Brazilian directors are known for gritty portrayals of urban life. Think Fernando Meirelles (2002’s City of God) or José Padilha (the Elite Squad films). The country’s bankable movie stars include Rodrigo Santoro (known in the U.S. for Love Actually and 300) and Giovanna Antonelli, who’s starring in the year’s biggest domestic hit, the cruise-ship comedy S.O.S. Mulheres ao Mar (”Women at Sea”).
The country’s most famous export (sorry, Gisele), Havaianas flip-flops, below, were introduced in 1962. Approximately eight pairs are produced each second, and the brand’s São Paulo flagship store is a must on any tourist’s itinerary, with its contemporary design by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld.
Paulo Coelho — who wrote the adored 1988 novel The Alchemist — is the best-known Brazilian author, having sold more than 150 million books worldwide. But locally there’s lots of love for Marcelo Rossi — a popular priest (and pop star) who wrote 2010’s Agape — and Joyce Cavalcante, who pens erotic novels like 2001’s provocatively titled O Cão Chupando Manga (”The Devil Sucking Mango”).
Brazil has signature dishes both savory and sweet — like, say, pastéis (a fried pastry stuffed with ground meat, shredded chicken, salted cod, or melted cheese) and Mil Frutas ice cream, available in more than 100 flavors, including açai berry and tomato. But for a true taste of Rio, nothing beats the national cocktail, the caipirinha, made with cachaça (a rum-like spirit), limes, sugar, and plenty of ice. Sip and repeat.
Even if you can’t speak Portuguese, you’d probably recognize familiar TV tropes while channel surfing. There’s Zorra Total (a sketch show à la SNL), Dança dos Famosos (Dancing With the Stars), Malhação (a.k.a. the Baywatch of Brazil), and Amor à Vida. (With a plot similar to Revenge, Amor caused a nationwide stir in February when it broadcast Brazil’s first televised gay kiss.)
Graffiti has been elevated to an art form in Brazil — thanks mainly to artists Os Gêmeos (that’s ”the Twins” in Portuguese). Raised in the favelas of São Paulo and influenced by the underdog lyrics of American hip-hop, the artists created striking and sympathetic pieces, painting the way for the Dutch duo Haas & Hahn, who famously colored a decaying slum in Rio with optimistic rainbow tones.
There’s more to Brazilian music than bossa nova. In fact, most youths there listen to sertanejo, acoustic-oriented country music rooted in the agricultural interior. Michel Teló’s 2011 single ”Ai Se Eu Te Pego” (”Oh, If I Catch You”) hit No. 1 on iTunes in more than 20 countries. The genre’s reigning queen is Paula Fernandes, whose massive fan base now includes Taylor Swift (the two collaborated on a Brazilian remix of ”Long Live”). On the pop side of things, there’s Claudia Leitte, who has sold more than one million solo albums and is featured with Pitbull and J. Lo on the official World Cup song.