Why Brazil is for loving, not (always for) living

As of recent, I can officially retract the word “almost”, “about” and “nearly” from a phrase I’ve been using for the last few years…what’s that phrase? “I have been studying Brazil for almost 10 years”.  While many of those 10 years were dedicated to armchair academics, almost a year has now been spent living in Brazil, and I would add ‘amongst Brazilians’ but here in the States (that’s right, I moved back), I’ve surrounded myself with Brazilians for about 8 years.

During my last bout, which lasted all but 3 months while living near the Amazon basin, I hit a turning point. When that moment was upon me, those 10 years dwindled down to one phrase.

If you love Brazil, you don’t need to live there to get your slice of culture and language.

I’m certain that communities like the one in the US (800,000 Brazilians), Paraguay (455,000), Japan (317,000) or the UK (250,000) among many other countries where Brazilians can be found in large numbers…I’m certain they can give you most of what you are looking for. A Brazilian vacation will pick up the slack.

Why am I saying these things? Because Brazil is tough, complicated and confusing. If you go there to live, and you stop being a tourist, you will start to see these things I’ve just mentioned. If you are like me and love the culture and language as much as I do, then you ask yourself how such beautiful things come from a country that is also hard to live in…but they do, it’s undeniable.

Why? Brazil is a dichotomy, a contradiction, it is something to be dreamt about, to be missed, to be vacationed in, to be romanced…but not always to be lived in. Keep in mind, I say this as a foreigner and this message is to foreigners. The only reasons that make Brazil okay to live in are if you are a legal citizen, if you are happily employed there, and if you are rich enough to not be poor. I know what I’m talking about, I’ve been the opposite of all three of those things while living there.

Those very Brazilians who live abroad seem to share my thoughts on the subject and I know this not because they’ve read this post but because as much as they love their country and as much as they miss it…they left it. Most of them, from what they tell me, led fairly good lives in Brazil yet they left it only to find themselves as the three things found at the end of the last paragraph. I don’t expect this paragraph on the subject to explain the intricacies of all the reasons why Brazilians leave Brazil (I’ll leave that to someone like professor and author Maxine Margolis, whose book I highly recommend) but problems can arise because sometimes the best minds leave.

In the end, my love of Brazil is written on my face and well, tattooed on my body. I may never be able to let it go but one thing I advocate is to be prepared in the best way possible. Learn a reasonable Portuguese before you go there, read a book or two on its culture and history, dive into the differing opinions and altered attitudes from others living there, befriend Brazilians living near you, and don’t naïvely think your Brazilian dream of life in the tropics will become reality just because you speak English or are a foreigner. Go with some sort of nest egg, no matter how meager and speaking of eggs, don’t put them all in the same basket! Last but not least, don’t ‘give papaya‘ to anyone (as Colombians would say) because the world-over, there are plenty of people lying in wait, wanting to take it.

If Brazil might be your thing, read through some of my over-600 posts on the country or check the links page which I’m pretty sure contains the largest collection of Brazil-related links in English on the net.


5 thoughts on “Why Brazil is for loving, not (always for) living

  1. Ola tudobeleza,

    I liked your post and I’m glad you liked my book, Little Brazil. A more recent one is An Invisible Minority (2009), shorter and updated from the original. And now I’m writing a book on the Brazilian diaspora worldwide–so your post is near and dear to my heart!

    I saw it via Google Alert.



  2. Thank you, Professora!

    While reading ‘Little Brazil’, it got me curious as to any alterations in current trends. Diaspora is quite an interesting subject and I look forward to picking up your new book.


  3. Adam,

    I think that this sentiment could be almost universally applied.

    “The only reasons that make Brazil okay to live in are if you are a legal citizen, if you are happily employed there, and if you are rich enough to not be poor.”

    While the U.S. is certainly an easier place to live in terms of infrastructure and opportunities, it can be equally miserable if you are a Brazilian, Greek, or Lithuanian immigrant without legal citizenship, employment, or money. How many Mexican immigrants have you seen picking up trash for 10 hours a day, lost in a culture unlike their own, who tremble in fear of the looming threat of deportation officials. Most are there for the money, to support their families back home, and not because the quality of their lives are vastly improved.

    That said, I know how you feel. Most of the time I can shrug off my small apartment, my lack of having a car, my painfully low salary. There are other benefits here that balance out those things: amazing weather, vibrant social life, unnaturally beautiful women, Portuguese phrases like “Aiii que porra!!!!” But some days, admittedly, I do sometimes wonder why I decided to lower my economic status in exchange for this life, which is certainly not without its difficulties.

    In the end, I think it all comes down to what you are willing to invest in. If you decide to stay in Brazil, to seek out paths to legal status, to build a career, and to be OK with making less money (because, well, not all countries are as wealthy as the U.S.), then you can build a pretty nice life in the land of the Southern Cross.

    Will I stay here forever? I don’t know. I think in the end, because I HAVE THE OPTION, I will live in whatever place gives me the most opportunities in terms of doing cool shit (i.e. travel, motorcycle trips, climbing mountains, etc., etc.). That may be the States, or it may be somewhere else.

    In the end, only time will tell. There is no shame in loving Brazil from afar, and visiting her when the mood strikes. Let’s just thank our lucky stars that we were giving a choice in the first place. This is the real meaning of privilege and certainly worth taking advantage of.

    • Agreed that it can be universally applied. I was thinking about that when I wrote it, but just in case people think they can go there without a plan and all will be easy just because they think they (or their language ‘skills’) will be sought after is not right. Of course, I’m projecting here so this is more of a lesson I learned and wanted to share with others who may think life in the developing world is all peaches and cream.

      Good point on the investing idea. In the end, it depends on what we will do to get where we want to go. Thanks for your comments

  4. These words are invaluable and potent with wisdom and insight. Thank you for sharing. I’d nominate this as one of the best things I’ve ever read on the Internet, because as Leo said, these words hold some universal truth.

    Two things stood out to me on this post… This statement:

    “Last but not least, don’t ‘give papaya‘ to anyone (as Colombians would say) because the world-over, there are plenty of people lying in wait, wanting to take it.”

    Also, Leo’s comment:

    “Let’s just thank our lucky stars that we were [given] a choice in the first place. This is the real meaning of privilege and certainly worth taking advantage of.”

    I will share/remember these words. Much appreciated!

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