By Ricky Skelton
March 18, 2008

The title is a little misleading, being based on the only one that I’ve been to, but my experience may help those thrown in at the cultural deep end of a Brazilian funeral, as I was recently.

The first noticeable difference with a Brazilian funeral is that you had better be prepared to drop everything as soon as you hear of a death. Probably as a consequence of the heat, if somebody dies one day, the funeral legally has to be the following day. Unless the family wants to pay expensive refrigeration fees. No time to spend hunting around for a black suit and a black tie, which may be why nobody wears them. Shorts, havaianas, anything’s good.

Having received notice of the death, we hastily got our things together and headed off to the nearest relative’s house. The funeral was due to start at 2pm, an hour’s drive away. We set off at 8.30am. The first, and possibly last, time that I’ve ever known Brazilians to arrive somewhere early. More than 4 hours early. We weren’t alone, even then, with most of the close family having been sat up all night in the cemetery chapel with the deceased himself. One of the sons preferred to spend the night waiting outside. Never having met any of them before, the introductions were a little red-eyed, and it didn’t seem like the right time for gringo smalltalk. There were some comedy moments though, such as the daughters introducing me to the man himself for the first time, lying in his coffin. He didn’t have much to say to me. I stood around for a while, chatting to other family members who hadn’t been seen for years, trying to resist the urge to use one elbow to lean casually on the coffin. It was at the perfect height.

By midday, the place had filled up, with the whispers of the mourners punctuated by the resounding boom of Brazilian men beating each other. Brazilians aren’t the most macho of Latinos but they still have their moments. Not wanting to be seen as anything but masculine, instead of greeting each other with a big hug, they put one arm around the shoulder and beat the other shoulder or the chest of their friend four times. Not three, not five, always four, and hard enough to not be seen as too affectionate. The poor sons had this all day. Sympathetic noises and a beating from scores of men, when all they really wanted was a proper cuddle which was obvious when the women did just that. Not many people spent much time actually speaking to them though.

The time on the sign outside the room had the family name with a time of 5pm. There was nobody else but our group, no queue to worry about. Surely some mistake? Apparently not. A whole eight hours of sitting in a room with a dead body and no booze felt a little too much. Being a Brazilian funeral, lunch had to be involved somewhere, so we disappeared into town for a couple of hours. When we returned, the atmosphere had brightened a little. None of the brothers were particularly upset, one being punished for telling jokes, another telling stories and making laughter ring out louder than the chest beating. By 4pm, somebody else was running around the coffin. I blamed it on the free cachaa Id had at lunch and nobody complained.

The service finally started, the casket was closed and we trooped up the hill to the neat, deep grave. The gravediggers started to empty the soil from the wheelbarrow and I hoped that we werent going to stay until the very end. It would take hours to fill and after a long day&rsquot;s funeralling, I needed a beer. Perhaps a vol-au-vent or two at the after-party. But no. Everybody went straight home. This is definitely not how we do it in my family.

You can visit Ricky&rsquot;s blog at

Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

By Ricky Skelton

One particularly noticeable cultural difference between Brazil and Europe is in the bathroom. As you enter the room for the first time in any Brazilian dwelling bigger than a shack, the first things that catch the eye are the naked electrical wires protruding from a big hole in the wall. The first thought is always Ah, they must be having some work done in the bathroom”. You see a jagged hole with some loose plaster around it and one metal pipe coming out to a (usually) white plastic cylinder. There is at least one of the three wires that doesn’t seem to be attached to anything, just coolly hanging around, drifting in the breeze, waiting to be soldered onto the cylinder somewhere. There is also another rubber tube extending from the cylinder and varying from 3 inches to 10 feet in length. It has a mini-showerhead at the loose end. It takes a long time and a few visits to different bathrooms to become accustomed to this sight and realise that, no – they aren’t waiting for the big plastic box of an electrical shower to be delivered and fitted, this is what showers look like in Brazil.

While not recommended and probably highly illegal to use at home, Brazilians don’t bat an eyelid at this situation. The combination of wires and water doesn’t seem to bother anybody, so you have to adapt too. If you are staying in a pousada for your first shower, they will proudly boast of the hot water in their establishment. You turn the tap on and nod approvingly at the power of the water, wave your hand under the jet and go to undress, satisfied that the water is getting warmer. As you stand under the jet for the first time, you wonder why it hasn’t actually got that much warmer. So you adjust the tap in small doses, sadly to little effect until you turn it so far it reduces the power to a small trickle. That’s when you notice the water getting hot. Fantastic. Except it only gets hot when there is hardly any water coming out. As hot showers are preferable whatever the weather, you choose the trickle.

But! Then you look up in exasperation and see the magic switch on the cylinder. Aha! Your limited knowledge of the lingo means you turn it to the ‘winter’ setting and prepare yourself for a lovely hot shower. The trouble is, in Brazil there isn’t too much difference between summer and winter.

At some point, you will wonder what the rubber tube is for and examine it. Is it a shower for dwarves? Dogs? So someone else can have a shower outside the curtain at the same time? This results in the tube coming away from the cylinder and you lose what little power there was. Obviously this is more likely to happen while you have shampoo in your hair. The best thing is to go cold for a few minutes while you sort it all out.

At some point in all this, you will also have received your first electric shock, either from touching the top of the cylinder or even the metal tap. This dents what little confidence you had in The Brazilian Shower and will mean that however long you stay in the country, you will forever treat your shower experience like stroking a dog that once bit you. Don’t complain. Nobody will understand. Or care. And certainly don’t try to fix the situation yourself. It’s dangerous. Leave it to a highly untrained, unqualified, expendable professional.

Readers comment:

I lived in Brazil for 8 years, this article caused me much amusement because it is true, I experienced all the events described.

— Stuart

Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

By Kyle W. Hedlund

Did you know that it is possible to experience Rio`s Carnaval from the inside? Most of the samba schools allow the general public to purchasefantasias (costumes) and dance along with them in the parade. For upwards of around R$300 you can participate in one of the alas (sections) that contribute to each school`s enredo (theme).

This year Caprichosos de Pilares, a samba school from the carioca suburbs, will be the fourth group on Carnaval Sunday to parade down Marques de Sapuca, the avenue that runs through the Sambodromo. Their enredo covers the culture and tradition of Espirito Santo, Rio de Janeiro`s neighboring state to the north. Chico Spinosa, the author of this creation, intends to present what he defines as the cultural antropofagism* of Espirito Santo, a place of diversity. *(Antropofagism?! Something along the lines of assimilating elements of artistic expression from other cultures.)

Caprichosos de Pilares` current production comes with no less than two innovations. The first has Indians from the Pau-Brasil tribe on thebateria (drum section) playing their traditional instrument, the casaca. According to organizers, this will be the first time Indians have participated in a Carnaval parade. The other new idea is the distribution of chocolates on the avenue during the passage of the 6th setor, which talks about Vila Velha, the city where the famous Garoto chocolate factory is located. In his synopsis Spinosa says, In Vila Velha I face the strength of chocolate.” Mmm.

I`ve already booked my place in the ala Vitória (Vitória is the capital city of Espirito Santo), which is part of the 6th setor and will present a costume alluding to chocolate from the Vila Velha factory. It is described as “making fun sweet” (i.e. I`ll be dressed like a large bon-bon). Ahead of the ala will be a carro alegórico (parade float) depicting a fantastic chocolate factory and all its machinery. Chocolate boxes will be distributed to drooling spectators along the way.

The president of the ala, Jnia Bizarelli, says that just a few costumes remain, but if you are interested in participating you could call 21 2242-9312 or 21 8742-5907 to reserve one. “We have high expectations for this year’s parade,” she concludes.

Site: – Fantasia 17