I have been dying to write this post for months, but decided to leave it for a while until I was confident enough. in the meantime, I started writing a small book about living in Brazil in case anyone wants to venture into the developing world for a few years. The points in this post are not included in the book.
The idea came after I read a post originally posted in Gringoes.com containing 20 reasons the author hated living in Brazil. The list grew to 66 reasons after the readers added items to the list and was finally translated and published in other Brazilian media channels. I personally agree with several of the items, especially the first three, but also think the author was a little unfair. So, I decided to write my own list with some of the things you have to get used to if you want to live in Brazil.
1. Insecurity: Brazilians are terribly insecure. If you are a translator, like me, you must have seen the horrible attacks on anyone that publishes job opportunities for native speakers, for example. Although this is a standard request for any translation outside Brazil, they seem to believe they should be priority when someone wants a translation in a language other than Portuguese in Brazil. If they do not want a Brazilian teacher translator then by golly they are not getting anything. Would you prefer a Japanese native to teach you Japanese or someone from another country? Exactly. Their reaction to any insinuated or direct fault is violent. And there is no point trying to convince them otherwise. It only gets worse. The women are also particularly insecure (jealousy). Most of my foreign acquaintances who married Brazilian women can no longer have friends outside their wife´s social cycle. The worse part is that is seems to physically hurt them when they are confronted with their insecurities. If you want to continue being that person’s friend, you have to accept it. No way around it. For them, it is always personal.
2. Invasion of personal space: The first time I visited Bahia, I remember being in an ice-cream parlour trying to ask the attendant for a specific flavour. Someone came up behind me and leaned their chin on my shoulder, from behind, and said “they don´t have that flavour here”. Although this type of invasion is not so common in large cities, there are times you will feel people just get too close even while waiting in line. If you are a reserved type, it can be hard to get used to. Other space invasion problems include private parking space invasion, frequent home visits for no particular reason, the inability to realize when someone wants to be alone or not talk, and other awkward situations.
3. Rejection of anything nature-related or “dirty”: One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Brazil was how people seemed to reject anything related to nature. While trees, bushes, and lawns are welcome in most countries, here they are avoided like the plague. I have seen garden lawns cemented ruthlessly, leaving only the leafless trees in place, perfectly beautiful trees sawn down to the stump, totally tree-less streets in super hot towns, wall-to-wall white ceramic tiling even in bedrooms (for some reason natural finishing or decoration is not an option) and other weird preferences. I suppose my mother gave me the best reason for this: in a country surrounded by nature, it is only natural that people reject it. Maybe…. but how else can you cool down the hot Brazilian summer if it´s not in the shade? If you do happen to have a tree in front of your house, trust me, people will sit and stand under it, but they will never think of planting one in front of their own houses.
4. Inability to adapt to the environment: this takes us to the south, the coldest region of Brazil. Even in the poorest home in Argentina, people have stoves, heaters, even a fireplace to keep warm. Natural gas is piped into homes and cheap. There is a whole system to protect people from the cold that everyone considers standard when building a home. Not in the south. I have seen people put alcohol in cans and throw a match in to keep their homes warm (some actually died) or stay in bed almost half the day to keep warm. My husband decided to cut and sell wood and we bought a salamander to keep warm when we lived there, which we had to install. People who lived there would pass our home and laugh; we were the local joke. People from other regions who could not take the cold, bought all our firewood. In the north, other than air conditioning, people have no idea how to keep their homes cool. There are no white washed walls to reflect the sunlight or small shuttered windows to keep the hot air out. They leave that *** wide open. Trying to convince a Brazilian that a dark, shaded home is a cool home is like trying to prevent them from using those nasty roof tiles that absorb all that heat and increase global warming.
5. Inflexibility: this takes us to their inability to accept that there are different ways of doing things. Depending on where you live, people will come and give you all types of standards and rules of conduct and appearance. In São Paulo, for example, I was told only criminals wear hats (baseball caps are ok because they are all-American), although most people have no idea how to play baseball. I was also told which verbs to use, although the verbs I had chosen were actually correct (botar vs colocar, for example). Other crazy inflexibilities are builders insisting on placing staircases outside the home or saying arches are not used.
6. Total lack of civic/social awareness/duty: a lot of people talk about their rights, but few are aware of their duties (or their real rights). Duties include not throwing your old sofa out into the middle of the street or your empty chip wrapper out the bus window. It also means not transforming the pavement for your own purposes and ignoring that others might slip and break their necks on the ceramic flooring you used or may not be able to pass with a pram or wheelchair. These are all common sights in Brazil. Since the city council comfortably transferred its duty to tend to the pavements to the residents or shop owners, each resident can do as they please, and they do, believe me. Returning to the rubbish problem, I have been to birthday parties where EVERYONE simple dropped their plastic cups on the lawn after use. Go to a concert in Brazil after everyone has left and see the amazing amount of rubbish people leave behind. I have never ever seen that in any other country. Only in Brazil. Vandalizing anything remotely civilized is also common (rubbish cans, bus stops, public toilets, etc.).
7. The inability to speak up: for those who have travelled around and know how a society is supposed to act, the courage to speak up and complain is just not there. I have tried so many times to explain that rubbish does not go out the window only to get nasty sneers or looks of absolutely astonishment. Sociologists say this is because Brazilians are collectivist, which means they act as a collectivity and never independently. If one screws up, they feel they can or will all screw up, too. If one acts a specific way, they want to act that way, too. Another tell tale sign of collectivist societies is queuing up. Stand outside any shop looking as if you were waiting for something or queuing up and you will soon see someone standing behind you. No one asks, they just queue up. I´ve done it twice and it never fails. Sometimes the person doesn´t even want to go into that shop or bank, but they still queue up.
8. Disrespect toward others in general: curiously, Brazilians tend to disrespect anything that is not intimately related to them. While they are very friendly and have time for you if you need help, they do strange things like push passed you when you open a door, jump queues, and generally try to take advantage of any situation for purely personal benefit, …. there is a human element, but there is no social element. If they do not personally identify with you, if there is no personal connection, no matter how slight, they don´t care. There is no sense of being Brazilian, there is only a sense of being me and my family and friends, and what I consider important. There is no overall concern for surroundings or people. That, combined with the inability to speak up, is the main reason for the paralysing corruption Brazilians are facing.