Lessons from a Constant Mover – Part 2

Continuing with the lessons I began to cover in Part 1, below I will look at transport options and share some anecdotal examples on what you can expect when traveling across Brazil.

Transport

Bus

This is an important one, luckily I’ve written about the bus-taking side of things before (about interstate buses here on SSB and city buses on my blog). An additional bus tip is to invest your time in getting a bus/metro pass. In SP and RJ it’s called a Bilhete Único and there are different versions where you can have integration with the metro service.

Metro

In terms of taking the metro, you’ll buy a ticket at the window and put it into the turnstile gate as you pass through. In Rio, it’s a card and for R$3.20 you can go as many stops as you wish. In São Paulo, it’s a small ticket and one-way costs R$3.00 (if my memory serves me). With it, you can also go as far as you want. I much prefer being able to pay one price over San Francisco’s BART service, for example, where you pay more to travel further. To travel more than 10 stops in SF, I’d pay about US$8, while in Brazil, I pay about US$1.50. It’s not about the price so much as the one-price point that I like here.

A few things you might run into are female-only ‘cars’ in Rio with a male guard preventing any men from entering, and stops where everyone just gets up and leaves while you just keep sitting there wondering what’s going on. In fact, some lines end even though there’s more railing/stops ahead, so you need to get off and wait for the connecting metro car to come and that way you can finish your trip. There is, however, one thing that might run into you, and that’s other people during rush hour. I’ve been charged from behind, as if by a linebacker, just so that person could make a last ditch effort to board the car before the doors shut.

Air

Maybe I’m lucky but I’ve generally had pleasant experiences traveling by air in Brazil. I haven’t been caught in long lines to buy my tickets, long waits to board or been subject to delayed flights.

An area where airlines fall way short is in extra baggage fees. Having two suitcases, I often pay an extra baggage fee similar to the price of the flight. This is completely ridiculous. In fact, I took a roundtrip flight with the same airline, Azul, with each flight one month apart, and paid R$100 going to my destination for a full second bag and then R$230 on the return flight for a half-full second bag (Saying, “Sorry but we recently updated our policies” doesn’t help and I highly doubt something changed so drastically in a few weeks that it warrants ‘robbing’ the customer). If Brazilians don’t fly much, it’s no wonder why.

Summing it up

In general, living well in Brazil as a foreigner is about reducing hassles and issues of logistics to a minimum. If you aren’t comfortable with the fluidity of the culture and modus operandi of the people, you’re liable to get frustrated easily (surely this applies to most foreign countries). To give a vague example of how time is sometimes spent in Brazil, it recently took me 7 hours to do something that in the US would have taken me 15 minutes. Such an experience is not unique but with time you figure out what will take all day and what won’t and with that knowledge you can determine the cost-benefit ratio.

A word of advice, though, don’t dwell on how things were back home, but be prepared to spend large chunks of time learning how to do things. I like to say that Brazil is awesome in geographical beauty, cultural diversity and expression, but it falls way short in the bureaucracy department (something that is not news to Brazilians nor foreigners alike). To put it in more succinct terms, in Brazil, I like the culture but not the bureaucracy, in the US, I like the bureaucracy but not so much the culture. So if I had any simple, all-encompassing advice to dole out, it’s to fill your days with what Brazil does well while taking everything else in stride. Additionally, be open to the possibility that you will experience all four steps of acculturation at the same time, for a long time.

One thought on “Lessons from a Constant Mover – Part 2

  1. “Additionnally…, at the same time, for a long time”… I would add about acculturation (or/and about the four steps) that the first “competence” in order to leave in another country being conscious of the differences is incompetence, a kind of (sometimes sweet, sometime boring) incapacity. I have studied a lot about “interculturality”, “acculturation”, etc., I have listened my colleagues talking about “intercultural competencies” but at a certain moment (mostly after having “meter a mão na massa”) it’s always the same. A kind of “I don’t know”, “i don’t understand” (or more subtle but still not really helpful even if sometimes sweet, “I understand that I don’t understand”)… despite readings, conversations, etc. And for sure, I can resist, be nervous, refuse. But finally why not. Why not trying to embody this “I don’t know”… Well, not so simple, but it’s my way to open the cultural windows again and maybe also to accept the presence of the mirror (“it is a mirror that reflects your personal preferences and cultural tendencies”). Still about the process of acculturation, I would add that learning a language is to me a tree that hides the (tropical) forest of the cultural differences – even if I love learning languages and even if know that a foreign language is very useful. Learning a language will not reflects your personal preferences and cultural tendencies – but of your language. And finally that geographical distance hides sometimes some cultural proximity (and the other way around). I mean that if one is looking for some exotic experiences (or more simply something new), at a certain moment the mirror will be back (similarities). Maybe it’s the root of the frustration described in the second stage of the process of acculturation. But It’s also a way to discover that beyond/beside/below differences, there is something similar. Well, there is no absolute difference and there is no absolute similarity. So to conclude, yes, “at the same time, for a long time” and actually, I have the feeling that bureaucracy is part of the culture too. The result of some historical processes. A rest of colonialism in Brazil ? A reminder of the Portuguese presence? And also the function of the bureaucracy in Brazil is maybe not the same as in the US (well, i’m not talking about asking a document and receiving it but apparently bureaucracy in Brazil is not “just do it” – to exaggerate). And apparently bureaucracy in Minas Gerais is really more efficient than in Bahia (personal experience). So, again because i like it very much: “additionnally… at the same time, for a long time”, thanks for your post and also for “Scary Streets”, “O corpo das Mulheres”, “Dar mole”. A lot to say.

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