It’s difficult to feel indifferent about Brazil. People either love it or hate it … or are in a very opinionated in between.
I have oscillated from love to hate to bewilderment more times than I can count. As I start to feel the urge to look outward towards new adventures in new lands, I feel it is appropriate to put down some of my thoughts on the land of the samba. Here are ten things that I hate about Latin America’s largest country.
1. Crime: Brazil has a lot of it.
If you come from a country where the your only concern during a midnight supermarket run in your pajamas is whether someone you know will see you, get ready for a change of mindset. Brazil is a dangerous place – some places more than others. Does this mean you should lock yourself in your house? No! Although the homicide rate is insanely high, most of the murders are centralized in the poorer regions and where there are ongoing wars between gangs and the police. Outside of these regions your main worry is theft and muggings. Yes, these bandits are armed, but there aren’t dead bodies of tourists being collected from Copacabana beach every day. Nevertheless, the constant waves of crime does add an extra element of vigilance in my everyday walks, which does become a hassle. One can´t simply relax and enjoy the scenery here in Brazil. In fact my first mugging (ever in my life) occurred when I left a club at 2 in the morning figuring I could walk around downtown São Paulo like I had walked the streets of Philadelphia so many times, alone, in the wee hours, contemplating life while on my way to the metro. WRONG!!! Clearly I am not dead. They were only interested in some cash and even thanked me after for my cooperation. Go figure. In my shock I said, “You’re welcome.”
2. Lack of Commitment: I don´t know how they manage to get married.
It’s pretty generally known that Brazilians do not like confrontation, and so in order to avoid it they simply lie to you. They say they are going to do something but never give a date. They confirm their presence at your event, but later tell you that they forget they had a family gathering the same day. They will tell you they are interested in a project you are working on, but won’t get back to you for further feedback. It’s the way it works. Unless you get a hard Yes and see bodies moving, expect that most anything coming out of a Brazilians mouth is a non-committal style No – even their Maybes. This can be soul crushing at first if you are really looking forward to something, but soon you realize it’s the way things are and learn to depend on yourself and the few pro-commitment Brazilians friends that you will make along the way.
3. Falseness: Brazilians will lie to your face with a smile.
Imagine a country inhabited by politicians: that is Brazil. Brazilians will swoon over you, tell you how great you are, kiss your feet, but when it comes time for you to put all that love they have for you to good use they have a tendency to disappear. The combination of this quality with their lack of commitment makes it especially hard to get any work done. Chances are that you will be surrounded by Yes Men who are ultra pumped about your next project, that is until they don’t return calls, schedule dentist appointments on the same day you scheduled a meeting, and waste a lot of your valuable time. Some of the falseness is very malicious, and it almost feels like Brazilians want to live their own personal soap operas (we’ll get to the drama section in a bit), but a lot of it also stems from being non-committal and non-confrontational and therefore not wanting to hurt anyone’s feeling with the truth. If there isn’t clear and present proof that your plans are going to happen within a day or two of having proposed them, move on.
4. Red Tape: There is a lot of it.
I once knew a guy that needed a document, but to get that document he needed another document from another government agency. When he arrived at that other government agency they said they could only give him that document if he had the other document from the first government agency that had sent him there in the first place. Need I continue? End of story is that he left Brazil cursing the country out – and all he wanted was to buy a cell phone, and yes, you need a document for that. Scary part is that this is not an isolated incident. The more you accept that Red is the fifth colour of the Brazilian Flag, the less expletives per day you will utter.
5. Drama: “The world is a stage …” – NO! Brazil is!!!
The nightly soap opera is still one of the highest rated television program in the country. Brazilians love their drama, and with strong melodramatic tones. Arguments can start here over which side of the bread one should put butter on. There is never a quick exit, as someone tries to prove their side. And after they have proved their side they will make sure to bring it up again in 6 months in order to truly beat the horse to a bloody and senseless death. The most frustrating part of a Brazilian argument is that since they decline to say what they really feel, and don’t like to commit to things, it is usually only an argument for the sake of argument – they really don´t want a resolution. The quicker you learn this, the less likely it is that you fall into a Brazilian trap. There are a lot of emotions, and if you are not ready for them, or your culture is more reserved, prepare by doing some primal scream therapy and get to know your inner child; you will need it to survive.
6. Lack of Culture: A global epidemic to which Brazil has succumbed.
Across the world there seems to be a dumbing down of culture. You can see it evidenced in popular movies, television shows, and especially in music. Yet there are always little glimmers of intelligence out there: kids that speak in full sentences, movies that leave with you out of the theatre, songs that evoke strong emotions as well as thought. Brazil has latched on to the negative trend of zombification of the masses, but is lacking sorely in the latter. The music is dull, television is one soap opera followed by a variety show followed by another soap opera, and there is no film industry of which to speak highly. People, in general, don’t pick up books, or think outside of their own little boxes. This is a real tragedy considering the great art and culture that has come out of Brazil in its long history. The 1960s and 70s, for example, were decades that brought us the great works of world renowned musicians, actors, and singers like Milton Nascimento, Sonia Braga, Bibi Ferreira, Tom Jobim, Elis Regina, among countless others. Brazil is in serious lack of a cultural movement for the masses.
7. Racism, Sexism, Homophobia etc etc: If it’s bad, Brazil’s got it in abundance.
It doesn’t take too long being in Brazil to notice that black people are rarely shown on television unless they are maids or butlers, kicking a ball, living in a favela (Brazilian slum), dancing during Carnival, or being shot at by the police. Joining the blacks into a fine little stereotyped peg are the women who are mostly objectified or portrayed as using their sex appeal and congeniality, instead of their brains, to move ahead with their plans in soap operas and film. Gays (and other LBT people) are treated well as long as they can entertain, and don’t mind toning they “gay” down in everyday life. Indigenous people are simply forgotten, and xenophobia of all sorts is on the rise. Brazilians like to be portrayed as one happy multi-cultural family, but they are actually quite divisive. There is indeed a certain comradery among people of all sexes, races, and whatever else makes up the melting pot, but it is done while keeping a polite distance. It’s just like meeting someone at a bar and exchanging numbers after a wonderful night of beers and conversations but never hearing from that person again; people here are generally not genuinely interested in each other. At the end of the work day each group goes to their assigned spots and prepare to tolerate each other again the next day. It’s sad really for a country with such a unique blend of people to still suffer from these social ills on such a mainstream level.
8. Prices – Everything is expensive.
When George Harrison wrote “Taxman” he could have never imagined Brazil, if he had, perhaps the song would have been more to the tune of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” There are extremely high taxes on everything in Brazil, so everything is more expensive to cover these charges. If you are thinking of buying an international product, you are then met with even higher taxes which the protectionist government uses to try to push the national brands. There is no way around this. Brazil will suck you dry. If you are fortunate enough to be earning in strong foreign currency, you may still get frustrated by the prices, but it will be manageable. But if you earn in Reais you will feel the pinch. To give you an idea of how outrageous the prices are here, there have been foreign companies which are famous for their low prices that have decided against investing in Brazil so as to not blemish that standard. Happy shopping!!!
9. The Huge Government – Everywhere you go Big Brother is watching.
Brazil’s Government is huge. There are countless politicians (513 in Congress and 81 in the Senate), 35 political parties, and a slew of micro managing laws to go with them. Some could argue that this is good for democracy – more voices for the people. The reality is much different than the confabulation. What it creates instead is a perfect example of too many cooks in the kitchen, and with most of them more interested in taking a little bit of that delicious dish for themselves than serving it to us. Where big government becomes most evident is in the taxes – everything is taxed. A Brazilian works nearly 5 months of the year just to pay the government. Where there is big government there are also laws to make simple things like opening a business more of a life goal than a life choice. The government also tries to extend its hands out to censor speech, regulate the internet, and pass “anti-hate” legislation to “protect victims of society,” but as we saw above, it does little to improve the real life situation of most minorities and/or oppressed groups. It’s a government that coddles its citizen like an overprotective parent that stunts both economic and social growth. I had never felt such a strong presence of governing forces in my daily life before coming to Brazil, and as someone who appreciates the notion of smaller government and more individual freedom it has taken quite a bit of time for me to live with it even while despising it.
10. Self-Serving Attitude: It’s all about family … OUR FAMILY
Something that may come as shock to people who first arrive here and decide to stay is how superficial Brazilian generosity really is. Brazilians tend to spout visions of unity and collectivism over beer and great music, but at the end of the day they are quite selfish and self-serving. Volunteering or mentoring are not things you often hear about when people talk about their life experiences. I have felt that there is a very strong sense of entitlement that runs from the richest to the poorest. There is an attitude of, “I can because I can and everyone else is simply a co-star in my personal life drama.” Of course there are Brazilians who do give of their time, but there is little support for them. The mode of operation is simply, “take what you can, and leave some crumbs behind so you don’t come off as a complete jerk.” An example of this that caused ire among some Brazilians was when Pearl Jam donated all the money from their concert in Minas Gerais to the victims of the tragic dam break in the state. Social media went abuzz pointing out how embarrassing it was to have a foreigner come here and do this while Brazilians celebrities did practically nothing but offer their condolences. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any public figure who makes a public example of the importance of helping the less fortunate by giving of their own time and effort. There are plenty of call for prayers, plenty of requests for donations, plenty of petitions which are signed, but very little individual effort. Perhaps the nature of Brazil as a country of so much political, social and economic instability creates a culture of “protecting what is mine.” Whatever the cause, it does make for a very self-centered society.
And now that we got the dirty laundry out of the way, click here and let’s look at the reasons why Brazil does put a smile on my face.
If you also want to learn Portuguese as a second language, check out my Portuguese courses in Brazil. Access the link http://helloportuguese.com/our-courses/