Brazil

Electricity

Brazil is one of a few countries that uses both 110 and 220 volts for everyday appliances. Expect the voltage to change back and forth as you travel from one place to the next -- even within the same Brazilian state, sometimes even within the same building. There is no physical difference in the electric outlets power mains for the two voltages.

Although Brazil has its own type of electric outlet, almost nobody uses it. Electric outlets usually accept both flat North American, and round European plugs. Otherwise adaptors from flat blades to round pins are easy to find in any supermarket or hardware shop. Some outlets are too narrow for the German "Schuko" plugs. The best makeshift solution is to buy a cheap T-connection and just force your "Schuko" in, -the T will break, but it will work. Very few outlets have a grounding point, and some might not accept newer North American polarized plugs, where one pin is slightly larger. Again, use the cheap T. Near the border with Argentina, you might occasionally find outlets for the Australia/New Zealand-type plug. If crossing the border, you'll probably need this adapter as well.

In 2009/2010, the IEC 60906-1 was introduced to Brazil and some newer buildings already have it. It is backwards compatible with the Europlug, but it has a receded socket. Again, T-plugs can be used as adapters for other common formats.

Frequency is 60Hz, which may disturb 50Hz electric clocks. Blackouts are less and less frequent, but you always run a risk at peak of high season in small tourist towns.

See also: Travel topics -- Electrical systems

Holidays and working hours

Brazil observes the following 13 national holidays:

New Year - 1 January

Carnival - February/March Movable - 7 weeks before Easter. Monday and Tuesday are the actual holidays, but celebrations usually begin on Saturday and last until 12PM of Ash Wednesday, when shops and services re-open.

Good Friday - March/April movable two days before Easter Sunday

Tiradentes - 21 April

Labour Day - 1 May

Corpus Christi - May/June movable sixty days after Easter Sunday

Independence Day - 7 September

Patroness of Brazil - 12 October

All Souls' Day Finados - 2nd November

Republic - 15 November

Christmas - 25 December

Working hours are usually from 08:00 or 09:00 to 17:00 or 18:00. Banks open Monday to Friday, 10:00-16:00. Street shops tend to close at noon on Saturday and only re-open on Monday. Shopping malls normally open 10:00-22:00, Monday to Saturday, and 15:00-21:00 on Sundays. Some malls, especially in large cities, are also open on Sundays, although not all the stores may be open. It is also possible to find 24-hour stores and small markets that are open even on Sundays.

Understand

Brazil was inhabited solely by indigenous people, mainly of the Tupi and Guarani ethnic groups. Settling by the Portuguese began late in the 16th century, with the extraction of valuable wood from the pau brasil tree, from which the country draws its name. Brazil was settled by the Portuguese and not the Spanish, as were the rest of Central, South and parts of North America in the New World. Despite Portuguese rule, some parts of Brazil formed a Dutch colony between 1630 and 1654. They founded several cities, such as Mauritsville actually Recife, capital of the state of Pernambuco, at the edge of North-East of the country, and many sugar cane plantations. The Dutch fought a grim jungle war with the Portuguese, and without the support of the Republic of their homeland due to a war with England, the Dutch surrendered to the Portuguese, though they did not officially recognize Portuguese rule, which led to an all-out war with Portugal off the coast of Portugal in 1656. In 1665 the Peace Treaty of The Hague was signed, Portugal lost its Asian colonies and had to pay 63 tons of gold to compensate the Dutch Republic for the loss of its colony.

Brazil became the centre of the Portuguese Empire by 1808, when the King Dom João VI John VI fled from Napoleon's invasion of Portugal and established himself and his government in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The following centuries saw further exploitation of the country's natural riches such as gold and rubber, alongside the rise of an economy based largely on sugar, coffee and African slave labour. Meanwhile, extermination and Christianizing of natives kept its pace, and in the 19th and 20th centuries a second wave of immigration took place, mainly Italian, German in southern Brazil, Spanish, Japanese in São Paulo and Paraná states and Portuguese, making Brazilian culture and society complex and unique.

Following three centuries under the rule of Portugal, Brazil became an independent nation on September 7th, 1822. Until 1889 Brazil was an Empire under the rule of Dom Pedro I and his son Dom Pedro II. By this time, it became an emerging international power.

But during these three and a half centuries, Brazil was the nation in the Americas with the most widespread slavery, the first to bring African people to work by force, and the last to set them free. Due to English laws against slavery some argue more for economic contests than humanity reasons and fighting between white and black people, slaves and free, for abolition, slavery ended in 1888. But freedom didn't mean equality to the now-free black people and their descendants.

By far the largest, most populous and prosperous country in Latin America, it has also overcome more than two decades 1964-1985 of a brutal military dictatorship that imprisoned, exiled, tortured, and murdered potential opponents, most of them innocent civilians. These dark times are known as "Os Anos de Chumbo" Years of Lead and are still a taboo topic. Only recently, with the establishment of a National Truth Commission 2011, has the nation begun to face the human rights abuses that accompanied the U.S.-supported coup that overthrew democratically-elected Joao Goulart in 1964. Gradually Brazil has returned to democratic rule, while facing the challenge of keeping its industrial and agricultural growth and developing its interior. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, today Brazil is Latin America's leading economic power and a regional leader, overshadowing the likes of Mexico,Colombia and Argentina. High rates of political corruption and unequal income distribution that worsened during the dictatorship, though softening from 2004 onwards--especially under the last two presidents, Lula and Dilma--remain a pressing problem. A consequence of this inequality is a high crime rate, specifically in large cities.

After 30 years of democracy, the country has grown strong, and despite the social problems of unequal income distribution, the people try to remain happy and festive.

Tradition

Every New Years, Brazilians have a very strong celebration that is believed to give luck. They go to the coast, dressed in all white. No other color clothing. They all gather flowers to give to the sea. Which means they set the flowers on the water and let it float away to where ever the current will take it. It is a white flower with a green stem and sometimes green leaves. It is a custom that the flowers are white as their clothing, no other color. There are 2 ways of doing this. They either put the leaves on a small fishing boat, or they put the leaves separate on the water. This is done every New Years and has not been skipped 1 year since they first started the tradition. Not every Brazilian has to do it, but anyone in the area will most likely go because it is truly a beautiful thing to see happening. After that they dance, sing, eat, and have the best time possible.

Climate

Brazil is a huge country with different climate zones. In the North, near the equator there is a wet and a dry season; from about São Paulo down to the south there is spring/summer/fall/winter. The weather constantly changes and is sometimes a surprise. It can be scorching hot, then simmer down, and get very cold. It could be sunny 1 minute, and start raining the second minute. The warm climate is perfect for the beach and playing outside.

People

Throughout its history, Brazil has welcomed several different peoples and practices. Brazil constitutes a melting pot of the most diverse ethnic groups thus mitigating ethnic prejudices and preventing racial conflicts, though long-lasting slavery and genocide among indigenous populations have taken their toll. Prejudice is generally directed towards different social classes rather than between races. Nevertheless, race, or simply skin colour, is still a dividing factor in Brazilian society and you will notice the skin typically darkens as the social class gets lower: wealthy upper-class people are mostly white; many middle-class are mixed; and the majority of poor people are black. Nowadays, however, Afro-Brazilians and Amerindian populations are increasingly aware of their civil rights and of their rich cultural heritage, and social mobility is achievable through education.

In general, Brazilians are a fun-loving people. While Southerners may be somewhat colder and more reserved, from Rio upwards people usually boast a captivating attitude towards life and truly enjoy having a good time. Some may even tell you that beer, football, samba, barbecue and woman is all they could crave for.

Friendship and hospitality are highly praised traits, and family and social connections are strongly valued. To people they have met, or at least know by name, Brazilians are usually very open, friendly and sometimes quite generous. Once introduced, until getting a good reason not to, a typical Brazilian may treat you as warmly as he would treat a best friend. Brazilians are reputedly one of the most hospitable people in the world and foreigners are usually treated with respect and often with true admiration.

Attitudes towards foreigners may also be subject to some difference treatment: In most of cities, anyone talking, acting or looking like a tourist even other Brazilians! could be charged higher prices, such as in parking lots, in restaurants, open malls, etc.

Brazilians seems to be honest and genuinely friendly, but many are used to small acts of corruption in their everyday lives, the so-called "Brazilian Way" jeitinho brasileiro. If you obviously look like a tourist, you are a potential target; for instance, a vendor may try to sell goods at higher prices, or a taxi driver may choose the longest route to the destination. It doesn't mean that you can't trust anyone, just that you have to be a bit more alert and careful, particularly if someone seems too friendly.

Whereas the "Western" roots of Brazilian culture are largely European, especially Iberian, as evidenced by its colonial towns and even sporadic historic buildings between the skyscrapers, there has been a strong tendency in recent decades to adopt a more "American way of life" which is found in urban culture and architecture, mass media, consumerism and a strongly positive feeling towards technical progress. In spite of that, Brazil is still a nation faced towards the Atlantic, not towards Hispanic America, and the intellectual elites are likely to look up to Europe, especially France, as source of inspiration, rather than the US. Many aspects in Brazilian society, such as the educational system, are inspired by the French, and may seem strange at first to Anglo-Saxon visitors.

Brazilians ARE NOT HISPANIC. Some may be offended if a visitor openly says that, or tends to believe that Brazilians have Spanish as a primary or secondary language, visitors will receive a warmer welcome if they try to start conversations in Portuguese, but even if the visitor speaks Spanish towards Brazilians, they're likely to answer in Portuguese.

The contrasts in this huge country equally fascinates and shocks most visitors, especially Europeans, as well as the indifference of many locals towards the social, economic and ecological problems. Whereas an emerging elite of young, well-educated professionals indulge in amenities of modern society, child labor, illiteracy and subhuman housing conditions still exist even in regions blessed by economic growth and huge foreign investments such as São Paulo or Rio.

As much as Brazilians acknowledge their self-sustainability in raw materials, agriculture, and energy sources as an enormous benefit for the future, most of them agree that without huge efforts in education there will hardly be a way out of poverty and underdevelopment.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Brazil has faced an increasing wave of immigration from China, Bolivia and Haiti. Brazil also has an increasing number of immigrants of the Middle East, specially from Syria.

Culture

Owing to Brazil’s continental dimensions, varied geography, history and people, the country’s culture is rich and diverse. It has several regional variations, and in spite of being mostly unified by a single language, some regions are so different from each other that they look like different countries altogether.

Music plays an important part in Brazilian identity. Styles like choro, samba and bossa nova are considered genuinely Brazilian. Caipira music is also in the roots of sertanejo, the national equivalent to country music. MPB stands for Brazilian Popular Music, which mixes several national styles under a single concept. Forró, a north-eastern happy dancing music style, has also become common nationwide. New urban styles include funk - name given to a dance music genre from Rio's favelas that mixes heavy electronic beats and often raunchy rapping - and techno-brega, a crowd-pleaser in northern states, that fuses romantic pop, dance music and caribbean rhythms. Brazilian funk is the most popular type of music they listen to. It has a constant and repeated beat that is always the same, it never changes. They keep the beat, and sing songs to it. There are more than 1000 songs that are funk. You might thing that people get tired of the same beat, but no. It is so impressive that there are so many songs that it never gets old. Funk could be considered tradition because of its strength in rhythm, and bringing people together.

A mixture of martial arts, dance, music and game, capoeira was created by African slaves brought to Brazil, mainly from Portuguese Angola. Distinguished by vivacious complicated movements and accompanying music, it can be seen and practiced in many Brazilian cities.

In the classical music, the Modern Period is particularly notable, due to the works of composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos and Camargo Guarnieri, who created a typical Brazilian school, mixing elements of the traditional European classical music to the Brazilian rhythms, while other composers like Cláudio Santoro followed the guidelines of the Second School of Vienna. In the Romantic Period, the greatest name was Antonio Carlos Gomes, author of some Italian-styled operas with typical Brazilian themes, like Il Guarany and Lo Schiavo. In the Classical Period, the most prominent name is José Maurício Nunes Garcia, a priest who wrote both sacred and secular music and was very influenced by the Viennese classical style of the 18th and early 19th century.

Candomble and Umbanda are religions with African roots that have survived prejudice and persecution and still have a significant following in Brazil. Their places of cult are called terreiros and many are open to visit.

Indigenous traits can be found in some places like the North, from cuisine to vocabulary. There are still many indigenous groups and tribes living in monstly North Region, although many have been deeply influenced by Western culture, and several of the country's surviving indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing completely. The traditional lifestyle and graphic expressions of the Wajãpi indigenous group from the state of Amapá were proclaimed a Masterpiece of the World's Intangible Heritage by UNESCO.

Globo, the largest national television network, also plays an important role in shaping the national identity. Nine out of ten households have a TV set, which is the most important source of information and entertainment for most Brazilians, followed by the radio broadcast. TVs broadcast sports, movies, local and national news and telenovelas soap operas– 6-10 month-long series that have become one of the country’s main cultural exports.