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Brazil may be a world player and it may have a bigger economy than the UK but Britons remain pretty ignorant about the South American nation.

According to a British Council questionnaire published yesterday, nearly two thirds of Britons don’t know that the capital of Brazil is Brasilia, the same number don’t know that Brazil is one of the world’s top 10 economies and more than a third don’t realise that Brazilians speak Portuguese.

On the positive side, less than a quarter know that Gisele Bündchen is a model. The rest have no interest at all in knowing the names of stick thin women who get paid millions just because they were fortunate enough to have good genes.

It’s an alarming but understandable ignorance. Brazil was not an important nation until recently and its fame was for football and carnival and favelas.

As the British Council pointed out:

“Historically, Brazil has had a relatively low level of engagement with UK cultural institutions, artists, producers and entrepreneurs.  As Brazil develops as a major economic and political world power, both the UK and Brazil are committed to further developing a long term strategic relationship that will deliver mutual benefits and create new opportunities to strengthen relationships between the two nations.”

The full press release is here.


One of the biggest complaints I hear from ordinary Brazilians is that foreigners associate Brazil with the same old stereotypical images. They blame the foreign press for selling those images abroad.

– Gringos think Brazil is either favelas, beaches or jungle.

– Gringos think all Brazilian women are sex maniacs in tiny bikinis.

– Gringos think everyone here spends their days playing football, dancing samba or lying on the beach.

I hardly need stress that those are grotesque cliches.

But it’s not the foreign press that perpetuate those stereotypes. It’s Brazilians themselves. In fact, Brazil makes a point of selling those images overseas.

The best example of that came in the Olympic closing ceremony, where Brazil was represented, and not unfairly, by a samba-ing bin man and dancing indians. The background was the promenade at Copacabana beach. Pele appeared.

I tweeted this at the time:

Nunca mais quero ouvir Brasileiro reclamando que gringo acha que Brazil ‘e so samba e carnaval e indio…

and got a huge response from Brazilians who seemed to agree.

(The tweet says: “I never again want to hear Brazilians complaining that gringos think Brazil is all about samba and carnival and indians.”)

Further cliches abound in a song released this week to celebrate Rio de Janeiro taking the Olympic mantle from London.

The song is called Os Deuses do Olimpo Visitam o Rio de Janeiro, or The Olympic Gods Visit Rio de Janeiro. It features many of the city’s best known musicians and some of its most famous personalities. (Although curiously, there are no sportsmen or women involved.)

The video is great, with amazing pictures of the city.

The problem is that it’s full of the same old cliches Brazilians say they hate. Samba. Favelas. Beaches. Christ the Redeemer. Football.

They chorus is even that tiresome phrase: Rio de Janeiro continua lindo, or Rio de Janeiro is still beautiful.

The point I want to make here is not that these cliches are untrue. Like all cliches, they have their roots in reality.

The point is that Brazilians can’t have it all ways. You either come up with some new ways to sell the city and the country or you accept that people are going to associate Brazil with samba, beaches, scantily clad dancers and kids playing football in favelas.

Personally, I think the strategy makes total sense. I don’t see the problem with concentrating on your strengths.

Rio’s favelas are iconic. The country’s football players are the best in the world. The beaches are beautiful. Samba and carnival are both spectacular and seductive. Christ and Sugarloaf are unbeatable postcard images. And who doesn’t find Brazilian women charming and attractive?

Enjoy these things, they are what make Brazil so unique.

Just relax and let the world will enjoy them too. And don’t blame me if gringos can’t see past them.

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