Sorry, Brazil’s Carnaval Is Not a Free for All, All Out Orgy

    Juliana Paes

    Juliana Paes It’s Carnaval in Rio and I am honestly not that excited about it. I did the whole Rio experience last year with a bunch of blocos, performing in the Children’s Parade, and going to two nights at the Sambadrome (one night of the Special Groups, the other the Champion’s Parade). My experience at the Sambadrome was amazing, an incredible opportunity, one I felt no need to repeat this year.

    The blocos were an interesting cultural experience, but after I had a claustrophobia-induced panic attack at one of them, I wasn’t so crazy about them. Though I love dancing, I hate being in the sun and heat in huge groups of people, especially drunk ones. Plus, though the music is great, it’s the same short song played over and over and over again and I find it a little tedious after awhile.

    I do regret not going to any samba school rehearsals this year though; they’re held indoors and are a lot of fun, where people seem more interested in dancing than in getting wasted. Another factor this year has been Eli, who was very sick for most of the week and isn’t quite better yet, so I’ve been taking care of him and helping him take it easy.

    It’s not that I don’t like Carnaval; I’m completely fascinated by it, but this year I prefer to take a step back and watch it from the sidelines. (However, I did have a fantasy that by now I’d have become a blogging celebrity in Rio and a local celebrity would invite me to his/her box seats at the Sambadrome. I have a very vivid imagination.)

    But I digress, because the real point of this post is aimed at my gringo readers who haven’t yet experienced Rio’s Carnaval, as well as the hordes of horny Googlers accessing my blogs in hopes of finding naked pictures of Carnaval queens and videos of sex in the streets of Rio. There’s a great deal of mystique and a wealth of misinformation when it comes to Carnaval, so I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions.

    I. Nudity & Sex

    First of all, nudity is not omnipresent at Carnaval in Rio. Though a number of women in the parade at the Sambadrome wear very little clothing, the rest of the participants wear elaborate, heavy costumes, and those are the dancers and musicians that make up the bulk of the parade.  At the street parties (blocos), which are the second great pride of Rio’s Carnaval, revelers dress up in costumes or put on silly hats or accessories, but most certainly do not go half naked. You’re more likely to find men in drag than women in thongs at the blocos.

    Though nudity is not nearly as widespread at Rio’s Carnaval than people think, it is unfortunately one of the most commonly projected images of Carnaval, Rio, and Brazil to the rest of the world. As a result, many foreigners incorrectly link nudity to promiscuity, assuming that Carnaval is some sort of sexual free-for-all, an all out orgy.

    But I have bad news for you: it’s not.

    There is no sex in the Sambadrome parade, there is no sex on the streets during the blocos, and there is no sex in public in general (there are, however, copious amounts of men peeing in public). The only instance of semi-public promiscuity I’ve heard about is at the Scala club’s tacky Carnaval parties, but I’m not sure how bad it really is.

    Due to heavy drinking, some people certainly hook up and some make out in public, but it’s not much different from meeting someone at a club or a party. The same rules apply – there is no special sex loophole for Carnaval.

    Comfortable with Nudity

    Many foreigners believe that Brazilian women are sluts and whores. Let’s examine why. Juliana Paes, a beloved famous Brazilian novela and film actress, is going to help me demonstrate.

    First, there’s Rio Carnaval, where women in the Sambadrome parade wear very little clothing and dance sensually down the avenue, sometimes practically naked.

    Since Rio’s Carnaval celebration is the best known of all Brazilian celebrations in Gringolândia (and probably Latin American ones, at that), this is the image that is projected of Brazilian women to the world.

    Many men, as a result, falsely assume that all Brazilian women are scantily-clad, sex-crazed, and provocative beings, incorrectly connecting costumes and dance with sexual habits. Carnaval is a celebration and in the case of Rio’s Carnaval, a performance. Dancing in a bikini does not translate to nymphomania.

    Next, there’s the Brazilian bikini. Though the G-string bikini is no longer in fashion, the teeny weeny bikini bottom is, and when gringos get to the beach in Brazil, their jaws sometimes drop. (Keep in mind, however, that unlike in Europe, going topless in Brazil is NOT acceptable).

    Also, there’s nudity. Brazilians are more comfortable with nudity than Americans, and you’ll see more skin in the media, on TV, and in public more than you would in North America. However, showing skin does not mean a person is necessarily more sexually inclined than others; being more comfortable with it is a cultural trait.

    The moral of the story? There are sluts and hos in every country, and you are no more likely to find them in Brazil than you would in England or the US. You may find more prostitutes, since prostitution is legal, but that certainly doesn’t mean that all women act like whores.  In fact, Brazilian women are generally more reserved about sex that North Americans.

    Though Brazilians are comfortable making out with strangers (perhaps another factor gringos assume is part of the nymphomania stereotype), I believe Brazilian women to be less promiscuous than Americans. You’d be hard-pressed to find a typical Brazilian woman primping with her friends before going out saying, “Man, I really have to get laid tonight!”

    In the end, that girl in the teeny weeny bikini may actually be a total goody-two shoes.

    II. Lifestyle

    Some gringos believe that Rio is like Carnaval all year long. Though you can find a few blocos and plenty of samba school rehearsals during the year, Rio is definitely not a perpetual Carnaval. Though the work culture isn’t like São Paulo, people work long hours and go about their daily lives without partying daily.

    I’ve noticed a certain something in the air during Carnaval, a skip in people’s steps, a definite weight lifted and a feeling of relaxation. Carnaval is different from the rest of the year, a time when people let go and transform into something different. Carnaval is, after all, a social pressure valve, especially in Rio.

    Since people assume that Rio is a party city, it attracts some gringos to visit or move here. It didn’t for me. I think the nightlife is far better in Buenos Aires and New York, but aside from that, Rio is an incredibly cosmopolitan city with museums, galleries, cafés, restaurants, movie theaters, shows, outdoor activities, and cultural centers. There’s a lot more to Rio than its nightlife.

    III. Authentic Experience

    Some tourists come to see Carnaval in Rio because they think it’s the “authentic” Brazilian cultural experience. Though it’s internationally one of the most famous manifestations of Brazilian culture, there are so many other celebrations and representations of Brazilian culture. There are Carnaval celebrations in hundreds of other Brazilian cities and a huge wealth of holidays and traditions you can experience year-round.

    Also, Rio life during Carnaval is different from Rio life during the rest of the year. Few people work (with the exception of restaurants, hotels, malls, etc), the city slows down, and many Cariocas leave the city, while the tourists pour in. Seeing Rio outside of the Carnaval season is just as authentic, if not more so.

    This article was written earlier this year during Carnaval. Rachel Glickhouse, born in 1984, spent two years living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after graduating from college in 2007. She now lives in New York with her Brazilian husband. She has also lived in Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Argentina and has traveled through Latin America. You can find more about her in her blog: http://riogringa.typepad.com.

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