According to linguists, the term Carioca, as locals call themselves, is not derived from the word Rio, as in carioca. It is actually a Tupi Indian term (kara'i oca), roughly meaning "white house", or "house of whites" (see history ). That's how they called the houses built by the Portuguese. For some reason, eventually the Portuguese started thinking of themselves as Cariocas.
You don't have to be born in Rio to be a Carioca. All you have to do is relax into the city lifestyle, and soon you will become one. There are some basics you should learn first, though, if you want to make friends with locals, that is.
The most important is that time is a flexible concept in Rio. Unless you are talking business meetings, half an hour late means perfectly on time. If you don't understand this, you will live on the verge of a nervous breakdown while in the city, sure that everybody is trying to leave you behind.
There's another trait that is hard for visitors to figure out. Cariocas are a friendly breed, and they don't mind engaging in a conversation with perfect strangers. But when a Carioca says something like "I'll call you later", "Call me later", "Show up at my place", or "I'll meet you at the club tonight" they don't necessarily mean it. Maybe they're just being polite. Another Carioca wouldn't give it a second thought. But if you're an out-of-towner and it happens to you, it can be quite frustrating. Just don't take it personally, and always keep a Plan B.
Brazilians are not Hispanic in the true sense of the word, but they share many Latin traces with their cousins. Cariocas have nothing against touching each other - two kisses on the cheeks is how boys and girls greet in informal situations. Young jiu-jitsu athletes, used to rolling in the tatami against each other, sometimes kiss their peers in the mouth, in a sign of camaraderie without any gay connotation. If you cringe every time someone touches you, you're in for a shock therapy.
Rio is Brazil's cultural capital, and few people are more cosmopolitan than Cariocas. No matter how urban and sophisticated your new friends may seem, though, chances are they follow a TV novela. Turn your set to Rede Globo anytime between 6 and 9 p.m. to see what we are talking about. You will enjoy deliciously campy sitcoms, in a language you do not understand. It is unbelievably fun.
Brazilians have an inborn passion for soccer, that was adapted even to the volleyball net. At the beaches many athletes practice what is known as futevolei, where you are not allowed to touch the ball with your hands. Samba, the Carnival beat, is still a favorite - even if under some alternative label as axe-music or pagode.
With the urban favelas, working class communities on hills, learning to share space with people with different cultural and social values is a survival skill. At the beach it is hard to tell if the beauty in the bikini or the sun-kissed Adonis came from one of the US$1 million apartment across the street, or from a shack in the nearby hill. This pout-pourri lends locals their character and charm.
Throughout its history, Rio has welcomed waves of immigrants from all over the world. People with different religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds have long ago learned how to live peacefully with each other. More than that, how to interact.
Most everybody shares in common European, African and Native Brazilian roots. A typical Carioca is born Catholic, but that does not stop them from keeping an image of the Buda with the back turned to the main door for good luck, or from being blessed by a Candomble priestess on New Year's celebration at Copacabana beach.
According to a survey carried out by a U.S. magazine in 2003, Rio is the friendliest city in the world. Cariocas were the most helpful people in everyday situations such as when a stranger asked for information, dropped a pen, or had problems crossing a street.A local newspaper once did a similar test. They had a reporter impersonate a tourist, and ask a police officer in the street for information in English. Most cops here are not bilingual, but they went our of their way trying to understand what was being asked, and always ended up finding someone willing to be the interpreter... This only helps to prove that the people play a major role in making Rio the Wonderful City.