Last month we embarked on our first international family adventure to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yes, the beach destination best known for barely-there swimwear, steamy Carnival festivities and dance-until-dawn-nightlife scene. Probably not top of mind for a family vacation. However, the upcoming host of both the World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016 has been building up infrastructure, working to drop crime rates and generally ensure that the city is safer for all visitors.
I was less concerned about crime and more wrapped up in the logistics: visas, passports, making copies of our son’s birth certificate, and checking with our pediatrician about additional vaccines (none required since we weren’t venturing into the jungle). And, while the 10-hour plus flight felt imposing with a toddler (could I possibly pack enough snacks?), the time change (two hours ahead) was reasonable, making this destination seem possible for our experiment in family travel.
This possibility became a reality when we checked in for our TAM Airlines flight, and passed through the looking glass into the magical realm of Brazilian hospitality towards families. As the priority boarding announcement for passengers with disabilities and families was made we listened passively. These announcements seem perfunctory on domestic flights, and go largely ignored. The Brazilians however take this stuff seriously, and all but pushed us to the front of the line. The flight attendants cooed and fawned over our son. And during our trip a flight attendant was bouncing a toddler up and down the aisles as if it were just a routine part of his job.
The Brazilians, it turns out, are crazy for kids. There are priority lines for families at sightseeing spots and airports. And people stopped to engage our son, everywhere––from a doorman frantically waving to get Soren’s attention to the cab driver who reached back to play with him at every single stoplight. It wasn’t just us. I spoke with a friend who was in Rio with his three children recently, and he too was absolutely blown away by the consideration his family received.
I’m not someone who expects preferential treatment just because I have a child, but it was an incredible thing to witness a society that acknowledges even its smallest citizens. It made me realize how the focus in the US is largely on the “productive members”, whereas the Brazilians seem to regard people of all ages. It makes for a huge cultural difference.This open-arm welcome at restaurants, in stores and pretty much everywhere we went made relaxing and enjoying that much easier. Of course, as with any solid adventure, there were the low points: the camera broke on the first day so we documented with the iPhone; save for one afternoon, the beach was closed for swimming (raw sewage in the water!); and our son can only sit for about 15 minutes at any restaurant.
But, none of this detracted from the adventure. We did it. We navigated long flights, language barriers, mystery dining experiences and our own fears about venturing outside of our comfort zones as parents. Which, as I’m finding, is at the heart of this parenting thing, a realization I will happily blame on Rio.