Thursday, April 4, 2013

We're going back to the USA -- to shop

After five and a half years of acclimating to Brazilian life we are finally making a trip back to the United States. We will visit family and friends in Florida for three weeks in May.

Obviously it has been a while, so catching up in person with folks in Florida will be great. Also, we are looking forward to doing some shopping for things we thought we could live without – or could find here in Brazil - but will now buy in the States and bring back with us.

Shopping for stuff you either cannot get here or you can get it but for a ridiculously expensive price often takes front and center when expats make a return visit to the US (or Canada, or wherever). Luiz and I pride ourselves in our simple lifestyle and adaptable ways. Learning how best to morph into locals has been quite an adventure. But there have been some surprises along the way, for sure. So now we will go on a shopping run to fill in some of the blanks.

Seemingly simple items have proven elusive or crazy expensive. For example – you know that collapsible little round steamer insert you place into a pan with a little water (you probably have one) and use for steaming vegetables? The local equivalent here is R$30. Or that nice, spicy fragrant, triple milled French bar soap that makes you feel special? The cheapest I’ve seen it here is R$25 a bar (and not the super bath size). Vitamin supplements are easily three times the price as in the States. As has been noted on other blogs, finding a slow cooker (Crock Pot) has proven fruitless.  Horror stories about the price of plastic children’s toys are legend among expat new moms (luckily, not our issue).

But hey, we did not move here to live like US Americans, just in another country. Brazilians have been getting along successfully for centuries, thank you very much. And in recent years even low income folks have acquired decent size refrigerators and automatic washing machines (cold water only).

It has been rather adventuresome learning to cook in a kitchen stripped to the bare essentials. Frankly, as many of you know, I adore cooking with clay and stone pots and I love the look of our carved wooden serving bowls.  We even use clay bowls intended for Candomblé ritual offerings as salad bowls. Very cool.

But I must confess that, in my case, you can take the boy out of San Francisco, but you can’t take all of San Francisco out of the boy. I still crave a decent croissant. I miss my Trader Joe’s. And what I wouldn't do for a large selection of quality cheeses at reasonable prices!

The Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley!
So, while in Tampa and environs, we do plan on shopping for some of the things we have come to miss and want to have around again.

For the most part our focus will be on kitchen stuff (ice cream maker, slow cooker, tofu maker, tortilla press, various baking related items, Ziplock bags and a few simple utensils) and food stuffs (Masa Harina for corn tortillas, the usual chocolate chips and peanut butter, spice packets and jars of sauces for Chinese, Mexican and Indian meals, Splenda and maybe some canned cranberries).

While we are at it we will pick up some things that are available here, but cost too much to justify their purchase locally (or are just painful to buy): some clothes, sneakers, sunscreen, quality herbal soaps, bed sheets and maybe a computer tablet for Luiz.

Just the fun stuff essentials.

 I’ve made a list of the local cost of most of these items so I can be sure we don’t just get swept away in a fantasy of cheap shopping but rather truly seek out deals worth the haul back through the airport.

At the top of my list of things to do, aside from visiting with family and practical shopping, is to eat out at authentic ethnic restaurants. I have some serious pent-up desire in this area. Good quality and truly authentic ethnic restaurants in our area are rare (very rare) and charge insane prices for disappointing kitchen results. But then, we lived in San Francisco for nearly 25 years, where you can eat authentic Ethiopian, Cambodian, German, Salvadoran, Laotian, French, Spanish, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, Vietnamese, ahhh… the list goes on. It is not fair to compare. But my desire is there all the same.

Here, in our city that lacks ethnic neighborhoods or significant ethnic populations outside of various regional Brazilian folk, restaurants are pretty much all cut from the same cloth, with few exceptions and when you can find an “ethnic” restaurant, the effort to make international flavors bend to local tastes often makes the end result rather simplistic and fairly unrecognizable.

Our trip to “Disney World” will take the form of restaurant hopping and adventurous home cooking with ingredients we haven’t seen in years.

Naturally this is a two way street. Tucked in our bags heading toward Tampa will be multiple packets of Pão de Queijo mix, various jars of Dolce de Leite artesanato, and lots of cashews (cheaper here than walnuts). Gifts for family members will be unique arts and crafts from Brazil – and maybe a few soccer jerseys.

So the countdown to our visit is on. We’re making our list and checking it twice. Do let me know if you think I have forgotten anything.

You can rest assured we will return to our life in progress here in Brazil.


Danielle said...

Can you bring me a home theatre speaker system, some nike sneakers, an iphone, and some Victoria's Secret lotions? I'll pay you back when you get it to me.


Rachel said...

So excited for you two! You guys are going to have a blast! Get the big suitcases ready and good luck finding a place to put all the stuff when you get back ;)

Peg said...

Hope you have a great trip!

You know I'm already jealous of your future slow cooker, but I'll find a way! :)

David said...

I am moving back to Sao Paulo in June. My permanent visa based on a stable union was approved and I can legally be with my partner. Your blog really inspired me. Anyway, I am presently working in Japan and you can bet that I am stocking up on things for Brazil. Japan has the best shopping in the world and prices have gone down over the years. Best of all, Japan still has surface mail for mailing big packages. It costs about 70 dollars to send a big box. Yes, it takes 3 months and it is a risk (but so far all boxes have arrived), but when I can get a steamer for about a dollar over here, it's worth it. Thanks again!

bee and jay said...

Wow, didn't realize you hadn't paid a return visit in all that time. Hope you have a fantastic vacation!

We totally get the cooking implements thing! We mostly rent apartments for our vacations and we travel with a "kitchen kit", although we're learning to pare it down to only the real essentials, like a good knife, etc.

The Reader said...

coat hangers. if you are buying new clothes, you will need/want to buy clothes hangers rather than have to buy them here at R$10/6 hangers. Trust me on this.

Also, I assume such things as socks, etc. are on the list. Shaving cream. Batteries.

Enjoy the shopping and the good food!Oh, and maybe take local coffee with I didn't start drinking coffee until we came here, I cannot stand most of what is found in the US.

Jim said...

Great tips from experience. Thanks.

Shelley Ryan-Kelzenberg said...

Haha Danielle, you forgot the electric guitar....

I'm so intrigued by the tofu maker. Never even heard of it. A crock pot is on my list for my next trip. I had it in my hands in the states and mistakenly put it back on the shelf.