Brazilian Mardi Gras: Carnival Explained By a Brazilian (Who Doesn't Much Care For Carnival)
A word of warning: being, to my knowledge, the only Brazilian contributor to PolicyMic, I was asked to write a piece on Carnival.
The caveat, though, is that I'm a terrible Brazilian. I don't like Brazilian culture, I don't like Brazilian music, and if it wasn't for the food, I wouldn't like Brazilian anything. In fact, I hate this country so much that if you hooked a small lightbulb to my circulatory system, I could power it for about five seconds just by thinking about how much I hate Brazil.
I'm filling you in on this because my take on Carnival may not end up being the most accurate portrayal you will find on the internet. My best Carnival experience was when me and some chums rigged up a LAN at a friend's house and spent three days playing violent video games on our computers without any parental oversight whatsoever (interesting fact: the electric bill for my friend that month displayed an erstwhile unknown number that is still being studied by the top mathematicians of the world).
I do know, however, far more than I want to about Carnival, simply by virtue of my proximity to the local culture, so I'm willing to spread the wisdom, if anything to deal with the trauma. So let's begin with the history of Carnival.
The History Of Carnival
Like the Portuguese language, Feijoada, and a hysterical touchiness that annoys the entire world, Carnival was brought to Brazil from Europe, where it went from this to this. And while the prospect of glittered-up sexy chicks shaking their stuff may be enticing — especially for a geeky shut-in like me — the season has so many low points that the trade-off is not really worth it. Why? Well, here's what Carnival is and isn't.
What Carnival Is and Isn't
As a lot of you might already suspect, Carnival, while not an official holiday, is still a time for most Brazilians to take a break from the behavioral restraints placed on them by 5,000 years of human civilization and regress back to their primitive hunter/gatherer selves from when STDs weren't a concern.
Case in point, here's a nationally televised PSA from a couple of years back:
Basically, it's a Brazilian pop star dispensing tips on how to better enjoy Carnival, and one of them is that girls should not wear skimpy outfits if they don't want to be groped.
Think about that for a second. A policeman said that to a small college auditorium in Canada and it sparked a worldwide movement that endures to this day. Here in Brazil, a famous celebrity says the same thing to an entire country and nobody bats an eye.
That's the level of civilization that we're dealing with here.
The way most people around here enjoy this allowance to rape, however, is probably misrepresented to international audiences. Most of you probably know Carnival as this:
That is a Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, and it entails paying at least $200 to dress like an idiot who basted himself in glue and streaked into the bird cage at the zoo and bounce around like an asshole who's just happy to be here while being followed by a bunch of floats that, together with an obnoxious song that has the same exact melody every year even though they don't want you to think that, outline an oversimplified, offensively retarded retelling of some popular historic event, like the discovery of the Americas and whatnot.
Or, if you're even more of a cretin, you pay $200 to watch people dressed like idiots while they dance like jerks, etc., etc.
This type of festivity only happens in one specific location, though, and nowhere else.
In most cities in Brazil, Carnival looks more like this:
Basically, a throng of people acting like horny chimps fresh out of the Supermax after doing a double dime for second-degree murder.
It works like this:
- First, you and your classmates plan ahead of time and rent from a native of a historical town a two-bedroom house to shelter 25 people.
- Then, you drink five beers, get your buddies on a van and drive it there using the famously well-kept roads that snake their way around Brazil. Not to worry. They're all jammed during the festivities so you won't be able to do more than 5 mph at any one time.
- If you're still alive when you get there, you find your rented house and go to sleep on the floor under the dinner table with two other guys. Since it's the peak of summer in Brazil, you will all be drenched in sweat, so, if you have to tread your way among the lying bodies to the bathroom in the middle of the night, be careful not to slip on the man juices pooling around and hit your head on the floor.
- If you manage not to do that, you wake up, have one beer, and hit the streets. There, you will french everyonein sight. And I mean everyone. As long as it's a human (or similar) between the ages of 12 and 85, you're golden.
That's a really important step, it should be added. Failing to french anyone during Carnival is called “zerar” (meaning scoring zero frenches in your tally), and it's such a serious offense that people have been known to sue their cities over it.
(Okay, let me just stop right there. Can you imagine someone entering a lawyer's office going, “I wasn't able to hook up with anyone during Carnival and I think the city is liable so I want to sue them” and the lawyer actually going, “OK, let's give a shot”?)
- During your frenching expedition, you may not come across any bathrooms, or you may not want to pay the usurious price to use one, so any physiological needs shall be relieved on a secluded place from prying eyes, like the sidewalk or someone's shoe. You can also use a chemical toilet, if you're the kind of stalwart champion of all heroes who is brave enough to enter one in those circumstances.
- At the end of the day, you get into a fistfight over some spilled beer or a half-hot chick (or the fact that you urinated in someone's shoe) and, if you were able to keep yourself alive during all those proceedings, you crawl back to your rented house, sleep in the now beer-scented sweat on the floor, and do it all over again the next day.
So that's how Carnival really works.
Some people may argue that braving all those tribulations while listening to the most abhorrent soundtrack in existence constantly blasting at your ears is worth it over the opportunity to maybe hook up for five seconds with some chick who is a six and a half, but I fail to see the logic in that.
But if that's your thing, then come enjoy Carnival! You can take my place, since I'll be in my room, playing violent video games.