Posted in No Politics Friday on May 22nd, 2014 by Ed

Fun fact: the original title of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen was First Impressions, which the publisher changed after concluding that it was insufficiently snappy.

My first impression of Brazil is that it shares an important characteristic with the American South: a tendency to consider things that make no sense charming or otherwise integral to the character of the place. Things open and close randomly, websites contain no information for the prospective traveler (and what information is posted is unlikely to be accurate or timely), and there is little expectation of logic applying to anything. For the longtime resident, the fact that Brasilia has no addresses is not relevant. For a visitor – and certainly a city of 2 million that fancies itself a Major City should expect those, right? – the lack of information is goddamn baffling.

A brief example: the city has an extensive bus system. There are literally thousands of them. They are everywhere and everyone rides them. What the bus system does not have, however, is a map. I am serious. I have asked people who have lived here their whole lives, tourists who have been here for weeks and months, police, random strangers, bus drivers…nobody has ever seen a map. I went to the main bus station and the offices of the transit department, and it appears to have never occurred to them to have a map. So, for example, the airport website can tell me that buses 102 and 102.1 go to the airport. However, I have no way of knowing what routes those two buses travel on. Which stops can I wait at to get them? What major streets do they use? Nobody knows. You just have to know.

A minor complaint from a stuck up American traveler, right? The problem is that this city is weeks away from hosting as many as half a million foreign visitors for the World Cup. Brazil seems to be confused about whether it is a major industrialized country or a developing third world one. If I went to the Sudan I would expect no information to be available about anything. However, if I went to Germany, Australia, Japan, Singapore, or Mexico I would expect at least a half-useful paper map if not information online. Obviously Brazil would prefer to think of itself like the latter group of countries and not like Sudan. But the little things (and there are a lot of little issues like this) set it apart.

That is my first impression. Brazil is an incredible place with first world wealth (and the accompanying first world inequality) and some third world habits. I am excited to see more of it.

And before you use the comments to explain to me like I am retarded how I should have found information about public transit, donĀ“t. This was a multi-month project involving several people including a research librarian who can find every piece of information about you online in about 90 seconds. And nobody found anything because, as I discovered when I arrived, there is no information to find. You just have to know.