Monday, May 27, 2013

Living in Brazil vs. the USA - a meditation

Having just returned from three weeks in the United States I am settling back into the local reality of living here in Niterói. Why is it that I prefer living in Brazil over the luxury and convenience of the States?

It was nice to come back to the neighborhood park brimming with families taking good advantage of a sunny Sunday. My first visit to the nearby supermarket included the cashier smiling and asking me about how nice it must have been to visit my family. Luiz and I have been passing out smiles to friends with the little two dollar Florida key chain souvenirs we brought back for just that purpose. Call me old fashion but I enjoy seeing the whites of my neighbors’ eyes.

Traveling to the States for the first time in 5.5 years – wow, what an experience in contrasts. Everything is so big in the United States, bigger than I remember. The cars, parking lots, restaurant portion sizes, grocery stores, homes, and of course the shopping malls are so super-sized.

Visiting family and friends definitely stirred up things I miss about the United Sates, but I was also reminded of the reasons I have always felt good about relocating. The differences between living here and there were definitely in stark relief during this trip.

As any expat blogger knows from experience, it is difficult to make comparisons between countries, available consumer goods, lifestyles, cultures, daily life, etc. without getting into hot water with readers on either side of the comparison, US American or Brazilian. Forgive me if I take us into this territory, if only to refocus our attention.

Let me keep it personal. Any effort to compile typical (and predictable) lists for comparison will only result in obvious results. Yeah, yeah, I know – you can buy a better, cheaper coffee machine in the United States. Drivers there are generally more considerate of pedestrians. And US politicians are more adept at concealing their corrupt activities (or should I say there is more willful ignorance among the voting public in this regard). Big deal. But how do I feel during an average day, living in either place?

Brazil often brings out the best in me. It has to. After all, the coffee makers are for shit.

I suppose the back story here is rather important and speaks volumes to my personal experience and conclusions. Luiz and I are living a bit outside the hustle and making-ends-meet struggle of so many in Brazil. We are not raising children, nor are we buying our first home. One thing we share as soul mates is our focus on relationships and experiences over material things. We are quite happy to construct a lifestyle that allows us to live without a car or the need to eat out several times a week. I think we are a bit older than most fellow expat bloggers I follow here in Brazil. In many ways we are in a later chapter in our lives, having left 60 hour work weeks and early-adopting impulses behind. We choose to seek out the calm in life, even if (especially if) it means toning down the endless choices and oft entertaining cacophony of the fast lane. Do I miss the ‘good old days’? Maybe, sometimes. But I could not have imagined or fully realized the quality of life possible living so close to the ground without the culture shift.

Living here in Brazil we choose to join with so many Brazilians in our insistence on seeing the glass half full.

The absence of hot water at the bathroom tap, fresh corn tortillas or cheap, powerful electronics may call on us to compromise but it has not soured our experience in our new home. Sure, visiting the States reminded me of the possibility of a pedestrian-safe urban life, but I missed the convenience of local bus service taking you anywhere you need to go.

Money is a pain in the ass. Earning money in the States is much easier than earning it here in Brazil. To make things more challenging, these days the cost of living in Brazil has skyrocketed. Money greases the skids of an otherwise difficult daily life. But money distorts experience. Luiz and I have the privilege of no longer suffering for every coin. Our long term planning and life choices have brought modest relief in this regard. But there is no escaping the fact that when left on automatic – life is easier, and filled with more stuff, in the States.

But who wants to live on automatic?

I guess this post is not so much about how the United Sates and Brazil compare economically or in terms of creature comforts, but rather it is about the focus and choices we as expats have made to thrive in our new adopted home.

Luiz and I choose to feel the love, dance to a new rhythm and celebrate new friendships. It was definitely fun to go shopping in Florida for a new sport coat, sneakers and dress slacks, but here in Niterói I will quite certainly wear through five pair of flip flops before even breaking in my new wardrobe.


Danielle said...

Really nice, Jim! Very well written, too. :) I'm happy that you're happy. You deserve it! xoxoxo

Anonymous said...

I loved this post, it made me smile and I am happy for you! J :)

Gabriela Guedes said...

Hi Jim!
My name is Gabriela and I also live in Niterói. I lived in the US for a year (PA) and came back for a six-week visit last December, but I must agree with you on one thing, once we decide to live a calm life over a material life, things become easier.
Your blog is really great! I am really enjoying and recommending to my American friends.
I was thinking that maybe one day we could drink some coconut water on Icaraí beach.

Your story with Luiz is really beautiful. God bless this relationship.

Anonymous said...

Really Beautiful.