REALIZATION 9: Bring on the culture, say "tchau" to the shock

Time doesn’t fly; it freaking Usain Bolts.

Usain Bolt flies

Today is my 2-year anniversary of moving to Brazil, and it feels like yesterday that I first touched down in Curitiba, in Brazil’s south.

It wasn’t a blind move; in fact, I had visited several times earlier for work.

But I remember staring out the window of the plane on my way to live there, which brought a different feeling—like, “What in the #*$@ am I doing?”

You know when you look back and you can really pick out the moments and decisions that would change your life forever? This was one of them.

I didn’t speak Portuguese. And I didn’t have a clue of what to do next (besides start eating the amazing Brazilian food). All I knew was that my golden retriever would be arriving in one month from Australia, and Bruno and I needed to find an apartment ASAP for the three of us…

So much has changed since then, and in honor of this important anniversary, here are a few things that opened my eyes during this amazing experience:

  • You have to learn to deal with poverty in your face 24/7 – Literally in your face. There is a homeless man who sleeps outside my very apartment building every night. I still haven’t figured out how to deal with this, but ignoring it/him makes me feel like such a cold human being.
  • Want to park on the street? You have to pay twice – One to the official city department and again to the guy “watching cars.” Supposedly, each block belongs to a specific guy, and he guides you to park your car and makes sure it is safe while you are gone.
  • Crossing the street can kill you – Really. People drive FAST. And unlike in the U.S., pedestrians do not have the right of way; in fact, you have to literally run to cross sometimes.
  • There are gates surrounding every house – Sometimes electric fences as well. This shocked me.
  • Catadores – You will see these informal recyclers collecting cardboard around the city in little carts on the street. Unfortunately, many times they are children or elderly people.
  • Get ready to prove your life – The notary offices, cartórios, are seriously good businesses to open because of how many documents have to go through them. I bring a binder’s worth of documents anytime I have to do something semi-official—because there is always that one document missing! (And sometimes they tell you you're missing something just because they don't feel like helping you.)
  • Favelas – These are the poor communities that can be really dangerous. However, they offer tours to foreigners to go through these, and international events like the Olympics seem to "promote" them by celebrating them in their opening/closing ceremonies, for example. Is Brazil proud of this? I find this really strange.

Having said that, there are some things that the U.S. could improve based on Brazil’s model:

  • The health system is incredible – I have paid nothing out of pocket in these two years. And I got sick a lot. Enough said.
  • Students have real benefits – A 50% percent discount on so many things, including the cinema, sporting events, concerts, etc.
  • Flights can be on time – I fly about 60 times per year within Brazil. How many times have I been delayed? Zero. And my 10-20 flights per year within the U.S.? Delayed at least 60% of the time. Brazil really puts the U.S. airlines to shame (especially you, United)!

I don’t know how long I will keep living in Brazil, but at least now after two years I can finally say…


Realization #9 – Culture shock has officially left the building!


Have you ever experienced culture shock? Let The Real[ization] Blog know where and when!