Category Archives: Society

Flash mobs in Brazil

Have you been in a flash mob – when random people began to dance or act weirdly, as a group, in a public space? Normally organized through emails or Facebook, they can also be  publicity stunts to promote certain products.

Here are some cool flash mobs happened recently in Brazil.

ABBA’s Mamma Mia danced in the fast food area of Vila Olímpia Mall in São Paulo:

Continue reading Flash mobs in Brazil

Religion mix at the Sorority of the Good Death

Photo by Rosino/Flickr
Photo by Rosino/Flickr

For the last 190 years, the few dozen members of the Sorority of the Good Death  – all of them black women over 50 – have been promoting Festa da Boa Morte in Cachoeira, in the state of Bahia. Originally a secret society, the sorority keeps a tradition that intertwines Catholic and African elements, such as the devotion to Mary and comidas de santo – dishes offered to the orixás in the Candomblé religion. Officially it was created to celebrate the Virgin and to provide decent funerals to slaves and their descendents. But, in fact, it was a way of preserving African traditions and fight against slavery.

It includes a mess, a procession, a vigil, street parties where the local population dances the very traditional samba de roda, and eat caruru (made from okra, onion, shrimp, palm oil and toasted nuts) and feijoada (a complex meal that includes a stew of black beans with pork and several side dishes).


Brazil loves (moderately) immigrants

Immigration Festival in São Paulo. Photo by Luis Gallo and Milton Jung CBNSP/ Flickr

Some 682,000 foreigners live in Brazil according to official statistics, in 2009 – but the number might  be higher because so many immigrants  don’t have papers and aren’t caught by the radar. Even then, it a pretty minuscule faction in a country with a 190 million population. But the country seems to be attracting more immigrants thanks to the international crisis. This week, the BBC reported that more Portuguese citizens, specially those with higher education, are asking for Brazilian work permits.

Are they going to find a hospitable new home? The answer is: probably yes. Continue reading Brazil loves (moderately) immigrants

Damned Ponys and the environmental officer that couldn’t care less: two talk-of-the-week videos

Pôneis malditos!

You cannot miss these two videos. The first is the stickiest commercial aired in a long time on Brazilian TV. A voice in off asks you if you want a car with horse power…or pony power.

You can also see a version with English subtitles.

The second video shows Australian TV interviewing Curt Trennepohl, new Ibama’s president, about controversial dam Belo Monte, in the Amazon. Ibama is the national Environmental agency, but Trennepohl says his job is not to care for the environment, but to “minimize the impacts”, because the country really needs more energy. His two previous predecessor gave up the job exactly because they felt uneasy about approving Belo Monte’s project. The same happened to former Environment minister and presidential candidate Marina Silva. The huge Belo Monte dam complex, on Xingu river, in the state of Pará, meant to have the third biggest generation capacity – after Three Gorges, in China, and Itaipu, in Brazil – will flood a large forest area and might compromise the life of several indigenous groups. It’s economic viability and efficiency are also questioned. Trennepohl gave the environmental license for its construction in early June.

And, by the way, check this great Washington Post story about the multiple problems that the Chinese are facing thanks to the Three Gorges dam. Read and learn, Trennepohl.

Brazilian diet: what is the country eating?

Photo by Rodrigo Paoletti/ Flickr

Too much sugar, too much salt, lots of food with low nutritious value and three daily cups of coffee. That is on the table of Brazilians, according to a study just released by IBGE, the federal statistics bureau. Even if the balanced and healthy traditional rice-bean-meat menu is still prevalent, the country needs to reconsider its diet. According to IBGE:

The ingestion of some components of a healthy diet, such as rice, beans, fresh fish and cassava flour, decreases as the per capita family income increases.  In opposition, the consumption of pizza, fried snacks, sweets and soft drinks rises.  The ingestion of fruits, vegetables and diet/light dairy products also increases in this income range.

Each Brazilian consumes, in average (in grams per day)*:

Here are some of the main conclusions of this study, based on 34 thousand interviews made in 2008 and 2009: Continue reading Brazilian diet: what is the country eating?

Class conflict in the kitchen

Photo by Danilo Mancha/Flickr
Photo by Danilo Mancha/Flickr

One of the richest – and weirdest – experiences offered to middle class Brazilian children is the possibility of sharing their lives and space with women of very different cultural and social backgrounds: the housekeepers. As a heritage from the slavery days, many families hire a lady that will sleep in a small (more like minuscule) bedroom in the house, working long hours, setting the breakfast table, cooking and cleaning, babysitting and washing the dishes in the evening. More than a few of these women entered the career when they were children or very young teenagers. Their bosses would use an euphemism to describe this situation: “peguei esta menina para criar“, meaning “I am raising this girl”, which, of course, didn’t reflect a reality of hard work and sometimes, but definitely not always, night school.

It is, as you can imagine, a very intense relationship. In some cases, the housekeepers are very involved with the family’s life, watching TV together, easting simultaneously (but not necessarily in the same table). They are sometimes harassed by the teenagers in the house – more than one of my friends had their first sexual experience that way. In other cases, they wear a uniform, watch TV in their rooms and distances are sort of kept.

Things are changing very quickly in this domain, not only because  more households feel obliged to respect labor laws, but also because domestic work earned better status and organized trade unions. These days, it is more common to find domésticas that prefer to spend a few hours on the bus to keep their little house or apartment, somewhere in the outskirts of town, instead of occupying the infamous quarto de empregada.

Growing up, my family always hired empregadas – some of them lived with us, some chose to keep their own homes. I am very glad to say that my parents were always particularly respectful of these professionals, and that contrasted a lot with what I saw in other homes. This allowed us to interact with a huge sample of Brazilian society, from different parts of the country (Paraná, Minas Gerais, Bahia, Pernambuco) and backgrounds.

Most of them had very, very sad stories. Among others:

  • a Christian devotee that fell in love with my mother (and got offended when her advances were rejected). Later, she asked my mother to be the godmother of her youngest son. My Mom politely declined;
  • the sweet elderly maiden that would insist on being payed with coins  (that she kept in her mattress, despite hyperinflation);
  • the lady who kept the job for only one day – she told my Mom I cried to much and she was going to throw me down the window;
  • the young woman who arrived all covered in black, saying she intended to become a nun. She would go every weekend to the cemetery to spit on her mother’s tomb;
  • a serial mother that raised her first baby in our home, while waiting for her boyfriend to finally propose. They have been together since, twenty-something years. She is extremely hardworking – she is studying and works in a school cafeteria -, but her husband is an epileptic that refuses medication because it is not compatible with alcohol. And he likes to drink. And to steal his wife’s money. And seducing her sisters. A real catch;
  • and my favorite, a very liberated girl that had tons of boyfriends but, unfortunately, would refuse any help with treating her syphilis.

Naturally, they would introduce us to a whole different perspective and culture.  Take, for instance, popular radio. When I was a kid, I would frequently listen to radio soap operas, tuned up in high volume while the housekeeper was working. I had lots of my sexual education that way. I remember myself asking my Mom, at some point in the early seventies, what meant the great hit by Odair José, “Pare de tomar a pílula” (Stop to take the birth control pill), where a guy asks his girlfriend to allow herself to get pregnant.

I wonder how the cultural exchange worked the other way round. And if they were, sometimes, happy.





Brazilian economy on 60 minutes

Reputed American TV news magazine 60 minutes aired on Sunday a documentary about Brazil’s economical growth – in fact, a recycled version of a previous program, shown last December, when president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was still in power. It includes interviews with Lula, Eike Batista (the richest man in the country) and historian Eduardo Bueno. It is pretty balanced and a great summary for those among you that don’t follow closely Brazilian affairs. Unfortunately, the version made available by CBS network is full of ads.

You can also read a print version with similar contents: Brazil: the world’s next economic superpower?

Five censored TV ads

Sex, feminine hygiene and swearing are, sometimes, beyond the reach of Brazilian audiences.  These five (mostly) funny Brazilian TV ads were censored on the basis that they were indecent. You are the judge.

The older of the series. Actress Marilia Pera praises a new feminine pad in a pretty modern, metalinguistic commercial, shot in 1974. In this spot, she is “caught” during the preparations of a conventional commercial. The censors didn’t allow the product’s close up.

Continue reading Five censored TV ads

9 favelas of Rio shown by their residents

Photo by bekbek75/ Flickr
Photo by bekbek75/ Flickr

Nowhere in Rio you get a better view of the coast and the gorgeous geography than from the top of the favelas. These shantytowns have been included in city tours for a while, in part because of their strategical location,in  part because of their music tradition, or because of their mystique. The favela reality is frequently misunderstood both by those who dream of this mystique and those who equal these environment to a drug-infested mob-headquarter. Neither is accurate, of course.

This wonderful series of videos can offer a vision closer to reality. They interview and follow residents of 9 favelas cariocas while they show their houses, the little bars and soccer fields, the landscape and daily lives.

Enjoy the tour:

1 – Santa Marta – this video, produced by Pedro Serra, with subtitles in English, introduces the favela where Michael Jackson made the 1996 “They Don’t Care About Us” video clip.

Continue reading 9 favelas of Rio shown by their residents

Brazil national bird, flower, holiday, anthem…

Sabiá-laranjeira photographed by the great Bart van Dorp/Flickr
Sabiá-laranjeira photographed by the great Bart van Dorp/Flickr

Ever wonder what’s Brazil national…


You might think it is the blue macaw or the toucan. In fact, sabiá-laranjeira (Turdus rufiventris or, in English, rufous-bellied thrush) became the official national bird in 2002 thanks to a presidential decree.

It was probably chosen because of a famous 19th century chauvinist poem by Gonçalves Dias, Canção do Exílio (The Exile Song), that says: “Minha terra tem palmeiras/Onde canta o sabiá/As aves que aqui gorgeiam/Não gorgeiam como lá” (My homeland has palm trees/ Where the thrush sings/ The birds that sing in here/ Do not sing as they do there). It was written when Dias was in Law school in Portugal.

Pay attention to his music – it may have different “accents” depending on the region where they live. In fact, sabiás can also imitate the voice of other bird species. Continue reading Brazil national bird, flower, holiday, anthem…