While my heavily modified Klein Quantum road bike is great for short treks, it is not the ideal choice for domestic or international travel. As a result, I must take airplanes to better deal with my long-distance travel needs. For example, in May of this year I was in Houston during the first week, Minneapolis for the third, and on the beach in Rio for the final day of the month. I find all this travel fascinating and my latest trip down to Brazil from New York City opened-up a whole new set of questions that may help expose how the human mind thinks regarding long-distance travel. It stands to reason that the more someone researches where they are traveling to and the related local environment, the better their chances of realizing their goals and objectives. However, life does have its curveballs such as one thrown at me during a recent walk on the beach in Rio. I was walking along the canal between Leblon and Ipanema, and felt what seemed to be a bee trying to sting the back of my neck, but in reality it was a hand grabbing at my gold chain. Fortunately my “sink or swim” mechanism pulled the grasping hand away, while my wife screamed “ladrao” which in essence fended off the attacker. Our brains are all wired a certain way, which means nothing is a given and that widely acceptable studies while valuable do not always present an accurate picture of how our brains truly function.
From One Narcissistic Culture to the Next
Waiting at JFK for my Thursday night redeye takes its cue from past experiences. I pick a steakhouse for my meal before the flight and one can hear Brazilian Portuguese being spoken throughout the restaurant. For comparative purposes, to my ears Portuguese from Portugal sounds a bit stoic, while Brazilian Portuguese seems more melodic. After dinner I always dread the boarding process because people either Brazilian, New Yorkers and, or other seem to be overly nervous and can’t wait to cut the line. My travels have exposed me to many types of customs and behaviors, which have led me to believe that New Yorkers and Cariocas share many traits. The most common is their narcissistic tendencies, along with frequent bad behavior in the form of bald rudeness. Many are on their digital devices and seem to be in their own worlds without noticing others around them. I have been in 1st and Business Class, but economy is my preference because of cost. As we move like blood platelets slowly through the tunnel to the open door of the plane, you hear a “good evening” or “boa noite” from the flight crew. Once into the tin can, there is no turning back.
Would like to clarify matters, not all New Yorkers or Cariocas are narcissistic or rude, but I have seen my fair share of bad behavior on trips between New York City and Rio. In reality, both cities have large populations and are quite congested with automobile traffic. Also, they both share rich heritages that each can be proud of. For example, I am amazed at Downtown Rio with its wealth of old churches and historic places like Centro Cultural Banco De Brazil (Museum/Cultural Center), which offer a glimpse of its past. Likewise, I am quite impressed with the Cass Gilbert designed Custom House and a lonely spot called Peck’s Slip in Lower Manhattan. Fast paced environments and millions of tech savvy shoppers reside in both. Hence, many similarities between these cities. It is also important to note that each has been blessed with great deep water harbors, which no doubt led to their founding and ascension as great cities of the world.
Relaxing and Frenetic
While my walks along Leblon in Rio and Sutton Place in New York City have been most often relaxing, they do not accurately represent the pulse of both cities. Case in point: My recent business endeavors in each. Regarding Rio, I took a bus from Leblon to Downtown to take care of business at a notary near the Treasury Building. What greeted me was a noisy, dirty, and frenetic environment. While interesting old architecture exists, these building seem lost by taller modern ones. In the case of New York City, I took a bus from Turtle Bay to South Street to visit my dentist on Broadway. Two weeks before I was in Rio and the experience was very similar. What greeted me was a noisy, dirty, and frenetic environment. Also, while there are some interesting buildings in the area, these jewels seemed lost by the canyons of Wall Street. Drawings and paintings from three hundred years ago depict beaches in what is now Downtown Rio and Lower Manhattan. However, landfill has extended both. Oddly enough, places Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo da antiga Sé (1808) in Rio and St. Paul’s Chapel (1764) are icons of era’s long gone. While pockets of calmness exist in each, today both Rio and New York City can both be accurately described as bustling metropolises.
Adapting – Shifting Gears
After a ten hour ride, I stagger out of the plane, on through Customs, and finally get to where ground transportation can be gotten. Many bright signs abound and people are speaking predominately Portuguese. Here is where my mind acts like my Klein road bike. The outer crank ring is for difficult terrain, while the inner ring is most often used to increase speed on flat surfaces or descending mountains or hills. Hence, my brain needs to shift back and forth to deal with real-life situations like finding places to eat, traveling within the environment, and shopping. Also, it pays to do your homework. For example, knowing if you are going to take a taxi, bus, rent-a-car, or train from the airport to where you are visiting. On this trip I waited just outside the airport doors for a shuttle that would transport me to the rental car park. This exercise had my outer ring engaged because my command of the Portuguese language is fair at best, and even though I can read the signs, it was not easy adapting to the new environment.
Need – Food
As the old saying goes “man does not live by bread alone” is never truer than when visiting faraway places. Thus learning how to read a menu is key. Regarding my preferences, since I do not eat fish then the section that prints out the word peixe is passed over, and my eyes then focus on the sections that denote desirable choices that include frango (chicken), carne (meat), and pasta. Being able to order beverages is also important and a popular one is agua mineral com gas (sparkling water). Since a boor in New York City is the same as a boor in Rio, good table manners are essential, so por favor (please) is always used when ordering a beverage or food. As a fallback one can ask for a menu in English, which is also fine, but the idea of blending-in with the locals will not happen. For example, ordering pastel’s (empanadas) that are filled with cheese, meat, or shrimp can be a nice way of starting a meal off with local fair. Likewise, ordering feijoada (pork & beef stew) with farofa (maize) on a Saturday can be a life changing experience, and a well-made feijoada is worth seeking out. Bottom line, the more effort a person puts into understanding how to behave and what is on the menu, the greater their chances of enjoying the local cuisine. Please Note: $1.00 U.S.D = Approximately 3 Brazilian Real
Need – Traveling within the Destination
On this trip my smartphone was always on, but tucked out of sight because in Rio this type of device is the one most often targeted by thieves. Accordingly, I printed the slated destinations back home to better prepare. Some travel was to be done by foot, while most was done by bus or car. On one day trip, the notary was close by the place I was staying, so walking made the most sense. Conversely, another notary was located Downtown, which meant a bus would be the most efficient means of transportation. Again, one must be very careful not only to be cognizant of possible crime areas, but also the spelling of certain words. For example, the bus that denoted “Centro” was correct, while the one that displayed “Central” was not because the former is meant to reach Downton, while the latter’s final destination is the central bus despot. While my initial reaction was to flag down any bus that displayed a “C”, something inside made me take a second or two to look closer at the following letters to see if “entro” were the letters to follow. Hence, if the correct bus was spotted, it was then flagged down, and the proper fair (About 4 Real in this case) in-hand enabled me to have a stress free journey to Downtown. As a result, now my actions when traveling within local destinations are to read carefully and then ask someone if still in question before I jump on a bus or train. Being quick to react is sometimes a good thing, but making sure you end-up at where you want to go, while choosing the safest and, or most efficient route should take precedence.
Need – Shopping
I was under the assumption that this would be the easiest need to deal with, but I was wrong because of factors like variety, price per-pound, and price per-item that had to be dealt with.
Variety: Here is where visiting a foreign country becomes both fun and confusing. For example, I found a wonderful fruit called kaki that has a unique flavor and is never found at the shops frequented back home. Also, cuts of beef like picanha are most flavorful, but are not common in the United States. All in all, the mind gets hit with new information (e.g., different cuts of meat, local catch, etc.) that it must process and ultimately act upon.
Price Per-Pound: It would be quite easy to walk around the store and type-in numbers into my smartphone, but that to me would be acting lazy. One kilogram (kilo) is equal to 2.2 pounds. For example, a brie that I wanted to purchase was 23 Real for the slab, but the price per-kilo was 80 Real. A ballpark number meant a price of approximately 12 (USD) per-pound. No great bargain because inflation in Brazil is running at a 9% clip for the year, so prices for most food products can be felt by consumers when they get to the register.
Price Per-Item: When visiting a foreign destination, one should be prepared for sticker shock. It is common for many counties to levy import duties or taxes on foreign goods to protect domestic markets. For example, I went into a high-end spirits shop and spotted a single bottle of California IPA that I often drink. Realization, the price was 30 Real, which was six times of what I normally pay back home. Needless to say I gravitated to the local brands brewed in Petropolis. One day I had to go to a drugstore in Leblon to replace a stick of deodorant that ran out. No issue in finding the same brand, but there was one noticeable difference from my last U.S. purchase, the price. While this same product fetched about 4 (USD.) back home, it was listed as 30 Real on the shelf, which was about two-and-half times the price. Caveat emptor.
On this trip, as many in the past to Brazil, my wife was there when I needed help. She is fluent in Portuguese and knows Rio like the back of her hand. Needless to say it is nice to have someone to lean on when you are sinking. In bicycle hardware terms, her thought process is like the rear cassette that contains 10-speeds, so her mind works in a far more linear fashion by being able to make smaller adjustments to deal with real world situations. Again, our brains are all wired a certain way, and react differently regarding different situations. As for any observations on this trip? First, do your research (e.g., places to eat, local traveling, shopping, etc.) on the destination you are planning to visit. Second, try to blend-in as much as possible, so not to garner too much attention. Three, be as courteous as possible to others around you.
Below are the various studies that comprise the Human Behavior (HB) series.
HB 1.0 (How Interaction has Changed Since 2000)
HB 2.0 (Isolation from the Physical World)
HB 3.0 (New Testing Methods to Access Human Behavioral Changes due to Digital Devices)
HB 4.0 (Acceptance/Banter/Virtual Silos)
HB 5.0 (From Hand Axe to Smartphone) with Don Moyer Drawings
HB 6.0 (Overuse, Over Dependency, and Addiction)
HB 7.0 (Dinner for One and Two AC Outlets for my Digital Devices) with Gary Nellis Insights
HB 8.0 (Wearable Tech Trends)
The content contained in this self-funded report may not be used unless authorized by the author. Date: July 1, 2015
R. Russell Ruggiero
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