Almost a month into my time here in Rio and I'm finally getting used to the everyday differences that make Rio so unique. With new friends, and new favourite spots, I'm definitely getting to grips with my new Carioca lifestyle. However, living in a brand new country doesn't come without its culture shocks and for me there were three that really stood out:

culture shocks in rioThe landscapes of Rio are uniquely spectacular, but the city isn't without its culture shocks


Whether it’s a prearranged meeting or simply queuing at the till in the supermarket, the Carioca pace is a shock to the system. Here in Rio, being half an hour late means being precisely on time, and it seems that no one is ever in a hurry. When waiting for a new friend of mine on the street corner for half an hour, I wondered if I had misunderstood him, or perhaps got the wrong day. However, when I explained the situation to a passerby, wondering if I had the wrong address, she simply replied: "No! You’re in Rio, what do you expect!"

After that, I quickly learnt that meeting up at “7 o’clock” never actually results in arriving at 7, much more likely 7:30 - 8:00. Yet it is not just arriving on time, it’s Rio’s pace in general which takes some getting used to - the city seems to function on a more relaxed rhythm. When waiting at the local supermarket checkout, my brother and I had to suppress the very British urge to grumble about the lack of urgency when both staff and customers were simply taking their time. It’s the same when taking the metro, for example - in comparison with the chaos I’m used to in London, here in Rio there doesn’t seem to be any manic rush to get on. Although at first such a change in pace can be slightly frustrating, once you accept it you can just relax and enjoy the pleasure of rarely having to be in a rush.

culture shocks in rioThe relaxed beachgoing culture transfers into all aspects of Rio life


I am a complete foodie and Brazil was always an attraction to me due its famous culinary culture. However, on arrival I could have never predicted the mountainous portions you receive when eating out. To begin with, we didn’t realise that sides in Rio are always shared, therefore if you order a side of chips, for example, you will receive enough to feed four. However, even when assured that the dish is for one person, it is still enormous.

To my complete delight, every restaurant we’ve been to so far has been more than willing to allow us to take the remainder of the meal home with us, resulting in a couple of very economic meals to follow. Rio’s bufê livre was another culinary revelation for me. Although not particularly common in the UK, buffets are everywhere here and the quality of food, on the whole, is incredibly high.

However, with such an array of delicious food, it is easy to get overexcited. My brother and I predictably piled on the food to an extraordinary height only to find the surrounding Cariocas with plates filled with healthy portions, half the size of ours. We once again left with our shorts’ buttons popping. Whatever the portion size, Rio’s food, in general, is fantastic.

culture shocks in rioThe dizzying Carioca nightlife is unlike anything you will have experienced before


Rio’s nightlife is bursting at the seams, and I’m sure I have barely scratched the surface. Up until now, my Rio nights out have been a lot of fun and completely unique to anything I’ve experienced before. Instead of going out to a particular bar or nightclub, everyone seems to congregate in Rio’s communal spaces, first in order to grab a slightly more affordable drink off the street venders.

A popular spot in which to meet up is Lapa’s Selaron Steps. Known as one of Rio’s top sights during the day, it becomes host to Cariocas and tourists aplenty at night. During the weekend, the steps are full to the brim with partygoers and the atmosphere is incredibly exciting. A similar situation occurs on Monday nights at Pedra do Sal, where hundreds of samba lovers form huge crowds in order to see the samba da mesa in the tiny plaza. On arrival it looks very similar to the Selaron steps: everyone mingling on the hill in order to catch a glimpse of the samba below.

Although many meet outside in these street parties in order to go elsewhere, to a club or a bar for example, it is very easy to get swept up in the atmosphere and spend the entire night dancing on the streets and chatting with some young Cariocas, who could even, if you’re as lucky as I was, share with you some essential samba tips.

By: Lucy Gavan, student of Spanish and Portuguese culture at the University of Bristol in England, currently living in Rio as part of an exchange programme with Rdj4u.