So it has been almost two weeks since I arrived from a month long vacation from Brazil. It has been a difficult to assimilate back to my chaotically normal life but it is coming along. My English is returning, my Spanish is unfortunately littered with Portuguese (sorry to those who have heard me say “mucho legal” and “ainda” instead of “todavia”), and I’m limiting myself to yelling “porra” twice a day. Not a bad start for someone who tried to emerge himself deeply in the culture he was in for a month. Sadly, my mind still drifts back to Brazil more often than I would like, and who am I to blame it? It was an amazing trip. Jumping into a new culture gives you plenty of opportunities to evaluate your own culture and there are so many things that you end up liking about others because you got a chance to experience them and view them from a different perspective. That is probably what I feel the most “saudades” (fancy Portuguese word for nostalgia but without the negative connotations) about Brazil. It’s the things that I had over there but that I don’t have here in the United States.
It would be wrong for me to start at any other point. I miss the food like crazy. Not just the home cooked meals but restaurants. There are so many different types of restaurants but the main establishments I mainly miss are the Kilo buffets where you serve yourself food then weigh it at the end. These places are gold mines. I went to Uruguay for 3 days and the first place I ate at when I got back to Brazil was one of those buffets. The love I have for these restaurants runs through my veins like the cholesterol laced meat they serve. Any self-respecting establishment of the sort has churrasco.
Brazilians love cooking meat over an open fire. This is where whatever disagreements I had with Brazilians ends. You go through the line, grab whatever carbs you consider essential for that day, (potatoes soak up alcohol pretty damn well) and then you come to the glorious attendant who runs the fire pit with all sorts of skewers filled with meat. I’m not gonna go through all the cuts because they are different from American cuts but I will say I choose picanha and alcatra, with garlic if possible, make sure that it is medium well, and then add something bacon covered (chicken, sausage, more beef, whatever). As if that wasn’t enough, you get to “have it your way” (Burger King doesn’t fulfill the mantra as well as the fire pit attendant does) and choose where you want the cut of meat from off of the skewer. You then add some farofa (Brazil’s answer to cocaine) and you are set. Weigh your food, get your ticket, and go feast. This is the common lunch process for most of the country on most days and quite frankly I am ridiculously jealous of this everyday once lunch time comes around here in the states.
I have a love/hate relationship with beer in Brazil. I love beer in general and the amount of beer they drink in Brazil is something I can easily condone. The hate part comes down to one key factor that Brazilians have when drinking beer. It has to be colder than your ex-girlfriend’s heart (you know where you are #!%&$). Giving a Brazilian a cold beer, but not frosty beer, might as well be an insult to everything they know. You are better off telling them that Dilma is a great president. The repercussions are less severe. The cold beer part leads to the whole beer drinking process become slightly more complicated, albeit still manageable enough for me to get drunk. You order a liter beer for the table, (unless you order a long neck a.k.a. a regular bottled beer which in that case you should really reconsider the establishment where you are at). They bring it in a giant plastic cover that looks like a beer coozie gone wrong.
They hand you a bunch of small cups, unless you are somewhere fancy enough to where they freeze their glasses. You then pour yourself a beer into those small plastic cups you give 5 year olds for their birthdays. You then drink beer in small quantities as to make sure the beer doesn’t get warm. It isn’t a complicated process, but a very different one from the United States where you order a beer, they bring you said beer, and you drink the beer out of the container which they gave it to you. Maybe I don’t like it because the small cup makes me question my masculinity, or my age since I feel like a 5 year old drinking beer. At least it is good beer, and I stop complaining after the first two beers because beer is meant to help you forget about your problems. This process gets trickier when you decide to drink on the streets. Luckily I have great stories from every drinking occasion so I can’t complain and only look back at all my drinking with saudades.
So I was lucky enough to go to Brazil during a very festive time of the year. I got to spend New Year’s, whatever other random holidays came after, and then part of Carnaval. In the span of 30 some odd days, I got to enjoy random festivities all the time. We have that here in the United States too but we are too busy toiling away to enjoy the finer things in life. The USA gets very busy trying to come out with whatever specials will attract zombies into the store. No one drinks on MLK day, rightfully so but I feel like Brazil was probably running some random Saint Day to drink to around the same time. New Year’s luckily enough is a great reason to drink anywhere in the world but they up the ante by wearing all white on that day.
It probably has something to do with some tradition to bring in the New Year clean or in good fortune. I have my own theory that involves a syndicate of white clothing makers and their agenda to sell white clothes because anyone that remains with white clothing for the rest of the night probably didn’t celebrate to the extent that they should have. My white shirt is now champagne colored so I guess the syndicate got me this year. Following the white frenzy that is New Year’s comes a bunch of random holidays that many people get off, normally patron saints of towns, and the alcohol consumption continues to gradually increase until the beginning of Carnaval where your liver and sense of self-dignity take a nose dive. I have never fully understood Carnaval in terms of reasoning and common sense but I can fully endorse the message and I will summarize it as best as I can for those who don’t know much about it.
Jesus died for your sins. Christians remember that date as Easter Sunday. Before that date, you should probably prepare to commemorate that special occasion by being better than you are most of the year. This applies more so if you are Catholic because Catholics love traditions and following antiquated rules. About six weeks before Easter, begins said period of preparation with Ash Sunday. If you have ever wanted to put ashes on your forehead for a day, definitely check it out but one normally doesn’t party on that day so be forewarned. The weeks before Ash Wednesday are the weeks where people start to realize that they will need to be on their best behavior for 40 days. For many of us sinning folk, that is a long time and something must be done before to ensure we get our dose of debauchery before that period (said period of non-debauchery is known as lent). The period of debauchery is known as Carnaval with all of it culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as to ensure that you are hungover and regretful of all of your sins when you get ashes placed on your forehead.
Many big cities in Brazil celebrate Carnaval with bands, music, alcohol, block parties, costumes, and any other things that you would deem appropriate for partying. I was lucky enough to experience some of Rio’s Carnaval celebration and I have to say that Cariocas (the denizens of Rio de Janeiro) know how to throw a good party. Every neighborhood, at least good and self-respecting neighborhood, throws a block party and invites everyone to come, be festive, and just have a good time. You normally have a band playing popular music in the middle followed by a crowd of crazy revelers dancing around the band. Then on the outskirts are those tired of partying hard as well as many vendors selling items ranging from chicken on a stick, to all sorts of beer, to alcohol in little bags, to pot brownies (obviously not legal but highly unenforced). Music rings throughout the streets, alcohol flows through millions of those annoying small cups, and lots of people start doing things that ironically enough are probably on the list of things that Jesus came to save them from. I feel that the Christ statue above Rio looks down on the city with great disdain at seeing what the city does but at the same time is slightly impressed with the crazy antics and good party they throw.
How could I forget the people of Brazil? They are what make the country great. I’ve been encountering these interesting creatures for the past couple of years here in Orlando but seeing them here doesn’t do them justice. They are out of their comfort zone, many don’t speak great English, and some are just pissed off that they can’t get a frozen beer and decent cut of meat in this country.
You really have to go back to their natural habitat to understand them. So I did and it all made sense. Brazilians are some of the most welcoming, open, and straight out nice people I have ever met. I don’t say that cause I’m catering to the crowd but because I legitimately felt welcomed in by almost everyone I met. It would be the first time I would show up to someone’s house and they were already offering me food, drink, and their most beautiful daughter. Five minutes into knowing them and we were discussing whatever random topic they found of interest as if we had left off the conversation a week before. It is probably that openness to other people that attracted me the most to Brazilians. It was always easy to talk to people. Even at bars, parties, restaurants, etc…, people were easy to approach and to talk to. That is a huge sticking point since here in the states; I feel like many people go to public places and create a wall around themselves which for me doesn’t make much sense if you are in a public place. The whole reason you are out and about is to do just that, get to meet new people. I definitely miss that and realized it on one of my outings here after coming back. I guess the warm weather makes people warmer.
The exchange rate
If there is a time to travel to Brazil, it is now! The exchange rate is currently hovering around 1 dollar to 4 reals. This is twice what it was less than 2 years ago.
Brazil is currently facing an economic crisis and a possible recession which isn’t great for the country, but if you have to find a silver lining, it makes Brazil very affordable for those of us who have dollars. So how expensive is Brazil. On average, I was spending between 15-30 reals (4-8 dollars) at the buffet restaurants I so highly covet. I spent 45 reals (about 11 dollars) at a fancy all you can eat pizza place (the place where I discovered my love for Nutella, chocolate, banana, and strawberry pizza).
I then spent about 100 reals (25 dollars) at a nice restaurant for two. And I don’t think I ever spent more than 10 ($2.50) on any domestic beer. This is way cheaper than the United States. A bargain indeed for anyone who wants to splurge and feel like a king without actually having King-like money, at least in the United States anyway.
Just like there are things I do miss, there is a short list of things that I really don’t miss about Brazil.
You can’t flush toilet paper down toilets in Brazil. I’m going to be straight up about that. No sugarcoating this one. I find that really awkward. I can understand the reasons behind it so I am not going to stick to this point for long, but I can easily say that if I ever end up in Brazil for a more permanent stay, it will not be easy to get accustomed to using a trash bin rather than just flushing it all away. (P.S. to all of my friends in Brazil, I didn’t flush toilet paper down your toilets so you can remain calm about any repercussions that could have occurred from that social/cultural faux pas.)
The situation with air conditioning
I say situation because there isn’t necessarily a lack of air conditioning. Rather there is a lack of mutual consensus on how to use air conditioning. For the most part, everywhere I stayed had an air conditioning unit inside each room. This is done to save energy. While this is intelligent in that sense, it isn’t convenient. There is always that temperature shock when you leave one air conditioned room and walk into another room that is being air conditioned at the same time. I understand I come from a spoiled country like the United States where we air condition the front porch, but I find it difficult to understand how people live in such a hot place without such a commodity. There are plenty of supermarkets, buses and other modes of public transportation, and even residential buildings that lack air conditioning.
I find it difficult, more so cause I would always be the one who started sweating first, and that really wasn’t the look I was trying to go for while in Brazil. The random, sweaty, foreigner doesn’t sound like the person I wanted to be nor does he fit in enough to pass off in Brazil. I am going to assume that my body has not grown accustomed to living in Florida, another one of Satan’s hot boxes on this earth, and that it probably never will.
I might sound like I am complaining, I am grateful for everything on this trip, but these things are hard to get accustomed to. Brazil has cars and luckily I had access to one most of my time there but if there is one thing that makes it tough it’s the engine size. My car, Smokey the VW GTI, is knocking around 210 hp.
The main car I drove in Brazil had about 80 hp.
The fastest speed I hit in the mighty stallion that is the Fiat Uno was 140 kph (86 mph). My car hits 86 mph without me noticing. I’m not trying to brag, but when you are trying to drive cross country in Uruguay and southern Brazil and make it back to the city you are staying at, you wish you could accidently hit 86 mph rather than having your foot on the floor and only reaching that speed. While not all cars are like that, it is still very common for cars to not have big engines since the bigger the car and engine is, the more expensive the vehicle is not only to maintain but to register with the government. With that being said, anything over 200 hp is a luxury in Brazil while anything over 200 hp here means you just have to fuel up a little bit more.
Pineapple Caipirinhas and Bohemia Beer
They are bad. Try them once, experience their badness, go back to drinking regular caipirinhas and any other type of beer.
So with that being said, I miss Brazil like crazy. I definitely plan on going back to that crazy country and taking another turn at uncovering all its mysteries. If not I’ll go back for the meat, beer, and pretty girls. Life isn’t that complicated or at least it shouldn’t be. If you have those three combinations you really shouldn’t be complaining.
I know this blog was originally intended for studying abroad but I will probably write a couple more posts as the saudades wears down and I’ll probably get into the gritty details that I didn’t feel like writing today. I really learned a lot from this trip and I like to write about my findings because it gives me a chance to analyze them as well as look back in the future at what my former self thought.