While I’ve been thrilled to enjoy life’s little luxuries in the United States, there’s been a few elements of Brazilian culture that I do miss.
Yes, I know I often butt heads with Brazilian social norms. As much as I feel like a fish out of water while I’m in Brazil, it’s still hard to come home and re-adjust to life in the United States. I don’t like to call it “reverse culture shock” because I’m completely and 100% comfortable with my American-ness. However, as with any extended travel, I’m sometimes reminded of how much I’ve changed in my time away.
1. The chillness. “Tranquilo.” “Calma.” “Relaxa.” In Portuguese, I find these words have their intended effect: when I’m nervous, they’re a sign to chill out and let things flow. It’s like a verbal affirmation that no one has any expectations here, so don’t drive yourself crazy.
If I tell someone to “relax” in New Jersey, they’re more likely to relax their fist into my face. Everyone wants something done and has their attention pulled in a thousand different directions. Whatever part I may be playing in someone else’s day is critical. There’s no relaxing when you have a to-do list as long as your arm and the cultural expectation that you’ll forego four days of sleep to get it all done.
2. The body positivity. Brazil’s obsession with plastic surgery and esthetic procedures induces an otherworldly form of rage into me. However, it’s not all terrible. Despite the heightened sensitivity towards any and all beauty standards, there’s also a relaxation towards body image in Brazil, as well.
In Rio, I’m convinced this is caused by the extreme heat. I mean, who has time to care about whether or not your bathing suit covers your “problem areas” when it feels like 115ºF? While people tend to talk very openly about dieting or who has/hasn’t gained/lost weight, I also see more women who shop for their current body size and flaunt what they like about themselves in this moment. There’s less “I’ll wear that when I’m X pounds,” and more “I’ll wear this right now because I think it’s cute and I want to feel good.”
When I wear one of my bathing suits in the US days – which, by Brazilian standards, are still extremely tame – I notice the extra looks and judgment. Whether it’s that they think my bathing suit is too small, I’m too big, or I’m too muscular, I don’t know. I do know that, in Brazil, the only thing people are looking at when I’m in a bathing suit is whether or not I’ve got a beer in my hand and I’m enjoying myself.
3. The sociability. When I went to Crossfit the other day, I joined in for an open gym and panicked that I had forgotten my headphones. “What if I need to focus, but someone wants to chat?” Headphones are usually my go-to sign for “Not now, I’m working.”
Then I remembered I was in the US and literally no one talked to me the whole time except the coach. When’s the last time that happened?
Gustavo always laughs at me because when we get to the gym, his first instinct is to go and say hi to everyone whereas I tend to stay off to the side, getting my things together, and focusing on what we’re going to be doing next. When I was doing additional training after each Crossfit class, I’d often to a whole separate workout alone while Gustavo was still talking with the others or joining in on their training.
90% of the time, I find the sociability to be overwhelming. The process of translating Portuguese to English all day is enough brainwork for me. However, I miss the informality of the interactions and the assumed desire to connect with others. It sure as hell doesn’t come naturally to me, but it adds a personal touch to day-to-day life.
To describe the differences in one simple word, Brazil is more laid back. While it can be frustrating (AF) at times, it’s also reassuring. Life is a little bit slower paced and a whole lot more accessible. Most Brazilians are an open book, with nothing to hide and everything to gain. As much as I try to hide from it, it’s a characteristic I’ve come to appreciate for what it does: builds bridges between people.