These landmarks are thousands of miles apart. You can’t “hop” from Rio to the Amazon River any more than you can “hop” from Miami to the Grand Canyon.

7 – Fictional Brazil: The country is depicted as a sparsely populated backwater town.

Real Brazil: Brazil is the fifth in the world in both population — 190 million — and area — 3.3 million square miles, larger than Australia or Europe.

8 – Fictional Brazil: Brazilians speak Spanish.

Real Brazil: The official language is Portuguese, and slightly overtakes Spanish as the most spoken language in South America.

9 – Fictional Brazil: Brazilians dance the tango.

Real Brazil: The tango is Argentine. The most well-known Brazilian dance style is the samba, probably.

10 – Fictional Brazil: Technology, fashion and architecture look like something between colonial times and The Fifties.

Real Brazil: Brazil has undergone a massive development spurt in the last decades, with matching architecture. Its cities are filled with modern skyscrapers, shiny cars, and trendy fashions.

11 – Fictional Brazil: The country has no military to speak of.

Real Brazil: Not only does Brazil have the strongest Military in South America, said military also spent a good while oppressing its people, from 1964 to 1985.

12 – Fictional Brazil: The country is a Banana Republic, governed by either a strongman or a military junta and filled with jailbirds of Brazil who were arrested for fighting against the oppressive regime, with wanton human rights violations.

Real Brazil: Brazil has been a democracy since 1985. Like most of Latin America, it did spend a long time (mostly due to the Cold War) as a dictatorship Banana Republic, but it is now a constitutional democracy. For that matter, a former jailbird of Brazil is the current President.

13 – Fictional Brazil: All Brazilians are phenomenal soccer players.

Real Brazil: The average Brazilian is as likely to be a good soccer player as the average American is likely to be a basketball superstar or the average Japanese is likely to be a karate master.

If the cliches about Brazil, its supposed hiper sexuality and tropical ways bother you, you might also like the first post ever published here: Exotic, erotic, chaotic. Try also 20 best tips if you are visiting or moving to Brazil.





  • Adrian Lesher says:

    Brazil doesn’t have mountains? Those sure look like mountains in Minais Gerais and Petropolis (among other places).

  • Nicholas says:

    unfortunately some of the “fictional” cliches are still being repeated over and over, no matter how hard Brazilian people solve their problems, or sometimes twisted when the story is suppose to be positive, example: Brazil’s economy is on of the fastest growing in the world but everyone lives in abject poverty, on the media in the US and Europe for the people whom’s knowledge of Brazil is close to zero or are incapable to think for them self. Famous ones are the Economist, Reuters and AP (known for manipulating news and where most media outlets in Europe and in the US get their “sources” from), FT, Bloomberg, CNN (CNN International) and CNBC.

    Brazil is not a Constitutional Democracy. Read it’s constitution and you shall read that Brazil is by law a Constitutional Republic. A democracy is direct government ruled by the majority (mob rule). A Republic recognizes the inalienable rights of individuals, State governments and of Local municipalities (that’s why in Brazil there is so much gridlock what can be positive or negative) while in democracies are ruled by a group of people (representatives who suppose to represent all people) in the national/federal government and are only concerned with (small) group wants or needs (the public good).

    Brazil has seen it all: From Monarchy (Empire) to Democracy (it was suppose to be a Republic) to Dictorship and after 1985 a Constitutional Republic.

    “The Latino stereotype pervades”
    Though we live in a time when the people are so close to information, there is still so much ignorance when they use the words Latino/Latina and don’t even know what it means and where it’s actually from (No, not from a bunch of gangbangers in L.A. or Chicago who started the Latino/Latina hype) Some hints: Region, Italy, Capital is Rome.

  • Mediterraneo says:

    “Black people are rarer than in the US…” that’s rubbish. Brazil has the largest black population in the world outside of Nigeria.

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