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Seven Things I’ve Learnt about Carnival after Living in São Paulo for Five Years

1)  You can expect to see a naked woman on your TV screen in the run-up to carnival…at all hours of the day

Earlier this year, as I tucked into my breakfast at my local bakery, on the TV screen in front of me I saw HER. I’m talking about THAT woman who invades the screens every year leading up to and during carnival….dancing the samba completely naked!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this unique carnival tradition here, Globeleza is the name given to the character who annually promotes Rede Globo TV’s carnival schedule.

Much has been made of this woman being on TV at all hours of the day; mainly it seems, by me. You see, most Brazilians I know don’t bat an eyelid whenever they see Globeleza.

“But children will be watching her in the mornings and….well, she is only wearing body paint and a smile!” I seem to have this conversation with my friends every year and they usually responded with the same dead pan expression, “This is carnival Andrew, who cares?”

“Well back in the UK, at this time we have Peppa Pig on TV, not some woman with her ass and boobs jiggling about in time to some samba music!”

“Oh Andrew!” They usually smirk, “You’re such a prude!”

2) Getting out of São Paulo on the day of carnival is soul destroying


São Paulo isn’t really known for its carnival, and the roads leading out of the city the Friday it starts are a testament to this. A few years ago I was with a group of people who made the mistake of travelling on this Friday as soon as everyone was done with work. The journey to the beach we took usually takes one hour, but on this day it took us almost six. That’s six frustrating hours of sitting in a car that didn’t move a whole lot.

Literally millions take to the roads to get out of São Paulo as soon as they’re done with work. Actually, you could be forgiven for thinking people are fleeing the city at this time instead of going on a pleasant break for a few days. If ever São Paulo looks like those scenes in Independence Day where people wake up to see a massive spaceship above them, then try to leave the city at the same time (to escape death), well…this is it! So now when people tell me they’d rather stay in Sao Paulo than travel, I can understand why.

3) Not all Brazilians like carnival

“I’m just going to relax at home and enjoy how empty Sao Paulo is” many of my students have told me over the years. I won’t lie, when I first heard people say this I used to look at them suspiciously and wonder what was wrong with them. Carnival is definitely not sold to us abroad as a time that Brazilians would want to stay at home, do some DIY or just watch TV!

bored-baby-1284This might seem like an obvious thing to be saying, but not all Brazilians embrace carnival as a time to party. For a lot of residents of São Paulo, they liked carnival once, but once is not now. Not now marriage, kids and other family commitments feature so heavily in their lives.

But what does this mean São Paulo is like during its five day carnival celebration? Well, I stayed in the city last year and it felt like a different place, one I can imagine being ideal for those with families. There aren’t massive queues in restaurants, roads are pretty empty and you’re not likely to get elbowed as you step onto the metro.

But with so many people travelling during carnival, what does this mean for the city’s carnival spirit?

4) Carnival here can be a whole lot of fun, if that’s what you want!

tumbleweed_sizedLast year I was under the impression that São Paulo’s carnival scene would be lame. In fact, this is the sort of thing many here told me to expect. When I told one of my students I was going to be staying in the city for carnival he looked at me in exquisite pity. “Oh Andrew” he replied (as if I’d just told him I was going through a tough family bereavement) “I thought you’d be going to Rio or Salvador, that’s the place to be for carnival if you like to party”. I knew where he was coming from, some of my favourite moments of my time in Brazil have been during carnival in Rio. The event definitely lives up to the hype directed at it.

But he had been quick to overlook Sao Paulo as a decent place to party because the carnival scene here is very much alive and kicking…you just need to know where to look! If you decide to throw yourselves into the thick of the carnival events in São Paulo, you will find there is a whole lot of fun to be had.

But let me go back a little; just how do people have fun during carnival?

5) Carnival isn’t an event that starts and finishes at the sambadrome (the exhibition place for the samba schools during carnival)

Before coming to Brazil I’d seen images of carnival on TV and naturally assumed the event was all focused around floats and Brazilians in colorful costumes at the sambadrome.


But in fact it isn’t, or at least, it isn’t for everyone. Whilst this televised event at the sambadrome pulls in thousands (and provides great Instagram opportunities with an array of dancers, colours and elaborate float designs parading in front of you), a number of people in the city gravitate to the streets for events known as blocos. These can go on for hours, with people in an array of colorful costumes, dancing behind moving vans . These vans usually have speaker systems or sometimes even bands on the back of them.

I discovered last year that the blocos in São Paulo during carnival don’t disappoint. However if you’re planning to experience the best of carnival in the city, I’d recommend getting here the weekend before it officially starts….because pre-carnival weekend is definitely one not to be missed!

6) The weekend before carnival in São Paulo

Economically speaking, São Paulo is the beating heart of Brazil. There are a lot of people putting in some ridiculously long hours at the office and many of these are looking to let off some serious steam come the weekend. Perhaps for this reason, the residents of São Paulo certainly know how to let their hair down and party. Many will travel out of town during the carnival, but most will be around the weekend before it starts.

So if you throw a lot of Brazilians who know how to party together, add a bit of carnival spirit and put on some very popular blocos… well, then you have a recipe for a great weekend! Saturday sees the Bloco Do Sargento Pimenta take to the streets (see the video below), which is a unique blend of Brazilian rhythms and Beatles songs. If you’re a foreigner without a whole lot of knowledge of Brazilian carnival music, this band from Rio is likely to be the only one playing songs you will know all of the words to! Then on the Sunday it is the turn of Acadêmicos do Baixo Augusta, another bloco not to be missed. This one is held on one of São Paulo’s most alternative streets, and this year it is expected to draw as many as 80,000 people.

And this brings me onto the final thing I’ve learnt about carnival celebrations.

7)  What happens in carnival stays in carnival

This one really needs no explanation!

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