LFB – When the fat lady sings

I’m not 100% on this yet but I’m seriously considering going back to the States at some point before mid-2013. My main reason has become the Brazilian’s principal complaint: frustration towards a system that continuously fails the citizen (and, if I’m being honest, the Lei do Gérson is my other reason). I understand that in a society where the State doesn’t pull it’s own weight (do what it should), the people have to fill that gap and the way of doing that is by being inventive, thinking on your feet and having your eyes open to opportunities. I would expect this to happen anywhere in the world where the State doesn’t do its job well. The cause is the State, the symptom is it affects how the people have to operate.

Lets liken what I just said to driving in Brazil. If someone starts driving here and follows all the traffic laws, goes the speed limit, etc, it is that person who will cause an accident. Why? Because, if you’ve spent time here, you’ve seen practically everyone on the road driving on the divider between two lanes (on a one-way avenue), speeding (ever been on a bus here?), driving through red lights, etc. In other words, the majority must lean towards doing one thing or the other, to follow the rules or not. It can’t be 50/50 (ie, some following 100% of the law and the other half not), that would be too chaotic. But ‘all or nothing’ (law-abiding vs. ‘controlled chaos’, if you will) provides some guidelines for anyone new coming on the road. That person that follows all the laws of the road is restricted to asking themselves ‘yes or no’ questions and then acting accordingly. But the people who do as others do, they can operate on an open-ended basis within the current system.

As much as I love and respect many aspects about Brazil, its culture and its people, I’m not sure if I can continue to envision myself in a place where the State consistently fails its people (though I must say, being extremely law-abiding, such as the direction that the US is going in with the increasing ‘police state’, doesn’t put a smile on my face either). At that point it becomes choosing between extreme fluidity and extreme solidity, neither of which are optimal.

The famous Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta expands on some of these ideas I’ve been talking about in a video (in PT) on “Rituals of Identity & Ritualistic Identities”, starting at 88:38 (fast-forward to that point in the video).


8 thoughts on “LFB – When the fat lady sings

  1. I’m interested in what specifically caused this change of heart. I am retiring to Brasil in a few months and if there is something I should be aware of, please tell me.

  2. I’d say it was just time (a matter of time) for me, personally. I have an untested theory that, if I were earning more, I could more easily either ignore or get around many of the issues I deal with. I’m not sure if Brazilians believe that gringos living in Brazil are living the good life, as if they were on holiday permanently, but I’d say that my life is more in line with that of a Brazilian’s, meaning I treat it as real life, not a holiday, and I have a lot of the same problems.

    Having fun and distracting yourself is what Brazil does best. That’s the main attraction. I’d even say that the ‘invisible hand’ of the system (cultural and political) lends to such a stark division between the two halves of that system. Meaning, the political is such crap that there absolutely has to exist an opposing side (the culture and endless possibilities to enjoy yourself).

  3. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of because you are a “gringo,” try this: When renting a hotel room ask, “How much is the rate?” When they tell you, ask, “How much is the rate for people who don’t have any money?” This is what I do and the rate sometimes goes down by as much as 50 percent.

    Also, inform shopkeepers and others, “I’m not a tourist! I LIVE in Brazil, so don’t think I can pay like a tourist just because of my accent.” Dealing with these problems directly, assertively and head on often reduces prices and expenses for me.

    Find out what locals pay for goods and services and then ask at the point of sale, “Faz quanto para morrador?” Brazilians understand that there are gringos whose income depends on the local economy and who don’t earn money in Euros.

    I’m sad to hear you contemplating leaving Brazil to go back to the United States. So, I’ll give you a few reasons to reconsider:

    1). Twenty-six people were shot in an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday. Nothing on that scale has happened in Brazil since I first arrived here in 2003.

    2). You say you live on a modest budget. If you get sick in Brazil, you will receive all of the free care that the SUS has to offer, without ever receiving a bill for any service that SUS provides to you. You might also get free medicine to take home with you. Meanwhile, if you or a family member gets sick in the United States and you don’t have money, you will get triaged in a US hospital emergency room and “stabilized” so that you won’t die on the way home, but the ongoing treatment of your illness will be yours alone to deal with practically and financially. What if you get sick in the United States after you leave Brazil. Will you fly back to Brazil?

    3). It’s true that traffic fatalities are much greater in Brazil than in the United States. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22414123 Brazil has 50 percent more traffic fatalities per capita than the United States does. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

    On the other hand, if you prefer to risk your life without constantly being stopped by police officers for traffic violations, then Brazil is the place for you. On the road in front of my house, drivers constantly ignore the double lines and pass other drivers, even though that presents a greater danger. In the US, there would be a police car hiding behind every tree. In Brazil, drivers and pedestrians mostly proceed at their own risk, with impunity. Being a Black man, I’d rather take my chances with traffic than face “driving while Black” confrontations with police officers all the time.

    4). Brazilian metropolis, cities and towns have sufficient bus routes and frequency that driving a car isn’t really a necessity at all in many cases. I believe that if you ride in an bus than traffic accidents are much less likely to be fatal than, say, on a motorcyle or in a passenger car. One alternative for people with objections to driving in chaos is to ride the bus and let the bus driver worry about getting through safely.

    5). If you have a low income in the United States, you are poor. If you have that same income to Brazil, then you are normal relative to everyone else.

    6). Have you tried visiting a dentist in the United States lately? In Brazil, you can get same day appointments and pay the equivalent of 600USD for a route canal and crown, with the entire procedure done in one or two days. In the United States, the same procedure, with a two-month wait for an appointment, and with the subsequent appointments and procedures divided spread out over a month or two, would cost $2000.00! http://www.city-data.com/forum/dental-health/1216469-root-canal-cost.html That’s three times as much! Are you SURE you can afford to move back to the United States?

    7). If you live in the north or northeast of Brazil, you can swim all year round and you don’t need winter clothes because there is a perpetual summer. If you live in the northeast of the US, you need sandals and snowboots, sleeveless shirts and fleece lined coats with gloves. That’s a cost one doesn’t face in much of Brazil.

    8). In Brazil, most highways are built through forests while the beaches are left alone. In the United States, most highways are build on and over the very beaches that would otherwise be beautiful, and so most of the eastern coast of the United States is just a series of smelly factories, with what once were beaches being utterly ruined for the enjoyment of nature.The absolute worst parts of Bahia’s cost don’t begin to resemble the ruined seascapes of New Jersey, Delaware, New York and Connecticut. In the United States, every area that could have a highway DOES have a highway.

    9). In the United States, you need a car to get everywhere, including to the beach. Moreover, the best beaches are in small, wealthy towns where the residents do everything in their power to dissuade city-dwellers from visiting town beaches. You have to pay to get onto town beaches and you often need a resident permit as well. And there are no buses that go to the beaches. In Brazil, virtually all of the beaches are public and there are buses and affordable taxis that take people of humble income to the beaches, with fewer barriers set up to dissuade the poor from accessing beaches.

    10). Brazil has a public option healthcare system. The United States has systemic health care profiteering where people only get good healthcare when their needs somehow coincide with the needs of the capitalists who have a “right” to profit off our bad fortune whenever and wherever they can.

    11). Before returning to the United States in disgust, consider moving to a smaller town in Brazil. I live right on the water in a one-bedroom apartment for 225.00 USD per month. If I moved into a barrio, I could get the same apartment for $150.00 USD per month. If you find ANYWHERE in the US where you can live on a swimmable beach for $225.00USD per month and swim yearround, please tell me where that is!

    12). Have you ever tried parking in Boston or any other major US city? Just the parking fees, parking fines and tow fees per year would be enough for a humble family in Brazil to live off for an entire year! Literally!

    Think long and hard before you leave Brazil. I went back to France for a couple of months after my first four months in Brazil and that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done! I missed Brazilian Carnival and instead went to Nice, France’s Carnival, which was comparatively about as interesting as sitting on Santa’s lap in a shopping mall!

    I immediately realized that I had exchanged a country where a glass of coke in a club costs $2.00USD (Brazil) for a European country where a glass of coke in a club costs 12.00USD!

    If you go back to the US, buy a roundtrip ticket. You’ll be back in Brazil soon enough, if you’re lucky.

    • As always, leaving informative comments. I lived in Natal earlier this year and experienced firsthand your 11). I paid 500R for a furnished 1-bdrm apt that was practically on the beach. It was great. I am considering getting out of Rio, if I stay, that’s for sure.

  4. I am glad that you’ve found an alternative solution to your problem. Natal is a wonderful option. Francis. I am troubled by some of your comments. We have many friends who are Brasilian who immigrated here to the USA and are doing very well. I asked one of them why she did not want to return to Brasil even though she had fallen on some difficult times. Her answers were 1-If she was to be poor she’d prefer to be poor in the USA. 2-She felt that there was more opportunity here to recover from her setback and 3-she felt safe here. I intend to retire to Brasil but I’ve visited Brasil each of the last 16 years. I’ve made it my business to learn the history and and language of Brasil and I am confident that I will be comfortable living there. Francis, all I’m saying is that there are pros and cons to all countries in this world. If one is to be successful in a move-then one should try to prepare as much as possible for that move. Further avoid comparisons, it will always lead to discontentment.

    • I, too, have had many, many Brazilian friends in the US and they all prefer the US to Brazil. In fact, they all (without exception) say that Brazil is for vacation, not to live. Then again, they were also people who were looking to leave Brazil thus, of course, their opinions are going to be “anti-Brazil”. At the same time, they still use Portuguese a lot (even though they know English) and they still celebrate their own culture at most chances to do so.

      I agree completely with the idea of knowing what you’re getting yourself into, through planning and studying up.

  5. Wow thats an interesting blog!! For the past couple of months I’ve been helping ppl from all around the world to practice portuguese, cuz either they want to visit my city or move in here. Well.. for those who wants to live here I always say the same thing “Rio is a tourist place”, to live here is not easy even for us cariocas, actually is worse, if u think the George’s law only appllies to gringos, you are wrong. We all suffer with what we call here (jeitinho brasileiro “a brazilian way”) to sort things out. The government only cares abt what can attract more tourists, The first thing a tourist see in Rio is a favela at the freeway of the airport, a few years ago the government intalled plastic walls at the freeway saying it was to reduce the noise disturbance for the ppl who live there… BS… they just wanted to hide the favela, they dont give a S#!* abt us, but let me tell u something, This is my city, Im proud of being a carioca I wouldnt trade this place for any other in the world. Do we have problems? yeah as any other country has.. but we also have beaches, mountains, forests, beautiful landscapes and the nicest ppl on earth. We dont have earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes and tsunamis, we have safety problems and a corrupt police, yeah but we dont have ppl killing dozens of childrens at schools or ppl throwing airplanes in our skyscrapers. Im not here to give u pros and cons or to try to convince u to stay, im just saying that every country has problems, but with all the problems that we have here I still LOVE my country, so If u think your country is better than mine and if u cant handle our problems, go back to your country, deal with their own problems, have a safe flight.

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