It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here on my blog, and there’s a simple reason for it: I’ve been too busy!
I’ve been here in south-eastern Brazil for over six weeks now, trying hard to settle in as well as possible. The Portuguese is coming on – and the classes I’m having are proving to be a source of new friends, as hoped.
It’s odd – when you already have someone you know in a new place, you start out by borrowing their friends and trying to see them as your own but, however nice they may be, inevitably you have to build your own friendship groups.
I warn you now: this will inevitably be my whingiest blog ever on Brazil. I’m at that point where I’ve seen how things are done in this country and not yet at the point where I can accept them all.
I know it sounds a little colonialist and it’s not a criticism from my side, but I’ve been amazed by the lack of English in Brazilians here (good for opportunities to teach them, but if they do speak English forget about trying to speak Portuguese to them – it’s very much all or nothing). This is something that will change once my Portuguese is better than these people’s English, I’m hoping.
Added to this, the local people are not particularly “Brazilian” in their general friendliness, openness and the way they make friends and new people. For instance, people in Rio will talk to you for days if they can about everything and anything to do with their lives. They love making friends and have to be surrounded by people.
Curitibans are, I was warned, not like this. There’s a definite standoffishness to their behaviour – and to some extent, an automatic sense of suspicion. This hasn’t passed other Brazilians by: Curitibans are renowned for their “coldness” and “unfriendly nature”.
It’s not true beyond the initial point of contact, of course. I’ve found Curitibans to be perfectly friendly – just cautious at the beginning.
Funnily enough, I’ve found this easier to get used to: it’s totally reminiscent of London life – and for the same reason (50% of “Curitibans” aren’t from Curitiba).
Boyfriend Felipe and I have just moved to a new bairro (district) – Alto da Rua XV, which is definitely more upmarket compared to our previous place.
Rua XV (15th Street) is the central street running through the middle of Curitiba – extending up a pronounced hill to a raised area where we live (Alto = high) with wider, quieter, leaf-lined streets and posher houses and apartment blocks.
The new landlord, Santiago, although originally from Fortaleza (northeast Brazil), is definitely more Carioca (from Rio) than anything now having spent 23 years of his life in Rio.
If Curitibans are cold and standoffish, then Cariocas are the complete opposite. Their social onslaught can be somewhat difficult to deal with at first. I’m going to have to get used to it now that I’m living with one!
More than just a Rio accent, it’s a whole different level of communication. Human contact is a lot more important to them – there’s certainly no chance of sitting on your own in the lounge.
If there’s a Carioca nearby, solitude is not an option.
Moving to a different country is certainly not just about learning a new language – much more important is working out how the locals do things.
It’s not just about learning where to buy milk (back to the Russia-tinged days of UHT), how to find a place to rent (with or without a contract), where the nearest cinema/bar is (and whether they subtitle or dub things), and which mobile network will rip you off the least (they all do).
It’s about getting a different perspective on things, and with this come two things: intrigue and frustration, often requiring embracing simultaneously.
Positive, negative and simply different things like:
- buffet restaurants where you pay by the kilo or per visit;
- gas cylinders used to fuel the oven instead of plumbed gas;
- homeless-looking people collect the city’s recycling from the streets;
- parking on the street doesn’t really seem to happen – there are secure parking facilities under apartment blocks and at every turn in the centre;
- no one seems to worry about queueing for a long time – it’s just natural;
- needing various ID numbers for things that surely don’t require them (buying something online);
- the availability of Hollywood films both dubbed and subtitled (Harry Potter 7.2 would’ve been miserable in Portuguese…);
- the boleto system (if you don’t have a Visa/Mastercard/Amex card to pay for something online/in the shops, you print off a boleto and scan the barcode on it at the ATM and pay from your bank account)
Other things bring pure frustration.
The lack of plumbed hot water plumbed at home is definitely one: doing washing-up and laundry with just cold water just isn’t as hygienic – plates are left with a greasy sheen and clothes don’t feel like they’ve been cleaned (possibly just psychological).
Also, this is a cold city in the winter and the idea of double glazing or radiators has yet to make it to Curitiba.
It’s not unfair to say that Brazil’s standard of health and safety are lacking. Loose, exposed electric fixings, including exposed wires in the shower; gas bottles here and there; low-hanging wires in the streets; uneven pavements that wreck your shoes and mean you walk with your head pointed down.
Point them out and you get a very defensive response by some. Others couldn’t care less. The idea of changing something doesn’t seem to come up in either case.
Who are you to judge, London boy? Get used to it.
Other things are more relaxed and less rigid than in the UK – less bureaucracy… newer administrative systems… helpful people in official places… fewer concerns about details. This probably acts as an insight into why the previous more negative things I’ve mentioned are as they are. It’s just easier not to bother.
But don’t get me wrong: I’m having a good time. It’s just this is different from when I chose to go to Russia due to the fact that it’s Russia. I had no one to blame for that but myself.
Now I’ve moved somewhere for someone – and it’s made me more sensitive to the differences. To the point of absurdity sometimes.
It’s of question of adjusting your expectations and taking things as they come. A question of not just questioning and complaining about things, but of standing back and accepting alternatives.
Perhaps it’s just that you’re British and need to moan about something.
Touché. Honestly, I really don’t have much to moan about at all.
Anyway, that’s why I’ve been quiet – I’ve been busy moving in and making myself at home. Expect more soon now I’m settled – I should have more time.