By Nickolas D’Agostino
Let’s start by saying that there are two perspectives, from a position of advantage against disadvantage. I am from the United States, and I come with the advantages of formal education, being white and male, speaking English and having a lot of experience in my career. There are many who come to Brazil with a lot less. I can not speak with precision based on the experiences of others, but I will here try to spend a little about my own experiences living in Brazil.
Brazilian Attitude Toward Immigrants:
Brazilians have always treated me well, and I’ve never felt unwelcome for being an American or foreigner. In fact, it’s true, I often get extra, positive attention because of this. It is admittedly a bit tiresome at times (e.g. when I just want to get home in silence, but the taxi driver wants to know all about you), but I figure that’s a small price to pay for all the positives.
I see no cultural or general negativity, hatred or frustration toward outsiders here. I do think Brazilians easily welcome those who are different – that is not to say you get access to the inner circles. I frequently get shocked looks and questions from people asking why I left the U.S. to come here. They think I’m crazy. While the government bureaucracy can be tiring, I openly give credit that I have never once been mistreated or treated with disdain by anyone in any official capacity here. I greatly appreciate this.
Daily life in Brazil is full of obstacles, obstacles and a few more obstacles. Everything here is a bit more difficult. Any 1 or 2 obstacles are no problem, but when you fill your day with them, and then you fill your lifetime with them, it really starts to wear on your soul. And, keep in mind…I have the means to glide over many of these obstacles. So, I can’t imagine what it’s like for those on the bottom rung here. These obstacles range from broken doors, noise problems, traffic jams, bus strikes, robbery, plumbing problems, bureaucratic needs, etc. There’s always something.
There’s the difficulty of learning Portuguese which, on one hand, no one in the history of Brazil has ever spoken correctly, so no one cares if you don’t speak completely correctly. Yet, there are still many rigid rules which are necessary, and it’s quite the challenge to speak at an advanced level. To speak with (local) slang and expressions is another level with which I still frequently struggle. I maintain an extremely high bar for myself for communication, and I remain frustrated to this day that I cannot (and likely will never) be able to communicate at the level and precision which I desire.
Education & Abstract Thinking:
Basic education here is an utter and complete disaster. This results in a total lack of critical thinking and abstract thinking. I continue to be shocked by children who struggle with the names of the months and some clerks who don’t understand simple requests.
I like to ask a lot of questions. I like to be independent. I like to get my information from a website or some other “objective” source. I prefer reading a map to ask someone off the street where a store is. So I prefer to understand a process to anticipate certain needs instead of following it blindly. In both these cases, I run into a lot of problems. Brazilians love communicating information verbally, and if you aren’t comfortable asking people for help, you’re not going to get anywhere here.
Even worse is the second example. I like to understand processes, especially bureaucratic government processes, to avoid having to come back 10 times. However, asking questions and thinking ahead is pretty much not allowed. I can’t explain how many Brazilians I’ve pissed off by just asking what a step in a process means or what the following step is.
I don’t know if this is because of my individual personality or being an American, but my expectation of friendship seems different than what I see around me. Brazilians are great to hang out with, party with, etc. However, when you need someone to help you move apartments, no one volunteers or, at least, no one actually shows up. In many years in Brazil, I can count on one hand my close friends here who I trust implicitly to be there when I need them and to not take advantage of me if given the opportunity.
Bureaucracy and Lines:
Brazil has crazy bureaucracy at all levels. It’s like they strive to be Swiss yet forget that a key part of the Swiss culture is its efficiency. There are lines for absolutely everything, and while I appreciate there being lines, they often go nowhere! Anyone here can attest to going to a bank and getting the next number in line and thinking, “Great! I’m next!”, then having to still wait for 45 minutes to finally get seen.
I always joked with a friend that there are secret memos which go out to Brazilians and which we foreigners don’t get. It’s obviously not true, but there are certainly some cultural clues which I apparently just don’t pick up on. I remember going to a churrasco (BBQ) and arriving at the start time. The hosts hadn’t even woken up yet. Then, shortly after, I went to an event at a friend’s house an hour late, and everyone was miffed that I had missed the meal.
What About the Positives?
I wrote the above and realized I left out all the positive stuff. I think I find the negative side so much more interesting because I’m here for the adventure and grit, and while some days the obstacles just kill me, the overall adventure and grit have taught me so much more. Here’s a small list of items which I appreciate in one form or another. In many cases these are ideals and not how things are actually applied in real life.
- Sense of togetherness
- Openness to new ideas
- Social & environmental responsibility
- Openness to exercise
- Relaxation & enjoying the moment
- Many cafes, bars, restaurants (and “botecos”).
- Work and business opportunities
- Good food
Brazil is an endless puzzle which sucks you in and rarely let’s go, it’s so wrong, it’s so right, and you just need to stay a bit longer to make any sense of it. Love Brazil!
*Nickolas D’Agostino is an American that woks for Dell, lives in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, and is living in Brazil since 2008.