Posts Tagged With: ex-pats

The cheese is always greener on the dark side of the moon

I love you hate you love you hate you...having fun in Brazil

I love you hate you love you hate you…Brazil is irresistibly infuriating

It’s easy to love Brazil. The sun floods the house in the morning, filling the spaces with light and lightening the mood of the people. As mid-day approaches, gaggles of work-colleagues appear on the streets, chattering and chortling as they amble towards the nearest buffet-lunch bar. In the late afternoon, people sit in the park with their tea bowls, sucking the green liquid and gazing into the future. When the light fades, the crickets come out to sing, filling the tropical night air with an elusive mystique.

I see a message...if only those beans could speak to me!

I see a message…if only those beans could speak to me!

Some of my colleagues cannot believe I am thinking of heading back to the miserable grey skies of England, to the land of yob-culture, school bullies, boarded-up pubs, shops that shut at 5, small-minded conservative people and baked beans with everything. To a country where camping trips are ruined by the rain, where your body never throws off its clobber, where coffee is instant bilge, where town centres have been made anonymous by ugly shopping centres, where traffic wardens are repressed psychopaths and where a cheese and onion sandwich is the highlight of your day.

After all, living abroad makes you feel like a hero: what a remarkable feat you have managed, making your way in a foreign land and communicating in a foreign tongue, launched out of your cosy comfort zone like a jack-in-a-box! Surviving and prospering abroad is the sign of an intrepid adventurer, an infinitely resourceful globe-trotter, a multi-cultural maverick. When ex-pats in Brazil sit outside a trendy bar quaffing glasses of freezing beer and eyeing the talent they wish their cowardly mates back home could see them now! ‘This is the life’, they say.

Oh dear...the boom years have busted

As socialists, we promise to help…erm, ourselves?

But Brazil has hit the buffers with a dull, ominous thud. The Worker’s Party, who claim to be ‘socialists’ and have been in charge for more than a decade, have been exposed as one of the most corrupt governments in the country’s history. With mafia-like villainy, they have made Al Capone look like Homer Simpson. In the latest scandal, billions of dollars were siphoned out of Brazil’s huge state oil company, Petrobras. Now the country is financially broke and morally and spiritually broken. The local currency is up and down like Tower Bridge and the future looks, well, not exactly pear-shaped – more banana republic. Being here sometimes feels like living in the middle of an abandoned building site.

The middle classes have been revolting, huge swathes of them taking to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Dilma. They say they want a new Brazil, though I doubt many of them would be prepared to give up their servants – armies of the poor who daily spend hours in cramped buses on the way to clean house, cook and look after rich kids for a pittance. In many ways Brazil has never overcome the master-slave mentality that began when the Portuguese monarchy arrived here 500 years ago. Success, for a Brazilian, is not having to do the dirty work. Today, the professional classes may be working hard in their corporate suites, but they don’t lift a finger when they come home. The surest way to go bankrupt in Brazil is to open a DIY store.

Brazil versus England...the story of my wife (I mean LIFE!)

Brazil versus England…the story of my wife             (I mean my LIFE!)

This potent mixture of political corruption, middle-class hypocrisy and exploitation of the poor is making Brazil much less easy to love. If anything, the recent displays of public anger are symptomatic of a country riddled with self-hatred. It’s very difficult today to find a Brazilian with much love for their homeland; most have become profoundly cynical. The tragedy is that, during the recent ‘boom’ years, Brazil did little to invest in public services: schools, hospitals and transportation are woefully underfunded. In this respect, Brazil has failed to throw off its ‘third world’ stigma. The irony is that, for a third world country, the current cost of living is astronomical. In short, nothing seems to make sense in present-day Brazil.

But perhaps the single most shocking thing about life here, is the blatant lack of policing and crime control. If the English police force is considered ‘professional’, then the Brazilian equivalent is a bunch of amateur clowns, so badly paid (and drawn from the uneducated poor) that they can’t resist colluding with the criminal gangs they are supposed to be catching. Many days go by here in Porto Alegre where I don’t see a single police officer. And this in a country where crime is rife and victims are shot dead if they react. One of my friends admitted recently she is just waiting for the day when a gun is put to her head and she hands over the keys of her car. If she accidentally screams, she might not live to tell the tale. When my son announced, with only a trace of irony, that if he had to stay living in Brazil he would buy a gun, something clicked in my head. That can’t be right.

Ben's Record Shop in Guildford...a haven for vinyl junkies

Ben’s Record Shop in Guildford…I miss it like I miss being 12

And yet, despite all this angst, my reasons for being lured back to Blighty are mostly mundane. You see, I miss a lot of daft stuff – ebay, for example. The second-hand Johnny that I am has been starved to the bone. I dream of charity shops, used book and record shops, jumble sales, flea markets. I ache to buy a decent second-hand motor at a reasonable price (impossible in Brazil). I miss supermarkets with their half-price offers and vast range of imported foods. I fantasize about Wetherspoons pubs – in fact, any pub. I long to see clean water in the rivers, hear the smack of leather on willow and enjoy the light of those long summer nights.

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I'm 'appy

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I’m as right as rain

There is nothing like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

There is nothing quite like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

Of course, there are a few serious reasons, too. Like free healthcare, for example – here in Brazil, like the USA, if you don’t have costly health insurance you take your place at the back of the queue and risk being forgotten. And being a rich country, there is at least some spending on public services in England and a modicum of respect for the environment. And, though I never thought I would ever say this, I want to live in a place with at least the odd copper knocking about; a place where criminals pay for their crimes if they are caught, which rarely seems to happen here. When I first heard gunshots in the middle of the night, I felt proud of myself for braving life in lawless, ‘wild west’ Brazil. But now I’m too old for Cowboys and Indians.

If I do set sail and leave these distant shores, it will not be without sadness, but with a heavy heart. If I do feel the odd twinge of hate for Brazil just now, it’s only because deep down I love it. Just play me a Djavan song and I’ll be in tears in no time. What makes Brazil warm is not the tropical climate, but the big-hearted Brazilians with their zest for life, despite all the struggle and strife.

The view from my ideal apartment, without binoculars

The view from my ideal apartment…yeah, right!

In fact, if I had a sea-view flat in Copacabana, with armed guards on the door and a shotgun under the mattress, a constant supply of untaxed imported goods, a few dodgy friends, an English pub round the corner and a pair of binoculars I would probably stick around. But somehow I think that’s unlikely.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

How to score in Brazil?

 

The Brazilian powers-that- be were not happy with this image. I wonder why...

The Brazilian powers-that-be were not happy with this FIFA image. I wonder why?

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Brazil? Sunshine? Beaches? Football? What about the people? Bronzed babes in dental-floss bikinis all doing the samba while the boys leer at them with a beer in one hand and a hot-dog in the other? And the culture? A mixture of illicit sex, urban chaos and dodgy dealing? Well, it seems FIFA has exactly the same idea of the place. Last week its house magazine, The FIFA Weekly, ran an article listing “10 tips for tourists” coming to Brazil in June for the World Cup. OK, so FIFA may have a bee in its bonnet about some of the stadiums not being ready for the big kick-off. But that’s no reason to turn the Brazilian people into a global laughing stock. Is it?

The verb "to score" has different meanings...

The verb “to score” has, erm, different meanings…

The article was a case of adding insult to injury after an embarrassing incident the previous week when Adidas was forced to withdraw its World Cup t-shirts. Why? Because one of them had a cartoon image of a scantily-clad beauty on a Rio beach next to the slogan: “Lookin’ to score”. Ho ho ho, what a lark! Score in Brazil – football, babes – geddit? The other t-shirt had an “I love Brazil” message, but the heart in the middle resembled a pair of buttocks and a thong – only the image is upside down. Subtle, eh? 

FIFA has now removed the offending article, Brazil for Beginners, despite claiming it was tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken seriously. Funnily enough, the article appears to have been written by a Brazilian journalist and then translated into English for the FIFA website. As a Brit resident in Brazil (Rio and Porto Alegre) for a number of years, I feel qualified to add my two-penny-worth to the list of tips. So without further adieu, let’s have a look at them.

1) “Yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”: Brazilians are open and optimistic people and they will never begin a sentence with “no”. However, “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”. In fact, to Brazilians, “yes” means “maybe”. So if somebody says to you, “Yes, I’ll call you back”, do not expect the telephone to be ringing in the next five minutes.

Wow! What a great sweeping generalisation to begin with! Never start a sentence with “no”. Don’t know where they got that from. My wife is always saying no, especially when I ask if I can modify the sitting room again to accommodate my Frankenstein hi-fi system. Actually, in Rio they never say “yes”. That’s because the word (“sim”) isn’t used in normal parlance. Ha ha – got you there!

2) Timing is flexible: Punctuality is not an exact science in Brazil. When arranging to meet somebody, nobody will be there at the exact time and place – a delay of 15 minutes is the tolerated norm.

So where exactly is punctuality an exact science? Sweden? Switzerland? I love that “nobody will be there at the exact time and place”. So your new Brazza friend won’t even bother coming to the spot you arranged to meet! Of course not – she’s had second thoughts about wasting her time with a blotchy ex-pat creep like you!

That heart shape looks like a thong...is that supposed to be funny?

Hey, Adidas – that heart shape looks like a thong…is that supposed to be funny?

3) Bodily contact: Brazilians are not used to the European code of maintaining a polite distance between one another. They speak with their hands and will not hesitate to touch the person with whom they are conversing. In nightclubs this can often lead to kissing, but that must not be misinterpreted. A kiss in Brazil is an unbinding form of non-verbal communication – and not an invitation to go any further.

I tried speaking with my hands but nobody understood me. It was either that or learning Portuguese, which is a nightmare. I also tried kissing people as a way of expressing myself. But I gave up after earning a few funny looks and suffering one or two knees in the groin. Maybe I went to the wrong nightclubs.

4) Queuing: Patiently waiting in line is not in a Brazilian’s DNA. When going up an escalator, for instance, the British example where people line up on one side does not exist. Instead, Brazilians prefer cultivated chaos, yet somehow still manage to get to the top (usually).

And where exactly do they get to when they don’t reach the top? The bottom, of course – bum bum! Cultivated chaos! Or maybe just chaos, without the cultivation? OK, so the Brits can appear to be more polite and civilized. That is until you get creamed by a gang of yobs on the commuter train to Woking.

5) Restraint: If you go to a Churrasco restaurant that offers all-you-can-eat and immediately want to get stuck into the meat menu, remember two things: eat nothing for at least 12 hours beforehand and consume food in small doses, since the best meat is usually served last.

Can’t comment on this one, having never been to a Churrasco restaurant. But I do like the idea of  getting “stuck into the meat”. Whatever that means…

6) Survival of the biggest: On the roads, pedestrians are largely ignored, and even at a zebra crossing hardly any motorist will voluntarily stop. Right of way between motorists is also simply defined by which vehicle is the larger.

No – pedestrians are targets. I have watched so many drivers visibly aim their cars at me as soon as I attempt to cross the road. “Get out of my way”, they say, “unless you want to be mincemeat”. Nice.

7) Try some Açaí: Berries from the Amazon really do work wonders. They are natural slimming agents, prevent wrinkles and are said to have the same effect as an energy drink. A few nibbles on one in the half-time break can help even the most fatigued footballer back to his feet again.

A few nibbles on one what? One berry? Açaí is a normally served as a deep purplish mushy drink that you need to eat with a spoon. Very Brazilian – you can’t get it in Skegness.

The first Catholic mass in Brazil...note the skimpy outfits - even then

The first Catholic mass in Brazil…note the skimpy outfits, even then

8) Going topless: Bared skin and female body art may be a familiar sight during Carnival, but they are not what you will see in everyday Brazil. Indeed, although Brazilian bikinis contain less fabric than comparable products in Europe, they are still worn at all times. Tanning on the beach without wearing them is strictly forbidden and may even result in a fine.

Tourists can’t get their heads around this one. “What, no topless chicks on the beach in Rio? Might as well get pissed and get my camera stolen then – I won’t be needing it.”

9) No Spanish: People hoping to use Spanish to communicate with the locals will find that their words fall on deaf ears. The national language is Brazilian Portuguese and if you call Buenos Aires the capital of Brazil expect to be deported.

Wrong again. Spanish has enough in common with Portuguese that, if spoken well and slowly, it should be understood by many Brazilians. Uruguay and Argentina are just down the road, remember – at least from where I live.

Brazilian women are not all beach babes - they also play football (and the samba!)

Brazilian women are not all beach babes – they also play football (and do the samba!)

10) Have patience: In Brazil, things are largely done last-minute and if there is one thing above all that tourists should remember it is not to lose patience and keep hold of your nerves. Everything will be all right, and ready in time. That even goes for the football stadiums. In fact, a Brazilian’s attitude to life can be summarized like this: relaxa e aproveita – relax and enjoy.

Oh dear. A feeble attempt at a joke about the stadiums. But you do need spadefuls of patience in Brazil, it’s true, with a bureaucratic system straight out of Orwell’s 1984. And I keep telling my students to relax, as English is so easy to learn (I learnt it as a baby). Of course it’s easier to enjoy yourself if you’ve got pots of money. For the millions of Brazilians who haven’t, there’s always cold beer and barbecue. But no chance of any tickets for the World Cup – they’re way too expensive. Funny that.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.