Basic Survival Guidelines

Brazil is becoming the preferred destination for people seeking a drastic change of lifestyle, wanting to escape war, violence, stress, and persecution or simply find a better place to live and settle down or retire. Although Brazil has countless benefits and advantages, there are some things that you have to be ready for if you don‘t want to fall into other types of traps.

Even though the news shows increasing violence in Brazilian cities, it is not the impression you get when you first settle here. Whether you encounter violence later on all depends on following some basic rules of survival. The good thing is that there are rules and guidelines that can make life a lot easier here in contrast to there not being any, which would make the first years all the more difficult.

In my years in Brazil, 20 in all, I have travelled all over looking for the best place to live. To really get the feel of Brazil, I lived 7 years in the centre-south (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro regions), 5 years in the northeast (Bahia) and 4 years in the south (Santa Catarina). No final conclusions yet but one thing I do know is that each part of Brazil serves its purpose. If you need to work, can handle or like cities, want a better education for your kids and cannot bear living more than 5km from the nearest hypermarket, the centre-south is the best option. For those who seek the real feel of Brazil, the northeast is the answer. And, for the less brave who want to live in a tropical country but don‘t want too much contrast and lots of peace and quiet, the south is the best choice.

What is really surprising is the number of foreigners I came across that thought they would be happy in a particular Brazilian city or town and where bitterly disappointed. This is the reason for my article. There are some aspects of Brazilian culture you have to know about before embarking in this adventure. My intention is not to criticize but there are certain things that have to be acknowledged, no other way around it.

First of all, punctuality and order. Brazilians have no idea what this really means. In cities like São Paulo you may actually find this golden word mentioned somewhere but in a forced sometimes mimicked manner as if the executives sitting around the meeting room table were pretending to be in a movie-like American law firm. Punctuality is never something dependable or sacred like in Europe. Brazil is chaotic. There is little order in anything Brazilians do but if you learn to get used to it and, whenever possible, find ways to avoid that chaos, it can be bearable. For example, use and abuse of the wonders of internet banking. If you have to go the bank, get your passport renewed or stamped, or mail a letter, then go in the afternoon, at the end of the month, and/or to another smaller, quieter town. Whatever. I have found amazing ways of avoiding stress in such chaos.

Secondly, invitations and meeting people. Never assume that when a Brazilian invites you over, he or she actually means it. Brazilians seem to be outward, sociable people but are as lonely and alienated as the rest of the people around the world and are sometimes intimidated by foreigners, afraid they won‘t know what to talk about. They always invite you over but never expect or want you to actually comply. Most of the times, they forget or aren‘t at home at the arranged time. If you insist on waiting, you might not only have to find a comfy place to sit for hours but also find that your pseudo host arrives exhausted, distracted and genuinely surprised to see you sitting on the doorstep. There are, of course, exceptions but this is the case of foreigners in there first months in Brazil. Real friends you may make later on usually turn up or remember you are coming round. To make friends, try other foreigners, preferable those who have been here for years, to present you to other people. Then you always have the gym, courses, university, work…

Third, dating, marriage and kids. Single male foreigners usually come to Brazil with the fantasy of finding a docile, affectionate maiden that will look after him and cherish him forever, in Brazil or elsewhere. The truth is usually bitterly cruel. Foreigners are an easy catch for most Brazilian women unless these women happen to be wealthy (or from wealthy or middle-class families) and independent. There are endless stories of single men falling in love with a Brazilian woman to then be abandoned, deeply disappointed, bossed around, driven mad, forced to start child custody battles or chunky divorce settlements. Foreigners must understand that they represent more than they can imagine to most women or men, especially those in lower social classes. They are the knight in shining armour that will save them from poverty, hardship and general abuse and prejudice. Once all is settled, they generally realize that knight does not exist and are just as disappointed as he or she is. It all gets much worse if they marry and have children. The best way to avoid future hassle is to not marry or have children until the haze of passion passes. Take her or him home with you, meet each other‘s families and, if possible, stay around for a few months to see how they react to you. Renew your visa as many times as you need to but do not hurry into marriage and children before the culture, social class and, sometimes, racial clashes have raised their ugly heads and you are sure you can take it. The only smart guy I met was an Italian who lived here for a year without dating anyone. He found a job, built a house and by then he knew exactly how things worked and started dating. There are others that meet their girlfriends or boyfriends in their home countries and then move to Brazil, which usually works out well.

Fourth, keep a low profile. People can say what they want but as far as crime in Brazil, the trigger is usually envy. There are very poor people here that live lives you couldn‘t even imagine but they don‘t rob people in the streets. After living in favelas and very poor neighbourhoods in many towns and cities in Bahia, I realized that most criminals are or were kids who were spoilt rotten by their parents and, although poor, were never taught how to work and help around the house. They are left to do as they pleased and are mostly raised in the streets and prefer crime because of boredom and not neglect or poverty. They put a gun to your head because you have a better bike than they do, not because he needs the money to feed his kids. So, whenever possible, keep a low profile. Prefer a national car to an imported one. Buy a nice bike but not one that turns heads. Dress modestly and, most importantly, act modestly. My mother has a 15,000 dollar Rolex on her wrist and just by the way she acts has never so much as attracted a curious glance.

Brazil is not a violent country. 80% of the people you meet might be more ignorant than you, might be poorer or have worse manners than you but they are kind-hearted folk. They are always there to help you if something happens. Most of them will open the doors to their houses if you scream “rape” or “help”. They generally treat the children, the elderly and the disabled or handicapped well. So, if you are new here and follow these basic rules of survival, you‘ll be able to discover the best Brazil has to offer all on your own.

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