Horti Fruiti Kung Food

Is this racist?

You may remember I’ve written a couple of posts about the excellent Horti Fruti adverts that show up from time to time on the metro. The format tends to be an illustration of a fruit or vegetable in the place of some human character with a caption that plays on either the name or the origin of the item in question.

Take a look at the latest one:


Horti Fruiti Kung Food

Couve Chinesa is what we in the UK call Chinese Cabbage. The caption says “I am the master of Kung food”. Except that’s not exactly what it says…


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Veta, Dilma!

Once again, like child wandering into a particle physics lab, I’m going to walk into a Brazilian issue I don’t know too much about. Apologies in advance.

All over Rio huge signs have been appearing recently. I saw even noticed a huge banner on the Sugarloaf this weekend. Signs like this:

Veta, Dilma. Rio

These huge signs are imploring President Dilma to use her presidential veto to block a controversial plan concerned with the distribution of royalties related to the discovery of pré-sal (in English, Pre-salt, a deep layer of salt that suggests huge reserves of high quality oil below).


When they say “huge reserves” of oil, they’re not messing about. Petrobras estimate that there are more 50 billion barrels of oil available – roughly four times Brazil’s current national reserves. That’s kind of a big deal.

So this is good news right? Big oil party for everyone in Brazil? Not quite…

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The invisible language barrier

After waiting in the slow-moving supermarket line for 15 minutes, I finally found myself at the check-out – this was my moment. The girl had scanned all my items and I could see from the screen that I had to pay R$65 – no problem, I had my money ready. Then: disaster! She was asking me something but I had no clue what she was saying. It was clearly a question, but what did she want? She asked it again, a little louder this time and I could sense that the people behind me were all looking over now.

Panic set in, my heart rate increased as my mind desperately tryied to formulate a response. The section of my brain marked Portuguese seemed to have shut down and so my mouth just opened and closed like a goldfish!

Extra Supermercado

The scene of many a stressy moment – the checkouts of ‘Extra’.


What felt like minutes was probably over in 10 seconds. She shook her head, shrugged and muttered something while taking my money. I hurriedly gathered my shopping bags, desperate to get out of the oppressive atmosphere. As I walked quickly towards the exit, she shouted to me again – by now I just wanted to run, but I looked back to see that she was waving my change at me. “Idiot!” I said to myself as I walked home, humiliated.

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Should I say Favela or Comunidade?

In a recent post I looked at the sensitive subject of favelas and described some of the ways that you can get into trouble when talking about them. But did you know that even the name can stir controversy?

The term favela has an interesting history. Back in the 1890s, various Brazilian forces fought a series of escalating battles with a group of 30,000 settlers in Canudos, a remote town in Bahia. The settlers were led by a charismatic mystic named Antônio Conselheiro who had spent much of his earlier life wandering the north-east of Brazil and picking up followers along the way.

Time and again, government forces underestimated the strength of the Conselheiro’s followers, suffering a series of humiliating defeats. Eventually the Minister of War got involved and sent a huge, well-armed force which utterly destroyed Canudos. It is said that more than 15,000 inhabitants were killed (many civilians were slaughtered after the initial resistance was stamped out).


the favela plant Cnidoscolus phyllacanthus

This is the Favela Plant (Cnidoscolus quercifolius), common in Bahia and other semi-arid areas of Brazil. It has long spines, it is a skin irritant and has similar effects to cyanide when eaten! An appropriate namesake for such a prickly, difficult, even poisonous topic.


When the massacre was complete (1897), the soldiers made their way to Rio. When they were recruited they had been promised housing in return for victory, but when they arrived in the capital they got a shock.

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Amigo da Onça!

Onça is the Portuguese word for jaguar – surely one of South America’s most beautiful animals.

Jaguar Onça

A jaguar (onça in Portuguese). Source


I learned this word during carnival earlier this year. The sun was shining (by 9am it was already ridiculously hot) and there was a great atmosphere among the revellers as they followed the musicians down a very steep, narrow hill in Catete.

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Does Brazil have too many public holidays?

I’m no workaholic – I put in extra hours when there’s a big project on, but I’m not one of those people who calls the office when they’re on holiday or sneaks off during birthday parties to check work emails. I like holidays OK? Long weekends are the best! But…

I’m starting to wonder about the situation here in Brazil. We had a public holiday a couple of weeks ago (great!), today is also a holiday (OK…) and also next Tuesday (seriously?). I’m struggling to get a definitive answer, but it looks like Brazil has somewhere between 13 and 16 national public holidays, and Rio has its own “Founding of Rio” holiday too.


Batman and Robin meme

This image was circulating yesterday (Wednesday). Robin is saying “Woohoo! Today is ‘Friday’!” (because Thursday, is a public holiday). Batman is replying “Today is Wednesday and you have to work on Friday!”.


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Rio vs São Paulo

I first became aware of the rivalry between Rio and São Paulo when I saw the film City of God. There’s a scene in which two kids from Rio hitch a lift with a man from São Paulo with the idea of robbing him, but he turns out to be such a nice guy that they can’t bring themselves to do it. After they get out of the car (without robbing him) one says to the other “Normally people from São Paulo are so weird, but he was pretty cool”.

As you’d expect with two major cities in close proximity, each has developed an unflattering stereotypical view of the other. Cariocas (people from Rio) are seen as lazy, perpetually late, superficial people who’d rather spend the day on the beach than do a proper day’s work. Paulistanas (people from São Paulo) are said to be cold, boring and hugely jealous of Rio’s natural beauty. Of course, none of these stereotypes are remotely true (right Brazilians?).

São Paulo from the air

An aerial view of São Paulo at sunset. It may not have the mountains and beaches of Rio, but it is impressive nonetheless. This awesome photo was taken by Lorena Cardoso Simões (@lorenacsimoes) – thanks Lorena!


Leaving stereotypes aside for a moment, I thought I’d tell you about my impressions of Brazil’s largest city and how it compares to Rio, my home for the past 2.5 years.

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Carnival Kids

I’ve been going to a suspiciously large number of birthday parties recently. And now that I think of it, there are a suspiciously large number birthday parties coming up in the next couple of weeks. Hmmm… all very suspicious.

Perhaps a detective would go to the calendar and look for notable events that occurred 9 months ago. I, however, prefer to look forward and remind you all that in 3 months it will be carnival!


carnival paulinho da viola

Woohoo! A pre-carnival bloco held earlier this year in honour of Paulinho da Viola‘s 70th Birthday.


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Are you going on a long car journey anytime soon? When I was a kid it felt like we were always going on mammoth long car trips. My sister and I would be packed into the back seats of the car along with duvets, pillows, suitcases, camping gear and all kinds of other bits and pieces.

One of the things that made it bearable were Travel Sweets – specifically these Travel Sweets.

Smith Kendon Travel Sweets. These were basically marketed as a way to stop your kids complaining on long journeys! They work!


I’ve talked before about Brazil’s love of sugar, so it should come as no surprise that here they have their own sugary option for long car journeys. Melzinho!


This is Melzinho, a long lasting (hopefully!) treat, to keep you going on your long car journey.

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What’s wrong with favelas?

I first became aware of the word “favela” when I was 12 or 13 – we watched a video in geography class about São Paulo. I don’t remember much about the video itself, but the word stuck in my head and 20 (ish) years later I find myself living right next to one.

Favelas are one of the most prickly subjects in Brazil. Get into a conversation about favelas with a middle class Brazilian and there is a good chance that you will find yourself in trouble before long. I once mentioned to a friend of a friend that Vidigal looked beautiful at night. He responded “Favelas are ugly. You think it is romantic to live without proper sanitation?”.

Vidigal favela at sunset

Vidigal (a favela next to wealthy Leblon) lights up as darkness falls.


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