The sexual revolution and the feminist revolution
here have translated differently. Common
by Brazilian men displayed towards their Brazilian
female co-workers would merit prison-time in
or at the very least lawsuits and dismissals.
Yes, a preeminent credential in the Brazil’s global reputation. But is it hype; is it over-romanticized, wishful thinking?
Hardly. Yet, Brazil easily escapes the tawdry repute of a Bangkok or an Amsterdam. Maybe because
Brasileiros treat sex in much the same way that they treat dancing; as a natural, necessary means of expression. When you consider that it’s also a
basic human pleasure that can be obtained at little or no cost, what could be more well-adapted to Brazilian character and economy?
It’s as pervasive here, as it is in the U.S. and Europe, but it’s different. The romance and steam are still unabashed.
“Short-time” motels in Brazil are an institution, rather than a dirty, little rendezvous. When spoken about or referred to by
Brazilian men and women it’s the equivalent of talking about going to “make-out” point, to watch the “submarine-races”. On
Brazil’s Valentine’s Day (Dia dos Namorados), there is a line of cars waiting for the next vacancy, so that the rites of
amor may be celebrated appropriately. These establishments range from low-end, convenient, private to Sultanic pleasure-palaces.
Seduction is rampant among both men and women. What makes it so much more appealing is that the best hit-on
“lines”, are those glances across crowded rooms. This is the moment….and the smile…and the look! And, yeah baby!
How serious are Brazilians about their right to indulge their sensuality? Brazil is seldom regarded as having a
high-efficiency culture. Yet, in handful of years Brazil has turned around the worst AIDS disaster in the western hemisphere,
into a model for other countries in dealing with the HIV plague. In a country where infrastructure and services are spotty
and inconsistent, the amount of organization, energy and expertise employed in maintaining a high-degree of sexual freedom
Yet, the sensuality that permeates their society and culture is relatively free from vulgarity. Vulgarity is an attempt to
burst free from the chains of sexual-inhibition and hypocrisy. These chains are largely absent in the Brazilian mentality, which
is amazing for what is still considered a “Catholic country”. In advertising, sex sells here as much as anywhere. The
difference is that the romance, the intimacy and the aesthetic allure of human sexuality are all emphasized.
Brazilians have been careful not to forget the best elements of good sex-affection, tenderness and playfulness. Their
use of language illustrates this:
cafuné, for example is a word dedicated to describing the tender, and affectionate stroking of
the head. While we in the United States use “honey” and “baby” as terms of everyday-endearment,
“meu amor” (my love) is most commonly used here. When in the midst of the throes of passion, “tá de-LÍ-CCCCCCCCCI-aaaa, meu amor” (It’s
so delicious, my love) just has a certain “ring” to it.
In general, Brazilians seem to be less casual about affection in public. The grasp that lovers display in public is more
tentative. Grabbing, groping, hanging-on to, hot-kisses; all seem less apparent then in many gathering places in the U.S. The
glaring exception to this is the scene within
barzinhos, coffee shops and other seemingly innocuous places. This is where
couples will display their romantic intentions, oblivious or perhaps in exhibition, to bystanders. This is the place to “neck” and
be seen “necking”. But still, the kissing here is of a more tender nature instead of “oral surgery”; a signal that this is merely
a prelude to honest romance, even if that romance is of a single night.
The sexual revolution and the feminist revolution here have translated differently. Where I work, and in stories
related by other Brazilian acquaintances, common behavior by Brazilian men displayed towards their Brazilian female co-workers
would merit prison-time in the U.S., or at the very least lawsuits and dismissals. There is some compliant of abuse and of
exploitation; but not a single Brasileira of my acquaintance would trade this situation for what they think are ridiculous laws to
regulate what comes natural to boys and girls.
However, there has been a marked change in social attitudes, especially in regards to machismo. This is regarded by
the current generation (both men and women) as being passé, a vestige of the antiquated mentality of their parents and
grandparents. This is, of course, a generalization; but popular culture reflects this shift in television programs and other
media lampooning machistas and the silly, underclass-women who are attracted to them.
In fact, a popular comedy sketch on Casseta &
Planeta, the Brazilian version of Saturday Night
Live, is called “Pit Bicha” (it’s a play on words, meaning “pit-fag” instead of “pit-bull”). The main character is excessively “butch” with his
open-shirts or leather jackets brimming-over with chest hair, “mutton-chop” sideburns and abundant moustache. He is
in-your-face aggressive, with a contrived, overly masculine, deep-bass voice. The message is clear: machismo is compensation for
deep-seated (to coin a phrase) homosexuality.
There still remains a grudging expectation that many married men will have mistresses, or playmates…but the
feminist revolution here has extended that expectation to women as well. In a recent English class, that I had given to students
working in Brazil’s state-owned bank, I took an informal survey. The students were all well-educated, professionals and
executives in their 30’s and 40’s. When asked how many of them had had extramarital affairs, their affirmation was
unanimous. When I expressed my amazement, they were amused. One woman, who was a high-powered executive, said that she had caught
her husband in an affair, so turnabout was definitely preferable to divorce.
There is a folk-character in Brazilian culture known as Ricardão (“Big Richard”, although I have been assured that
this name doesn’t have any special significance, I still wonder.) He is the man that comes to service all the neglected wives,
whose husbands are dallying elsewhere. In a legitimate daily newspaper, among the personal columns, there is one column
devoted to “Ricardões”. There are more than a few listed.
Another seemingly healthy attitude here is in regard to ageism. Older women, meaning 35 to 59 years old, are referred
to as coroas, or “crowns”. This term was originally meant as a term of respect for “elders”, but is now used to indicate a
woman who has lost the blush of youth. Although it is inadvisable to use this word to their faces, the connotation is not
necessarily that of an undesirable woman. The closest synonym I can find in English is “sugar-mama”. Many, many men; from
young to old, find coroas to be attractive and desirable, even preferable to inexperienced, unworldly partners.
For the older, middle-aged male, this is a country where his attractiveness to younger females is of a sincere nature,
perhaps more so than in any other country of the world. A combination of graying hair, and the tranquil confidence that often
accompanies age, is a powerful aphrodisiac.
But finally what separates Brazil from the Bangkoks and Amsterdams of the world is the commercial aspects of sex.
While undoubtedly there is a huge, established and well-developed sex-industry throughout the country, at times it seems akin
to selling ice-cubes in Antarctica. This industry is well utilized by tourists and locals alike, widely available from women
with no other prospect of survival.
Although prostitutes occupy the lowest social strata here, it’s not unheard of, perhaps not uncommon for middle or
upper-class men to make an “honest-woman” of a
“putinha” (the diminutive form of
puta or prostitute). There is a big problem
with child-prostitution here, although this seems to be being confronted by authorities in a very high-profile manner. I have
seen permanent metal signs that look like traffic signs, except that they direct you to refrain from sexual-exploitation of adolescents.
Brazil does have appeal to the throngs of middle-aged European and North American men that immerse themselves
in flesh-pits of Asia or Holland, or other “cheap-sex” capitals. A “last chance”, with money taken from “petty-cash”.
But it’s easier to compare Brazil’s overall attraction, to that of idyllic, Polynesia. Those paradises and their nubile,
maidens and healthy native lads gave freedom to the suppressed, repressed people of the
19th and 20th centuries. Brazil likewise,
fires our imaginations. It begs the question: “Why settle for simple carnal exercise; when love, passion and romance are in
such great abundance?”
LIVING A VIDA POBRE
In January of 2001 I was at a crossroads in my life; and by the age of 43, it was another in a long series of
crossroads. And it wasn’t a middle-age crisis, either. I had suffered a couple of those some years earlier. No, this was one of those
I had just finished working as an emergency medical supervisor for one of those disreputable Survivor-type shows. I
was “flush” with cash, but alone. My only child, a
gracinha (cutie) less than three years old, had returned with her mother to
Brasília, eight months earlier. Her mother and I had had the cliché` “fiery and volatile” intercultural relationship that ends in child
support. But our mutual love and gratitude for our special child was, and is, undeniable; it remains the sacred and inviolable
ground between us.
And so I went to Brasília on a fact-finding mission. I would examine the possibility of living in a Third-World
country as an expatriate American. There is nothing that the First-World offers that can approach the value of the relationship
with my only child. I was yet to learn just exactly what this would mean.
My first visions were profound and noble. Well, first I would teach. I had always wished to have taught English
abroad. I had even researched teacher-training schools for some years. I would have a modest, yet assured income, doing
something that came very naturally to me: schmoozing. Second, I would bring my computer and teach the children; and with my
medical training and experience I would bring hope and medicine to the wretched dwellers in the
favelas (shantytowns). Maybe, even go into the Amazon and parley with the
Alright, so perhaps there is faint remainder of a middle-age crisis. The Peace Corps volunteer that never was. But the
main thing is that I went. This was the second time I had been to Brazil. I had come a couple of years earlier, shortly after my
daughter was born. My daughter’s mother is born to a family of some status, and their amenities and lifestyle, more or less, reflect
first-world status. The Dona of the family owns a very large apartment in a good neighborhood of this capital city, and the
family has a chácara (ranch) that has been subdivided into a condominium, and contains the country houses of the children.
The children themselves occupy the professional ranks and count among themselves two physicians, two PhDs, a
computer-systems analyst, an attorney and a fighter pilot.
As I had stayed with this family during my initial visit, I had all of the comforts and entertainments of home. I did
come in contact with poverty, but always as a passerby, dispensing abundant coins to the poor and their children. I had heard
about the suburbs of the city, how they encircled the capital in a moat of poverty and insecurity. I wanted to visit them,
although I didn’t want to go alone, or unarmed.
But during that initial visit I went to the trendy bars with my brother-in-law, saw the grand architecture of this unique
city, and spent a weekend in the resort town of Pirenópolis.
This time would be different. Yet, for the first six months it wasn’t that different at all, since I was receiving residuals
equal to what a mid-level executive earns in Brasília. I also was provided a teaching position, by my former brother-in-law, to
“get my feet wet”. The money I earned between this, and another school in which I worked part-time, had seemed negligible.
It was in reais, which seemed to be useful only for spending on beer, restaurants and easy-fun in general. Lunch at
Francisco’s, in the Patio do Brasil Shopping complex, was an especially nice place to frequent, and watch the executives and
politicians with girls that could be their daughters, but probably weren’t.
Well, here it is eight months later, and I count
centavos for the bus, and calculate whether to use the food ticket, that
I and others receive from our employers, for café da manhã,
consisting of hot milk with a shot of espresso, and some
bakery item; or should I save it all for my only real meal of the day the “economy plate” at Giraffe’s, the Brazilian equivalent to
McDonald’s, except that they offer rice and
beans? I look longingly at the Reebok’s in the store window, that are quite reasonably
priced. Reasonably priced unless you are earning a currency that makes all imported goods three times as expensive. In the last
eight months the real has lost close to half of its value.
I earn 1,166 reais a month, teaching at one of the most successful and definitely most expensive English schools in
the country. In dollars, this is less than $450. Two months ago, I had a maid that cleaned my studio twice a week, and hand
washed my tennis shoes, sandals, sheets and did my laundry, including ironing. Now, I am thankful to have learned from her
how to do these things by hand.
It’s definitely funny, because I am totally “undercover”. By night, a
professor de inglês at one of the most chic
places in the capital city, frequented by congressmen, senators, diplomats and their families as well as the more mundane rich
and influential. I still have first-world clothing, and can talk about my travels to Europe and Asia, or tell some amusing
anecdotes about working on movie-sets and earning scandalously large sums daily. But at the end of my shift, at 10 p.m., I board
the bus with the others that live in the ring of dangerous suburbs that surround the city. Perhaps someone will call me, but I
can’t initiate the call from my cellular, because I don’t have any credits.
But it’s kinda neat.
You’re an American? First-world? Okay, baby, let’s cope.
I had just left the Hollywood version of “Survivor” and now I was living the
vida pobre (poor life). Hey look mom! No hands!
And so, I remain your faithful correspondent…………….here.
Where were you on September 11th? Driving the suburban back roads, 20 minutes from the capital of Brazil? Probably
not, but I, like you, was made immediately aware. My cellular phone started to go-off, with incredulous Brazilians who felt compelled to reach
out and somehow connect with the awful fascination unfolding on television, Internet and telephone.
The first call was from a Brazilian friend and fellow English teacher, João Paulo. His voice was agitated, filled with
nervous energy and dismay, as if he were actually on the street in New York. “Are you watching this?! Did you see…. hurry,
you’ve gotta get to a television. Oh, wow! Another! Oh, man! Oh MY GOD! What is happening?!”
I, of course, was unable to comprehend what was taking place. An excited Brazilian had just called me to say that
New York and Washington D.C., the Pentagon were under attack by airliners dropping out of the sky. I had to get to the
electronic oracle for instant truth. Another friend called with the offer of CNN and lunch.
I sat transfixed, watching again and again, as the airliner was seemingly absorbed into the side of the World Trade
Center; thinking ALL THOSE PEOPLE! I was filled with dread, knowing how civilization had opened into a new and
I called work, and said I would be late; unable yet, to yank myself away from the horror on television. The people at
work were understanding, as if it were my family on one of those airliners. They spoke in low tones of support and
commiseration. “Are you OK?”
No, I’m Not OK!! I gotta do something! Oh boy, are those Arabs gonna get it now! They wanna play?! Alright! You
have awakened a sleeping giant of great resolve. We have just begun to fight! DO YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE!!!!
Well, of course, everyone knows who we are. We are the blue-eyed,
blonde-haired, captain and quarterback of the
varsity football team. We are big, strong, intelligent, handsome, talented, privileged and part of the first-world “in-crowd”. We
are also student body president, and very rich, besides. When we speak we are used to other people listening. We believe
that everyone should play by the rules, our rules. And if any one gets too far out of line, they’ll have to deal with us.
Everyone knows that. So when the biggest, baddest, jock-on-the-block takes a quick series of jabs to the face everyone is
impressed and the tension is terrible.
The students that study at our English school are professionals that occupy the top 1 percent of the income strata
of Brazil, and are educated, well-informed and of various political stripes. Initially, their reaction was of solidarity, sympathy
and horror-and, of course, amazement. What did I think would happen next? Would there be war? Yes, of course the U.S.
must do something. Of, course it must defend itself. But, do you think that means war?
I was very discreet in response. “Thank you. Yes, it’s horrible.” It was difficult to express my feelings, in a way
similar to the immediate aftermath of fatal accident of a close friend or family member.
The students gently probed, checking to see if I indeed came from the land of Schwarzenegger, Eastwood and Willis.
I kept myself under tight reign, well aware that it would be too easy to blow my cover as the open-minded,
non-chauvinistic, American-global-citizen. I even allowed myself some bitter amusement at the emailed jokes and graphics that poked fun
at the September 11th attack. But, inside I knew with the zeal of an SS man, my country would punish its enemies.
Over the weeks that have followed, the formal grieving has expired, and Brazilian football has regained its spot as the
top entertainment form. A few of the more politically conscious, have felt emboldened by the passage of time to let me know
that this was a wake-up call for American foreign policy. I have heard, third-hand, of conversations more frank, expressing
approval that the U.S. has finally got its comeuppance for its international swaggering. Maybe we wouldn’t be so cocky now.
An American acquaintance here allegedly broke the nose of a Brazilian drug-dealer whose terrorist-jokes culminated
in the burning of an American flag he’d drawn. Out in the desperate suburbs, where I live, I’d begun to think people
weren’t overly impressed by a situation not directly connected to their own survival. But, yesterday, a local bad boy came
trolling down the cracked-asphalt avenue in his lowered, gangsta car. At the top of his windshield, large white appliqué letters
proclaimed “Osama Bin Laden.”
Yup, maybe it’s all about Bad Boys and
John Roscoe is a 43 year-old Hawaiian-American (does such a term exist?) living as an expatriate American in the
Brazilian capital of Brasília. He studied journalism and communications at the University of Hawaii, but has had a checkered
career, working in non-profit organizations, emergency medical services, and most recently the film and television industry. He
has written, folksy, feature-stories for small island newspapers, as well as resumes for all of his friends. He has one child, a
daughter, Nalani, 3 years old, and three ex-wives. He currently works as an English teacher in one of Brazil’s most chic
“English-language mills”, catering to the elite. Roscoe can be contacted at
johnthemedic@hotmail or his number in Brasília is 61-946-1818.
Please send money.