Expect the Unexpected: Surprising Rio de Janeiro
No matter what kind of lifestyle you pursue, the “Wonderful City” will definitely provide an activity to satisfy your interests and hobbies. If I had to describe expat life in Rio with one word, that word would be “exciting”. I don’t think there is a city quite like Rio, with such a variety of leisure options.
Nothing can be wrong about a city that has produced world-famous celebrities such as Carmen Miranda, Dr. Ivo Pitanguy, Tom Jobim, Oscar Niemeyer, and Paulo Coelho, among many others.
Settling into the City
The first thing you should do after arriving in Rio is to try to fit in as soon as possible. That means that you should try to act and look like a "Carioca" (term derived from a Native Indian dialect that is used to refer to the locals). So discard those clothes that may have been fashionable in your previous location, and use the attire that is suitable for this metropolis that has a tropical jungle atmosphere, otherwise you will be singled out as a "Gringo" (a person that is not from Rio, or even from Brazil).
The cultural root of the city comes from a mixture of Portuguese colonial practices, as well as Native Indian and African influences. One of the aspects you should master in order to integrate will be to learn the language, the carioca version of Portuguese, with its own distinct accent, slang and proverbs which distinguishes it from the language spoken in other parts of Brazil.
Rio is a noisy place, due to the daily noise caused by traffic and that made by the large crowds that gather everywhere and at any time. Expats will be immediately faced with a barrage of events, on every day of the week, be it at day or night time.
"Where Are You From?"
Cariocas are used to seeing many expats in their city, so the title of this section will most surely be the first question they ask you. It is their way of appraising the expat according to the country of origin. Depending on whether they like your country, they will continue interacting with you.
The locals are also “loud” people. Shouting from one side of the street to another to chat with a friend is normal practice. It may seem to you that people are arguing or a violent action has occurred, but on the contrary, it is only Cariocas in lively conversation.
Cariocas are also very friendly and you will be able to make friends quickly. Inviting locals for a few beers will open many doors for you.
Most bars and restaurants put tables and chairs on the pavement and people spend long hours there socializing, especially on weekends. However this also attracts street vendors who often will interrupt conversations to offer you their goods.
Even if the population and surface of the city are huge, it is quite a gossipy city. You will be surprised how fast rumors about VIPs and celebrities (eg. mayors, politicians, football players, etc.) travel. Cariocas don´t waste a chance to criticize their more prominent citizens.
Where Should I Live?
This will depend on your kind of lifestyle. There is a different type of neighborhood for everybody such as the beachfront (Copacabana, Ipanema), central (Flamengo, Gloria), mountains (Santa Teresa, São Conrado), downtown, as well as the bar and restaurant scene (Lapa).
Also it is a plus if you are living near a Metro (subway station) since Rio is considered one of the world´s most congested cities in terms of traffic.
Most of the population lives in apartment blocks, most of which have an “event floor” that can be used by the neighbors to hold parties and celebrations such as kids' parties. Moreover, many streets have vegetable and fruit fairs one day of the week. Try to find out if this happens in the place where you intend to live before moving in, in case you don´t like the noise of crowds all that much.
Leisure and Nightlife
Cariocas are very good at socializing and chatting. Rio is a "party town", with approximately 8,000 bars and 3,600 restaurants, and most of the social interaction revolves around these establishments. You will see them full every day of the week and open until late hours. Don´t be surprised to see small kids running around the pavement tables. When cariocas go out, the whole family does.
Probably the best party organizers in the world, it is interesting to see how fast and efficiently the locals organize all kinds of mass events, be it a cultural, musical or sports activity.
Rio is a mountainous city and the hills blend in with the cement. In all neighborhoods, especially near favelas (and there are 619 of them according to the 2011 census), it is common practice for individuals to set off very loud fireworks from the top of these hills. This may be due to celebrations after victories in football matches or to alert neighbors about the presence of police near the “hill” (known as Morro in the local terminology).
Cariocas just love to have air conditioning at very low temperatures, especially in the metro (subway) and city buses. Be careful, especially in summer, since outside it frequently gets to 40°C, and the sudden change in temperature may cause respiratory ailments.
No matter where you are from or what your nationality or cultural background is, it´s a sure bet that Rio de Janeiro will provide alternatives to satisfy your utmost desires. There are more positive aspects than negatives in this city. If you like hot tropical weather, a lively nightlife, a varied assortment of international cuisine, outdoor activities and events that draw huge crowds, then all I can say is, you are in the right city!
M.D. Mackinnon has been a permanent resident of Rio de Janeiro since 2009. He is registered as a journalist and video-photo reporter in the Rio de Janeiro Labor Department. He takes photos for a local news agency and also has experience as a tour guide in and around the RJ metropolitan area.