Pun of this Post: What did the two tree branches say when they didn't get along? Let's leaf each other alone.
Fun Factoid: Residents of Rio de Janeiro are called "cariocas," and are generally described as carefree, cheerful, and open-minded.
As I stepped out of the airport and got my first look at Rio de Janeiro, I realized that the most stereotypical aspects of the city didn't immediately come to mind. In my opinion, the most striking feature about the city (especially for me, a native of the American Northeast) is the staggering amount of lush vegetation! Rio is the complete antithesis of the "concrete jungle;" there are large trees everywhere, even in some downtown areas. This makes the air feel very fresh and free of pollution despite the heavy traffic and large number of motorcyclists. Some sidewalk areas of the city are even cordoned off with police-style yellow tape because falling jackfruits from the trees can injure pedestrians! People sell fresh fruit on many corners, and one particularly nice vendor gave me a free sample of a rambutan. I was even more intrigued to learn that the city has a 54-hectare Botanical Garden that also functions as a residential district. I live right around this area, and I definitely plan to explore it more once I get settled into university life. My homestay "mother" says that the monkeys are so docile that you can even offer them bananas! I'm not sure if I will try this out.
I've also realized that it is immensely helpful to know even a small amount of Portuguese. If you want to do anything in the city (buy things in shops, take public transportation, ask for directions, etc.) Portuguese is extremely helpful because many people don't speak much English. However, cariocas are known for their helpful attitude, and many cariocas will go out of their way to assist foreigners. Also, if you ask someone for any sort of help, they will make you feel that helping you completely made their day. Even if you don't speak Portuguese perfectly (and I'm FAR from that), Brazilians really appreciate your attempts and will usually be able to understand your intent.
Also, in case you all are interested, one common stereotype about Rio involving the millions of very attractive people is (unfortunately) not true. (Disclaimer: I didn't visit any beaches yet, since it has been raining heavily and will probably continue for the next week. I might revise my analysis then.) Based on an assessment from walking around the university campus, riding the metro, and eating out, the proportion of extremely attractive people isn't higher than other major cities. My orientation advisor had the best explanation for this, "We might not have the most beautiful people on the outside, but we do have the most beautiful people on the inside." Everyone in the room applauded at this comment, and I think that's a great philosophy on life. Despite stereotypes about the culture of flirtation and close personal contact, Brazilians really seem interested in getting to know each other instead of focusing completely on superficial things like appearances. I hope to apply this philosophy to my entire experience in this city and focus on experiencing the authentic Brazilian culture instead of relying on preconceived notions and stereotypes.
P.S. So that was my first blog post! Please let me know what you think so I can improve throughout the semester. Also, are there any things that you want me to write about? Any questions about Brazil? I'll try my best to keep them in mind for future postings. Also, I will start posting pictures once I take some good ones. I hope you enjoyed the pun and the fun factoid (I will be doing those each time, as well.)