The following is a book excerpt from my second book about Brazilian culture, Brazil: Life after the Honeymoon Period. Today I wish to share the part of it with you that deals with why, despite Brazil’s problems, I am still here.
My friend’s house party was supposed to start at 7pm and I purposely turned up an hour and a half late. Of course I did, I’ve learnt my lesson when it comes to punctuality in Brazil, or so I thought! As I was welcomed into the apartment by my friend, I scanned the room and noticed that just seven other people had arrived before me. Just seven! The other twenty guests would eventually show up, but an hour and a half late was still too early for them!
“Hey everyone, this is Andrew!” said my friend, which prompted a series of handshakes and polite greetings from these guys. The most outspoken of them seemed particularly interested in knowing a bit more about me, and moments later the conversation had gone in this direction:
“Really? You’ve been here for six years? And why are you still here?” he joked. Another one of these guys (who had been furiously chomping on some peanuts up until this point) added: “Yes, I’d like to know this too. The economy is a mess, our politicians are all corrupt and nothing works over here. I’m interested; what do you like about our country that would keep you here for so long?”
I faked a look of reflection – as if I’d need a little time to give this question some thought. I didn’t need this time of course. I already knew how to answer it. You see, over the last couple of years, I’ve been asked the same question on a near weekly basis.
“I’m still here because I really like your country and I really enjoy living in São Paulo.” I replied. “I like the people, your culture, the nightlife and I love the number of great restaurants here. I enjoy my job as an English teacher too. Then there are the obvious advantages of the warm weather and the beaches.”
As soon as I’d said these words I felt that I’d maybe gone too far; that I’d made myself sound like some sort of professional enthusiast. Or an insufferable character from a Disney film who – after six years here –still just doesn’t understand what Brazil is really like.
“Interesting” remarked the second guy, without a whole lot of interest. “Well I know that if I were you, I’d have moved back to the UK a long time ago.” These days I tend to find this type of conversation a little awkward.
But with so many Brazilians being openly negative towards their country, a positive attitude about being here isn’t always appreciated. Of course, I’m not blind to the fact that life hasn’t been so easy for many Brazilians over the last couple of years. I totally sympathise with the friends and students who feel failed by the political system, particularly those who have lost their jobs as a result of the economic downturn. I know that if I were Brazilian, I’d probably feel frustrated by it all too.
But of course, I’m not Brazilian.
My experience here is, and always has been filtered through a different lens. One that is a little more detached from the politics and a lot more intrigued by the culture. As an English teacher, I appreciate that I’m more insulated from the job losses that have affected many people here too. Plus, I’m very aware that if things don’t work out here, the UK will always be my safety net. So, when people tell me that they don’t understand why I’m still here, I know that we’re looking at our lives in the country through very different eyes.
If I’m being completely honest, I actually found Japan a much more challenging country to adapt to than Brazil. Becoming accustomed to life in Japan proved to be an absolute gift in terms of transitioning here.
I will never forget going to the local supermarket on my first day over there – fully intending to do a weekly shop. But twenty minutes after entering, I emerged with just two KitKats, an apple and a bunch of bananas.
Why? The place completely overwhelmed me! I couldn’t speak a word of Japanese (let alone read it), I couldn’t identify what was written on the packaging, I couldn’t ask anyone for help and I felt totally lost. The feeling of culture shock hadn’t just hit me hard, it had bitch-slapped me round the face! I walked away from that supermarket feeling like I’d regressed back to childhood, to a time that I couldn’t read or really communicate with anyone. And this wasn’t easy.
In my first few months in the country I had to learn to be more reliant on other people to help me do the most basic of things – which really took some doing!
After going through that, transitioning to Brazil seemed comparatively much easier. Things were written in a familiar looking alphabet, the packaging of the food in supermarkets didn’t seem vastly different to what I’d see in the UK and I thought people’s bluntness was (initially) very refreshing too.
Yet, at the same time, I was correct in assuming that life here wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Life here certainly throws up its surprises on a regular basis, even after being here for as many years as I have.
Since leaving the UK over ten years ago, I’ve come to appreciate that there are some aspects to living in a different country that I’m going to consider as being better, and some that I’m going to think of as worse. That’s just the way it is. And you know what? While there is no denying that Brazil certainly has its problems, if I were to leave tomorrow, I know that I’d really miss it.
This place has really got under my skin.
Not everyone feels this way about Brazil, I respect this. I’m sure that there will be no shortage of readers who live here and have a different relationship with this country. Brazil is a lot of things to a lot of people. But as someone who didn’t grow up with all that it has to offer, I still find that the more I learn about it this country, the more I’m enchanted by it.
Are you a foreigner living in Brazil who feels the same? Or are you here, but you hope to leave as soon as you can? Are you a Brazilian who doesn’t understand why a foreigner would want to stay? Or do you feel the opposite?
Let me know in the comments section.
To pick up a copy of Brazil: Life after the Honeymoon Period, click here.