1. Fun being the #1 priority
Salvador is renowned for its fun-loving attitude, parties, and outdoor music shows. During the World Cup, classes in local universities were put on hold, not just for the Brazil games, but for the whole month.
I lived for five months in Pelourinho, the historic center, where freelancing proved tough. Once, when trying to meet a deadline, I heard drums in the square below my apartment. Curiosity eventually got the better of me and I decided to “pop out for five minutes to see what’s going on.” Four hours later I rocked up home with my face painted blue and a belly full of beer. What deadline…?
2. Random musical outbursts
I was waiting in line to use the bathroom in the Lapa bus station, and the two toilet attendants were handing out tissue while singing at the top of their lungs, banging away on the old table in front of them, fingers clicking, grins wide, really getting into their duet.
Similarly, stuck in a traffic jam on a bus coming back from the beach, a group of four friends started belting out their own takes on samba hits, along with a few moves. These impromptu musical outbursts happen everywhere in Salvador, from the Friday night samba in your local bar, to a group of men dancing to pagode music next to their car speakers after a win by their football team. Here, an empty water canister isn’t just an empty water canister; it’s a perfectly decent drum.
3. Bikini bodies of all shapes
My buttock-covering European bikini attracts more stares than the rather large woman in the dental-floss thong: é enorme, o seu biquini! In Brazil, putting your arse out there is way less attention-grabbing than keeping it under wraps. This is Bahia! All bodies are beautiful!
4. The unending friendliness of my neighbors
Many, but not all, Brazilians live with an open-door policy, which means your neighbors are free to come and go, help themselves to whatever’s on the stove, and fall asleep on your sofa. Neighbors are extensions of your family, and the neighborhood is an informal, friendly, supportive environment.
If someone needs a roof fixed, all the local guys will lend a hand to get the job done, as they know they’ll also need the same one day. This camaraderie creates a quasi-party atmosphere, with beer flowing, feijoada on the stove, and non-workers chatting about novelas and football.
5. Fighting to order my food
Near where I live, there’s a barraca selling fresh coconuts, snacks, fruit, etc. On my first visit, I stood there, waiting to order my coconut water with my inherent English wait-your-turn attitude. Just then someone pushed in front of me and yelled for a coconut and a sandwich.
I’ve now learned my lesson. Waiting for a polite “How may I help you?” is pointless, as the shop will close before you get a chance to order and you’ll still be standing there like an idiot.
6. Watching my novelas
Mid-manicure at my local salon, I asked about haircut prices only to be completely ignored. I asked again, but the manicurist held up a hand in a “not now querida” kind of way. Then I realized, she may be doing my nails, but she’s totally engrossed in the TV. Of course, it was novela time.
When I first arrived, I thought they’d be the kind of cheesy melodramatic efforts I’ve seen in many Latin countries, but after only two nights I was hooked, sucked in, absorbed, glued. They’re slick and glamorous with wonderfully far-fetched plots combined with real-life, hard-hitting predicaments, starring sickeningly gorgeous and well-clad actors and actresses. The birth of a guilty pleasure.
7. Drinking cold beers at bus stops
Many people travel by bus in Salvador, so makeshift bars have popped up around the city’s main bus stops. Folks sell ice-cold beer from large polystyrene boxes, with cards displaying special offers, along with skewers of barbecued meat. When you’re waiting for the bus for ages, settling down on a plastic stool with an ice-cold piriguete (small beer) is a welcome treat.
With music blaring, people chatting and debating the virtues of Skol over Schin, Bahia over Victoria, you end up having so much fun you let your bus rattle by and grab another beer. I’ve gone to the bus stop solely for a beer, no bus required.
8. Eating cake for breakfast
Any country that has cake as a breakfast food deserves public accolades. Cake. For breakfast. The joy runs deep. “CAKE?! For breakfast?” asked visiting friends incredulously. Why the hell not? So it’s fine to have frosted sugar-coated cereal in your country, but not cake?
9. The endearing and sometimes confusing terms of address
Brazil has a whole range of terms of address used on the street and at home. For example, in casual environments such as the beach, you might hear men calling out “Oi, meu brodher!” (hey, brother), or “Oi gigante!” (hey, giant) to vendors, or women answering to “minha linda,” (my lovely) and “minha querida” (my dear).
One term of address I find totally befuddling, and which I’ve heard on numerous occasions, is men calling their sons and daughters “dad.” Imagine your dad calling you “dad” when you were a kid?! “Venha cá, pai!” (Come here, dad) yells a father to his three-year-old daughter in the supermarket. When I asked about it, confessing I just didn’t get it, I was the one getting the weird looks.
10. Getting psiu-ed at
Once again, in informal bars or on the beach, there’s a popular attention-grabbing technique similar to the English “pssst,” but in Portuguese it’s more of a “psiu.” At first I thought it was rude, but then I noticed its widespread use, especially at the beach.
The problem is, everyone reacts to it: “Who me? Who’s psiu-ing me?” wonder itinerant vendors of cheese, beer, earrings, and bikinis. However, when I tried psiu-ing, it just didn’t project down the windy beach. My psiu needs some work. Either that or I could just continue to flail my arms in the right direction.
11. The Brazilicization of English words
As is often the case with languages, English words have worked their way into everyday Brazilian Portuguese, yet they’re not pronounced as we know them. They’ve been given a little makeover to adapt to the country’s phonetics. Take the word “picnic.” In Brazilian Portuguese, it becomes the marvelous PIK-ee NIK-ee. “Hot dog” becomes Ho-chee Do-ggee. “Smartphone” is eh-SMAH-chee FOH-nee, and “hip-hop” becomes the hilarious HEE-pee HOH-pee.
My friend asked me if I like the band Hedchee Hotchee. I shook my head, “Never heard of them.”
“Sure you have,” he persisted. “They’re international!”
“Doesn’t ring a bell, but sing me a few lines.”
He broke into a rendition of a Red Hot Chili Peppers classic.
“But that’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers, not Hedchee Hotchee…aah!” Of course, silly me.