“…being a carioca is, first and foremost, a state of mind.” As much as I would like to lay claim to this marvelous quote, to be fair I have to attribute it to the most carioca of all, Rio’s eternal poet laureate Vinicius de Moraes. No doubt, it’s a great quote, but what exactly is this exalted carioca state of mind so often heralded in song and verse?

As an ex-pat of Finnish descent with an inherent propensity for the melancholic and a healthy dose of Anglo-Saxon morality coursing through my veins, I’ve been determined to discover what makes cariocas tick and why they are so darn happy.

With that in mind, a few years back I set about penning a tongue-in-cheek guide to help the unwitting tourist blend in with the locals. At the time, still a bit wet behind the ears in the ways of the cariocas, I recall thinking fearfully: Will the inhabitants of the most incoherent city in the Milky Way banish this gringa for attempting to decipher their delightful rituals and idiosyncrasies?

As the local saying goes, I must have been born with my backside facing the moon. Besides the privilege of living in the city of a thousand charms, to have been embraced by even the most stalwart of cariocas in my unusual quest was a stroke of good luck. I wrote it for the tourists, but then the locals started laughing.

“Coé, doesn’t everybody invite someone over and not give them the address? Pó cara, I never realized that I toss my hair back and forth when I get out of the ocean.” “Ué, doesn’t everyone wear flip-flops when out on the town?” Apparently, it takes a foreigner’s eyes to see that which is blinded by the natives, those who are deadened by habit.

So, what is this carioca state of mind? Folks, there is nothing in this world that compares to it! Cariocas are passionate and not ashamed to be happy. They are creative and irreverent, never afraid to embrace the ridiculous. They make plans for tomorrow, just to forget them ten minutes later. They accept invitations, even if they aren’t going. They love to party and aren’t in a hurry for anything. So what’s the rush?

Cariocas wear their emotions on their sleeves. They live with enthusiasm and a sunny optimism, firmly convinced that the universe is essentially a benign entity. And above all, they believe that everything will take care of itself — and it does! Life is good, even if it isn’t.

The carioca spirit is indomitable. They know how to have fun, and it’s infectious. No one is immune. Being a carioca is loving your city unconditionally, even if you were not born here. And the more carioca you are, the more you love Rio. Yes, it was the French who coined the term joie de vivre, but it was the locals who perfected it.

There exists a perfect synergy between the locals and their environment, each defending and supporting the other vis-à-vis. All the senses are fed by the climate, the music, the samba, the food, the soccer, the beach, the spontaneous smiles, the constant wave of good humor that envelops the city. Rio welcomes you with open arms; it makes you feel happy. This is the essence of the carioca.

So whether you are a newcomer or a seasoned carioca at heart, I invite you to do as the locals do: just relax, put on a smile, slip into those flip-flops and flow in the positive energy that radiates from this outrageously charming city. Besides, there is always time for another choppinho or two — palavra de carioca.

Olhares Olímpicos – Originally published on 5 Aug 2016