Keep Calm: How to blend in with Cariocas

You have most likely seen the posters, pictures with the words Keep Calm and underneath them more words saying to do something or other. My advice for those wanting to blend in in Rio is the same minus the doing something else. Just keep calm. Nothing sticks out more around these parts than a frenzied, frantic, neurotic, looking in every direction tensely on guard person. You might as well just hand your money and valuables over to the first person you see. Seriously.

If you don’t get robbed acting like that you will assuredly get strange looks. People are laid-back here for the most part. Maybe because there are always lines and waiting and waiting and more waiting, the population has learned to wait gracefully. They float like butterflies. Even when in a hurry there still seems to be a general ease to the movements, a sway, a leisurely strut. There’s no hurry. It’s all good. All in good time…etc. Sometimes that is absolutely, cartoon steam coming out of your ears, frustrating! If you’re American, you might be prone to just want to …erm…get er done! But here, you must learn to wait, calmly.

You will wait, I promise. You’ll wait for the point of the story your new acquaintance is telling you. You’ll wait in a labyrinthine checkout line at Lojas Americas with thoughts of no escape and impeding doom and stampedes if there were to be a fire or disaster (ok maybe that’s just my thoughts). You’ll wait for your visa to be approved, for any government documents… To speak to anyone about documents. You’ll wait in traffic. You’ll wait for the cable man to come. You’ll wait for mail. Tick tock ticky tocky…time keeps on slipping slipping…

Cultivate patience.

I’m, by nature, at times (perhaps most times) overly anxious and the opposite of calm. I’m easily overwhelmed. It’s true. That doesn’t play well here, trust me. I have yet to be robbed (knock on wood) but have had several strange, strange looks. I was told by the man at the newsstand, “calma” (meaning calm). He almost didn’t sell to me and looked at me like I was an absolute muttering sputtering bath salt using, ready to jump over his concurso books and eat him, crazy person. That day sucked. It was one of my worst not including my numerous near death experiences almost stepping out in front of taxis and motorcycles. But, you know what? In his way he was right. What’s the rush. If I finish in one place quickly, I will just make it to another with more time to wait again. If I miss the bus, there will be another one along sooner or later. If I don’t get my questionable meat on a stick first, I’ll live.

I’d also like to point out that all this waiting and laid backness should not be equated with laziness. All of the Cariocas I’ve met are workers in on way or another. They’re hustlers in the broad and most flattery sense of the term. They’re constantly doing… but they do it with a sort of ease (with the exception of driving). It’s a dance. Sometimes it’s a samba but mostly it’s a bosa nova. Nothing is jerky or crump. It’s fluid. It’s a breeze.

So, yeah my advice is to learn to float if you want to live in or around Rio. You will most likely get hit by debris from time to time and may not arrive where you had intended to go but learn to enjoy the ride. It’s probably going to be awhile….

Calma…calma…..

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