Living in Brazil: the good, the bad and the in-between
Kia Marie Hunt is doing a degree in Hispanic Studies at University of Birmingham, and spent the first semester of her year abroad at the Universidad de Montevideo, Uruguay, and is currently studying at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil, where she is learning Brazilian Sign Language. To keep up with her adventures, check out her blog and, in the meantime, here is the good, the bad and the in-between of living in Brazil.
After a couple of months living and studying here in Florianópolis, (Santa Catarina, Brazil) I thought it would be interesting to share with you both my observations so far, both positive and negative. As you’ll notice, there is also an ‘in-between’ category, this is simply because many aspects of living here can be both so fantastic and so damn frustrating at the same time, so I just don’t know where to put them!
1. The Good
It may just be one bullet point, but it pretty much encapsulates everything I love about living here; the sun shines almost every day, I live 2 minutes away from a stunning lagoon, when I don’t have classes I can go to a nearby beach, there are beautiful plants, flowers, birds, and butterflies surrounding me at all times… What more can I say? Florianópolis is definitely deserving of its other name, Ilha de Magia. Also, under this category, I just have to mention the fruit and vegetables; here I have eaten the tastiest, juiciest mangoes I’ve ever had in my life, and avocados that are the size of my head!
The stereotype really seems to be true! Almost all of the Brazilian people I have met so far have been happy, friendly, laid-back, and very easy to get along with. Not only are my classmates lovely, welcoming, and inviting, it’s also apparently completely normal to have conversations with random strangers here too! So I have chatted to new people almost every day, which isn’t just good because it’s free Portuguese practice; it’s also really interesting to get to know people from such a different part of the world, and it makes me feel really happy.
2. The Bad
Sharing the House with Pests
And I don’t mean with my housemates! What I really mean is sharing our home with the various creatures that like to invade our space and terrorise us, such as centipedes, millipedes, swarms of creepy microscopic ant/spider/bug/things that will be all over your plates if you don’t wash up within about 20 minutes, and the absolute worst: cockroaches. Huge, sinister, fast-as-lightning, impossible-to-kill, cockroaches. I’m slowly desensitising myself to their presence, but having these always lurking around really has been quite a traumatic experience for me.
Brazil’s Toilet Paper Situation
Now I don’t even understand how this is possible, but it seems in the whole of Brazil, someone has yet to invent or install a plumbing system that allows toilet paper to be flushed down the toilet. Instead, used paper has to be put into a little bin. For me it has proven very difficult to get out of the habit of flushing the toilet paper (I kept forgetting and accidentally blocked the toilet in my first house, oops!) and something about putting it into a bin with everyone else’s paper just feels so inherently wrong to me! I will never take toilets at home for granted again.
3. The In-between
First of all, it seems to me that all of the 420,000 inhabitants of this island apparently share about 5 main roads between them, as there is almost constantly a slow stream of traffic wherever you go, at whatever time. Secondly, the public bus system means that each route has to go between one of the island’s 6 bus terminals; which causes a lot of complications when trying to get simply from A to B! Even the locals don’t know what is going on, sometimes Brazilian people come and ask ME questions about which bus goes where… but I’m as clueless as anyone! Although it sounds like a nightmare, public transport is on the ‘in-between‘ list because each journey is 3.5 Reais, which is less than 70p, and half price again if you have a student card; for such a cheap price, I guess I really shouldn’t be complaining!
Kalzones, Empanadas, Pão de Queijo, and other wonderful baked goods
It seems that everywhere I go I am haunted by places selling cheap and delicious baked items. There’s Kalzones, which aren’t what we know calzones to be (just pizza folded in half right?), here they are more like little pasties and you can get so many variations of fillings! Empanadas seem pretty much the same to me but apparently they are made with a different type of pastry, and Pão de Queijo are like small, wonderful, extremely cheesy bread rolls. Most of these things you can buy for around 5-8 Reais (the equivalent of £1-£1.50) which sounds like heaven right!? So why have I put them in the ‘in-between‘ category? Well, it’s because I’m going to get fat! I’m literally getting addicted to impulse buying a empanada wherever I go, be it on the uni campus, in a bus station, or on the walk home, it doesn’t matter - I just can’t seem to stop myself, and the habit is quickly becoming a very unhealthy obsession! Damn you cheap and tasty food!
Want to enter the country? Go to university? Travel on a bus? Buy a SIM-card? Or even do something as simple as order a pizza? Well I’m afraid there’s always a specific form of identity you’ll need to apply for first … and to do that you need to fill out some paper work … and to do that you need to travel to this place … then you need to go there, get that, give this to them, get that from them, come back here, go back over there, fill out 10,000 more forms, pay this, pay that, a bit more paperwork, then do it all over again. Absolutely nothing is simple here, and there’s no one to help you with all of the complications, you are left to fend for yourself.
Although it can be terribly stressful, I can’t allow myself to put this bureaucracy purely into the ‘bad’ category, because it has its advantages. For a start, nothing is ever completed quickly, and locals know this. For this reason it seems to me that Brazilians have a lot more patience than we do at home; we are so used to being able to access everything immediately that we are easily frustrated when someone is late or incompetent. Whereas people here make me feel at ease, they know that these things always take time, so if I am struggling, and it has an effect on something that I was supposed to be doing, nobody really minds. I can just trundle along at my own pace, slowly ticking off all of the things on my long to-do list. Secondly, having to sort out such complicated processes all alone really felt like I’d been thrown in at the deep end, which means that I have come out the other side feeling more independent, grown up, and proud of myself. I now know that I managed to find creative ways to adapt to challenges and overcome complications, with no one but myself to rely on.