RIO, DE JENIERO – Wagner de Aguiar is acting like a big baby, but the women do not seem to mind.
Standing about 6 feet (1.83 m) tall, dripping with sweat and wearing nothing but a diaper, flip-flops and an afro wig, he struggles to recount the number of women he kissed in the day.
“I lost track, but I think it’s about eight or nine,” he said, the clock ticking 2 p.m. A few minutes later, a passing woman playfully asks if she can change his diaper, and he is at it again.
This is a typical scene at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, where hordes of young Brazilians gather for raucous street-parties marked by free-flowing beer, loud samba music and the widely shared goal of kissing as many people as possible.
Contrary to a common stereotype, Brazil is a socially conservative nation, its culture rooted in Catholic tradition.
For example, skimpy bikinis are fine, but going topless at the beach is not done. Homosexuals often face prejudice.
Many view the five-day festival as the one chance to enjoy a bit of hedonism before the solemn period of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
Some locals measure that freedom in kisses, competing with their friends to see who can smooch 10, 20, even 30 different people in a single outing. While men tend to be more open about it, interviews showed women were no different, just more discreet.
“Of course, girls compete too,” said 18-year-old Rio native Isabela Melo. “People don’t usually go around kissing everyone because society is judgmental, but it’s different during Carnival.”
For those unaccustomed to this local ritual, which sometimes skips the formality of an introduction in favor of a loud grunt or a tug on the arm, it can take some getting used to.
“Sometimes they’ll just grab you, and right away they want to stick their tongue down your throat,” said Laurie Lee Hendrix, a 21-year-old from Oxford, Mississippi. “It’s quite the opposite of a southern gent.”
Gentlemen may be in short supply during Carnival because many feel they are in a race against time. Jarbas Biagi, a 27-year-old dressed in dainty fairy wings, was almost ashamed to admit he only had gotten one kiss.
“Everyone makes fun of you if you don’t kiss anyone,” he said. “You get extra points if you manage to kiss a girl through the window on a passing bus … but basically its quantity, not quality.”
Those struggling will always find others willing to help. If the crowd’s attention latches onto a couple who are close to having a special, intimate moment, chants of “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” will build into a roar until their lips finally meet and the crowd erupts in cheers.
Most Carnival kisses do not come with expectations for anything beyond that moment. Sometimes they end with the exchange of contact information, but often the couple parts with little more than a “tchau” as the next target is identified.
“It’s fantastic; it’s like everyone is on heat,” said 27-year-old Londoner Jack Taylor as he scanned the crowd. “I still haven’t kissed like a handshake yet, but I will.”
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