Now that I have officially uprooted myself from a six-month stay in Brazil, I’ve had a little more time to reflect and process my experience in South America’s most populous nation.
I’ve now set up shop in Chile for a bit, taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting the people and places that were a part of my 2014 study abroad experience.
And as Brazil sails away in the rearview mirror, the things that I miss have become more clear. While most of my writing about Brazil has been rave reviews (and rightfully so), on the other hand, there are also a handful of things that I am realizing I will not miss about living there.
Traveling in general is not always as rosy as it seems, so it’s only fair to highlight some of those slightly less pleasant qualities of my trip.
That said, there are plenty of things to miss about Brazil, so I’ll start with those.
What I’ll miss:
1. Brazilian buffets
Brazil has the buffet game down to a science. Normally I associate buffets in the US with mediocre, semi-warm college dorm food that has been sitting around for god knows how long. In Brazil, however, buffets are a very common choice for lunch, and — assuming you know a good one — they have an amazing selection of fresh dishes that include veggies, fruit, beans, rice, meat, desserts, etc.
If in Brazil, don’t be afraid to give the buffet a try.
2. Service at the beach
This one was really close to being on the ‘things I won’t miss’ list, but at the end of the day, I decided the pros outweighed the cons.
In Brazil, everything you could possibly ever need is available for rent or sale at the beach. There are vendors renting chairs and umbrellas, selling lunch, making drinks, cracking open coconuts, and providing sunscreen. It’s pretty nice, especially if you are sensitive to the tropical sun (like me) and don’t want to haul an umbrella around with you everywhere you go.
I know it can be annoying having people trying to sell you stuff all the time, but there are less-touristy beaches in Brazil where you can get a more secluded experience if you prefer.
In my travels around the world, I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon to hear the most popular American billboard songs blasting on the radio wherever you go. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but what I like about Brazil is they have such a rich music culture of their own. Brazilians love Brazilian music. Learning the names of all the artists and different genres is a task in itself for any foreigner.
My favorite Brazilian artists are definitely Natiruts and Jorge Ben Jor.
4. Being tan
This one is simple but true. My hard-earned Brazilian tan has a quick shelflife when living in the dreary cold of Chile. I’ll give it a week or two until I am back at square one.
I am not a huge partier, so I was not particularly ecstatic about Brazil’s world-renowned celebration of Carnaval. While I never doubted that it would be a good time, I figured it would just be a bunch of drunk people and tourists partying — nothing special. But I was wrong!
Due to the pandemic, Carnaval was delayed a few months and took place in April of this year. I was blown away by the vibrance and energy. Block parties sprung up all around the city, each with its own flavor of live music, dancing, parades, food, and drinks. The whole country comes together with joyous vibes of camaraderie and acceptance. I thought that was really fun and cool.
Things I won’t miss
Not to talk shit about Brazil, but no country is perfect. Inevitably, every person will have some things that they dislike about a country given their background, upbringing, and experiences. Thus, understand that this list comes from my skewed gringo perspective.
1. Paying for public restrooms
I know many people around the world are used to this, but I think it just goes against my moral code to pay for public restrooms. I despise it. It should be a human right to use the restroom when you need to. And most of the time the bathroom that you are paying for is far from clean or luxurious.
The USA has got a lot of things wrong, but free public restrooms are not one of them! Most public bathrooms in Brazil cost about a dollar, maybe less. But the annoying part is remembering to leave the house with small bills or coins in case you need one because they typically do not accept cards or large bills.
2. Crazy drivers
Another nice quality of the US: pedestrians have the right of way, and the vast majority of people abide by this rule.
In Brazil, the unwritten rule is that cars have the right of way. Brazilian drivers are not afraid to play chicken with pedestrians. I swear drivers are often willing to nearly kill you instead of slowing down for 5 seconds. My rule of thumb was to never assume a driver would stop and even when you have a walking signal, always do a double check, especially for motorcycles that are lane splitting!
The more time I spend outside of California, the more I realize that I grew up in a uniquely low-bug region of the planet.
In Brazil, you just have to get comfortable coinhabiting the land with abundant amounts of spiders, cockroaches, mosquitos, etc. I don’t think there ever was a moment during my six-month stay that I was completely free of mosquito bites. Bugs suck.
4. No free parking
As with much of Latin America, any in-demand Brazilian street parking is run by informal ‘parking attendants’ who charge you to park in otherwise free, public spaces. It’s usually pretty cheap — a dollar at most — but it’s still just a bit annoying.
Supposedly you are paying for these attendants to watch your car, but does their presence really deter car theft and break-ins? I only had a car for a week, so I don’t know. Brazilians, feel free to weigh in.
In Brazil, I learned that a rainstorm is a much bigger deal than I am accustomed to back home in the US. Storm drains are essentially non-existent in Rio, so when it rains the low-lying areas flood quite quickly. One thing leads to another and the whole city can come to a standstill during a modest rain event. I just learned to not make plans when it’s raining, because sometimes the best option is just to stay home and not brave the flooded streets.
Through the good and the bad, Brazil definitely has a certain charm that I miss. And my list of things I will not miss doesn’t necessarily mean that these are inherently bad things. They are just things that disagree with my point of view which has been molded by my specific set of life experiences. If you go to Brazil, your list may be completely different!
There are always two sides of the coin when traveling, and I think it is helpful to be transparent about the whole experience.
3 thoughts on “5 things I’ll miss about Brazil, 5 thing I won’t”
Another wonderful, insightful read. I know you made some lifelong friendships there. Looking forward to Brazilian guests in our California home. Did you pick up any new new dance moves you can teach the fam?
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Fun read, Evan. Brazil has great music in so many genres. My first encounter was classical with Heitor Villa-Lobos whose Bachianas Brasilieras #5 (feat. Bidu Sayao) is still in heavy rotation on my playlist. Of course, the jazz/samba artists Jobim and Gilberto are evergreen but I’ve lost the thread of what’s happening there since then so I will give a listen to your suggestions. I envy your expierence in Carnaval which I vowed I would see ever since I saw it depicted in the Camus’ film Orfeu Negro in the 60’s. (Controversial but really stunning with a haunting musical theme.) Too old to go now, so thanks for going for me. Btw, we ran into the street parking protection racket in Costa Rica too. A bit of Latin American job creation going on there, right?. Bugs, yeah, and they don’t even have screens on any of the windows, I bet. That’s how the two of us got Dengue fever in Mexico. But we have lots of tick-borne diseases here now so you don’t have to travel to get sick from insects. Did you know that grandma and grampa went to Rio in the late 1960’s? We love this armchair travel as we continue to cower at home among the elite 20% of Americans that experts say have not yet contracted the coronavirus. But we may get lucky soon. Safe travels and if you get to Colombia, hug those Bogotanos for us. Hugs to you too.
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Hey Shelley, I am headed off to Colombia on the 23rd!
Lucky you you haven’t got covid yet!
I do remember Grandma talking about Rio de Janeiro. I bet we went to a lot of the same places. Must have been a different world back then!