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Rio de Janeiro: It’s more like Texas than you might think.
Rio de Janeiro: It’s more like Texas than you might think.

Is Rio Safe? Meet Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

If you’ve heard anything about this mysterious city, you might have the impression that Rio is a world away from the rest of us living our normal daily lives. What surprises most who visit the city of Carnival, the 2014 World Cup and the future 2016 Summer Games, is how “normal” life is in the metropolitan hub of the city. While the culture to party and make every moment extreme does exist in the pubs and during any soccer game to be sure, the second largest city in Brazil feels very much like being in the States or Europe.

Brazil: America’s Second Cousin

Many Americans still picture Brazil as a third world country, but that simply isn’t true. Brazil, and Rio especially, are very much like the United States, both economically and in the daily life and routine of the people who live and work in the city. The city is modern and for the most part Brazilians lead a normal daily life that resembles the comparative culture and access of rest of the world, including America.

With a large (and growing) middle class, most areas have internet and cell phone access, and while there are some dangerous areas (as exist in every major city in America) this is pretty typical of any city of this size and stratification. There aren’t drug dealers running every street in Brazil, as the films like to depict, and having a completely safe trip is pretty much a given if you have someone with you who knows the city.

Different but Familiar

Brazil, for many Americans, is still a mythical place for us – we picture figures like Carmen Miranda in her tutti frutti hat, a lord of the favela with an automatic weapon or the native savage naked by a waterfall. While, yes, places like City of God do exist in parts of Brazil, we need to remind ourselves that these place exists where we live also. There isn’t one large American or European city that isn’t plagued with a struggling poor and not one that has eradicated all crime.

Oil to Rival Texas, Ethanol and Energy to Rival All

Brazil has so many great things too, so much good going for the city and more in the works. The country, especially Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, have plentiful natural resources adding to the wealth and power of the Brazilian economy. The discovery of oil in the Santos basin means that Brazil will be able to produce on par with Texas, and they are one of the leading producers of ethanol, which they create with the by-products of extensive sugar cane production. They’re even using hydroelectric power from the Amazon for most of their electricity needs, which definitely puts them technologically and environmentally ahead of many American and European city’s energy usage.

Cachoeira_de_Paulo_Afonso

Brazil 1, Hollywood 0

Brazil also has an absolutely phenomenal film and television industry – the only one that truly rivals Hollywood in everything from fame, audience, quality, variety, and even critical reception. For the most part the entertainment industry of Brazil produces a very similar, distinctly brazilian, product when compared to Hollywood. Actually, lately more good films are coming out of Brazilian studios or are from independent film-makers in Brazil than we are seeing from tradition “Hollywood.” The future might even show more of a drop off in really good films coming out of Hollywood, which will leave a void in the industry and slack that the Brazilian studios and independents will sure pick up.

City of Telenovela

Few Americans have seen a Brazilian film, and if they have it was probably one that reinforced the stereotype of Brazil as a savage place run only by drug dealers, like those seen in both films City of God and Elite Squad, two of the most popular and watched of Brazil’s films in American audiences.

But Brazil produces films of all types. Yes, it is true that they are generally much less squeamish about showing the naked body and sex than American standards are used to, but then, who isn’t? This all holds true for Brazil’s television industry as well, just as much as the film industry, if not more so. Brazilian Soaps, the extremely popular Telenovelas, are an integral part of creating the overall Brazilian culture and are part of the daily life and conversation. Almost every single household has a television set of some sort, as television in Brazil is more important and more common than owning a telephone line or internet connection, because everyone has to be able to watch all their favorite new Telenovela episode daily.

Cultural Movements of the City

Brazilians have had cultural movements so similar and parallel to ours that it’s almost uncanny. Usually they are lead by musicians and artists (which sounds very similar to how it’s happened in the states): Tom Jobim, whose songs were covered by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and Bossa Nova, a new music genre combining samba and jazz, both gained popularity in the 50’s and brought Brazil into the global high art scene.

Caetano Veloso, a renowned Brazilian musician, helped establish the Brazilian musical movement Tropicalismo in the late 60’s which tried to break out of the status quo at the beginning of the Brazilian military dictatorship, encompassing theatre, poetry and music. More recently, Chico Science and the Mangue Beat cultural movement in the in 90’s in Recife, Brazil centered around empowering the community and rappers like Criolo today that create art to achieve the same ends. Each artist and movement is a reminder of their musical contemporaries in the United States.

Time to Say Hello

Finally, most urban areas of Brazil are just like the United States and are easy for a foreign traveler to get around and communicate, with a few exceptions. First, if you want to go to college in Brazil, no matter where you are from, if you work hard and get into a public university you go for free, something that America can’t boast and definitely something with which we’re currently struggling. Second, lucky for the english-only speakers out there, in Brazil you won’t have to speak Portuguese, because like most global cities, tons of people speak English around Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro.

Where do I get more info on Rio?

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