|This American expat who goes by the name Loquinha Gauchinha has lived outside the United States before, but Brazil, where she's located now, has found a place in her heart. She describes here the joys and challenges she experiences living in Brazil, as well as some aspects of her expat life in a not-so-prominent city in the southern part of the country.
-Where were you born?
I was born in Evanston, Illinois, raised in Crystal Lake, and spent most of my adult life in Chicago.
-In which country and city are you living now?
I am living in Porto Alegre, in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. However, it might as well be a different country because the local culture is radically different that those in the more familiar Rio, São Paulo, or the northeast.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live alone. I joke with people, "eu fugi da casa" (I ran away from home)!
-How long have you been living in Brazil?
Almost 9 months.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Brazil?
I first visited Brazil in 2005. The motivation at that time had a lot to do with the Brazilian guy I was dating. I began studying Portuguese and became so infatuated with the language, the various cultures I had witnessed (in what amounted to 6 trips to Brazil in under 3 years), the music, the pace, and the hospitality of the people I met that I decided to move here in 2008. I quit my corporate job, rid myself of almost everything that didn't fit in my little suitcases, and leapt into the unknown.
After more than a year of researching (about crime, economics, transportation, even percentage of green space), I decided to start my new Brazilian life here in the south. At some point, I might move to Rio (my second choice), but I am content here for now.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Medical insurance? What’s that? No, seriously, I looked into it before I left the States but the plans were very costly. I capitalized on the great insurance I had through my former employer and had all of my physicals and foreseeables conducted before my departure. And now, I am taking the risk of the uninsured. I am very careful when I cut fruit and cross the street.
-How do you make your living in Brazil? Do you have any type of income generated?
I have been supplementing my savings with travel writing. A recently-launched site geared toward independent women travelers found my blog and approached me to contribute. Does anyone reading this want to hear my book proposal? Ha ha ha!
-Do you speak Portuguese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I think it's very important to learn the local language. I studied Portuguese with a wonderful Brazilian tutor for a couple years in Chicago and I used to try to read the local news online every day. When I arrived, I had all this vocabulary and basic grammar rules floating around in my head, but putting it into practice has been another matter entirely. I felt overwhelmed for a while, because my speaking and listening skills were so far behind my reading skills. I have a tutor here, but it is only a recent development that I would say my communication ability reached "conversational". I have a long way to go.
For the most part, Brazilians have been thrilled to tell me how wonderful my Portuguese is. (See? A very congenial people indeed.) However, I have also had a handful of experiences, similar to other interviewees on this site, in which I felt frustrated that, due to a slight pronunciation misstep, I was treated as if I was wholly unintelligible. Certainly, this is universal and not uniquely Brazilian, but it's aggravating nevertheless.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Sure, I miss my friends and family. Sometimes I miss weird things, too, like home-style pancakes. My saudades (something like homesickness) dissipate, though, when I consider the simple improvements in my quality of life: lots of sunshine, spare time, a pool to swim at, and all those glorious—if unrecognizable—tropical fruits.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I haven't reached the planning stage, as I feel comfortable here for now. However, I have lots of ideas of things I'd still like to experience. I'd love to do a slow bus tour of Brazil, well, of most of South America for that matter. I've given some thought to teaching English in Korea for a year and spending the earnings on an Asian escapade. There are many countries I would like to visit on the African continent. A more "permanent" ambition, if I found the resources, would be to open a hostel someday—probably right here in Brazil, which seems to have captured my heart.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I am renting a very small one bedroom apartment in the city center. It is a bit expensive by comparison at R$700 per month, but that includes condominium fees and it is furnished (and here in Brazil, "furnished" includes kitchen cabinets and a refrigerator, otherwise not included).
-What is the cost of living in Brazil?
Of course it depends on one's living standards. Fortunately, I am not very decadent! I splurge on nights out with friends now and then, and I joined a club that has a pool, but otherwise I keep it simple. My average monthly expenditures on the basics (rent, internet, cell, electricity, food, clothing, etc.) run a little over R$1300 and my frivolous expenses (the pool, socializing and other entertainment, the occasional movie or pedicure) are about R$500.
-What do you think about the Brazilians?
I have traveled a fair bit and lived in Ireland and England for a year. Of all my travels, I have had the most delightful interaction with the residents here. Granted, it's important to remember that I live in a city that doesn't get overrun by tourists, so the locals are certainly curious when they meet a foreigner here. That said, I have been welcomed by so many Brazilians—into their homes, to attend their weddings and parties, or just to engage in conversation at a bar. People have been quite eager to make sure I am safe and armed with the hottest insider tips to enjoy my time here!
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Brazil?
The flat-out positives, aside from the aforementioned quality of life improvements and good-natured people, for me are: I love the tangible passion of the crowd at futebol match; the more efficient public transport; the climate; the flowers; the pink building that is home to Casa de Cultura Mario Quintana; the fruits and veggies, ok, and the churrasco too; the variety and vastness of the country… If it weren't for my exhausting list of positives, I wouldn't be here.
Neither positive nor negative, but merely an observation, is that everything seems like a contradiction: the haves and have-nots; the struggle for better system and the corruption; the warm hospitality and the high crime rate; a person who is simultaneously liberal and conservative; some of the world's best and worst health care. The list goes on and fascinates me at every turn, providing another reason that I choose to live here. It stimulates the brain!
One drawback/source of frustration is that I (like so many others) find the Brazilian communication style vastly different than that with which I was raised. U.S. Americans tend to speak very directly, and the closer the relationship, the more candor is expected. I find this to be inversely proportional to the Brazilian way: the closer the relationship, the less transparent the communication. It's not exactly a "negative," because there is no right or wrong way. But it can be very frustrating at times. (My hopefully-obvious disclaimer is that this is necessarily generalized.)
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Brazil?
Absolutely. Be flexible.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about anything related to Brazil?
Sonia offers one of the greatest online resources I have found for people learning Brazilian Portuguese, though for Chicagoans or people looking for tutor via Skype, I would highly recommend Marcelo Jarmendia.