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Brazilians Abroad: Romantics, Deserters and Chameleons

Posted on 05 December 2016

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As a Brazilian who has lived outside the country for many years, one of the most common expatriate discussions I’ve witnessed is the comparison between Brazil and the (more developed) country where the expats live. Musician Tom Jobim summed up the Brazilian dilemma perfectly: “Living abroad is good but it sucks; living in Brazil sucks but it’s good”. It’s indeed a brilliant insight, but ultimately what’s “good” and what “sucks” depends greatly on each person’s posture towards life.

From what I’ve observed, there are three extreme types of Brazilian expats: the romantic; the deserter; and thechameleon. Let’s break them down.

For the romantics, seen from afar, Brazil is a paradise – the holy land they “had” to abandon in order to study, work, or accompany family. The years away from the country are a torment. What’s so good about living in a developed country if you can’t eat black beans every day, stop by aunt Maria’s house on Sundays, or go play samba music with your friends. Nothing is more important than the warmth of the Brazilian people, and the politeness of the gringos is no good, after all, deep inside they are “cold and distant”.

Romantics don’t miss a party at the local Brazilian restaurant, although, of course, they are “not as nice as the real ones in Brazil”. They tend to forget about the problems and struggles faced in the homeland, as well as to ignore the positive aspects of the country they live in. The love (or obsession) for Brazil becomes blindness, which deters them from enjoying life where they are.

Ironically, there are several cases of romantics who, after many years of complaints and dreaming about coming back to Brazil, actually have a cultural shock upon return. They wasted time not appreciating life abroad in its fullness, to then realize that the utopic version of Brazil they had in mind was simply unreal. They find themselves in the awkward situation of not being able to readapt to their own country: black beans are no longer a priority; aunt Maria, they had forgotten, is actually a bit of a bore; and the Brazilian warmth can at times go overboard. In turn, the advantages of living abroad, previously ignored, become belatedly important.

The deserters are the other extreme. These are the ones that, after leaving Brazil, think that everything that comes from there is bad, messy or inferior. They tend to exaggerate and dramatize. For example, they can’t understand how Brazilians manage to live surrounded by so much violence and corruption, forgetting that they were in the middle of it not too long ago and, despite all, it is possible to be happy there just the same. They mock when Brazilians get excited about a national movie being considered for the Oscar, although they haven’t even seen it. Any piece of national news is a reason to say that “Brazil is a joke”, even without trying to understand the situation in depth.

They don’t miss the Brazilian beaches because “they are polluted” (mind you, most are not). Complain about having to visit family in Brazil every two years and exposing their poor kids (who don’t speak Portuguese) to all that noise and turmoil. When asked where they’re form, they say “I’m originally from Brazil”, making it clear that where they are is their land of choice, that Brazil was a mere accident in their lives, simply the starting point before they ascended to the first world.

The third type, the chameleons, are the ones who seamlessly adapt to the new country, but without losing their “Brazility”. The comparison between countries is less frequent and done in a more balanced and objective way. When asked if they prefer living in Brazil or abroad, the answer is not one versus the other, but a more poised assessment of the pros and cons of each place. Chameleons tend to see the glass half-full, not half-empty. They try to focus on the positive aspects of where they live and not worry about the not-so-good ones.

They miss savoring an açaí bowl, but also enjoy a smoothie. They love Ipanema beach, but have just as much fun skiing. They root for their Brazilian soccer team from a distance, while also following local sports and teams. They are proud of Brazilian art and culture, but appreciate others’ too. They look for tasteful ways to represent the country, for example by wearing Brazil themed apparel or giving friends Brazilian gifts, but don’t obsess about it. Chameleons spontaneously befriend other expats, but also have international friends.

Naturally, there are different levels of romantics, deserters and chameleons, as well as many points in between. Also, the same expat may go through different phases. However, getting closer to the chameleon attitude is probably a good place to be. It’s a state-of-mind that usually makes life abroad lighter and happier. Some are natural chameleons, while others may need some self-disciplining to get there. In any case, it is certainly possible to calibrate the weight we assign to the positives and negatives of wherever we are. This way, we can enjoy what the new country has to offer without losing our Brazilian identity.

* Post by Sambatribe founder Andre W.

[Know a Brazilian abroad? Are you one of them? Which type are you? Leave your comments below!]

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