Being an Expat in Rio de Janeiro.
In the last years, among hashtags and blog posts, the word “expat” has been typed with increasing frequency.
If I had to venture a definition, I would say an expat is a person living far away from home. Maybe not necessarily far, simply away. If this definition is right, then I’m a part-time expat. I alternate on average three months in a row in my Italian hometown and the next three months in Brazil.
I’m wondering if the reason why you live away from home affects the definition of expat. My reason is spending time with my boyfriend, for as long as he has to live in Brazil, so that would make me a short-term part-time expat. It’s not such a short term, actually, it’s one year from now, and it has already been three years so far, and to me it feels like ages.
Brazil is an amazing country to visit, and for some aspect it’s even an amazing country to live in (the beaches, the nature, the cheerful people), but it is not where I would choose to spend my life. I could maybe consider, in old age, to move to a small town on the sea, but I could never live in Rio de Janeiro right now.
Rio de Janeiro is messy, it’s noisy, it’s gray, it’s sweltering, it’s traffic-congested, it’s sexist. I have a very complicated love-and-hate relationship with this city. I love some aspects, but there are things – Italian things – which I miss too much to actually move to Rio de Janeiro. One thing is to spend a couple of weeks in a place, an all other thing is to live there. When I first visited Rio, I stayed there for three weeks. I remember I loved it and I wanted to move there to stay with my boyfriend and live an adventurous life. I was very naive. It was three years ago.
Recently, after I graduated, I decided to look for a job in Rio de Janeiro, in order to stay with my boyfriend. I had a couple of interviews, and for each one of them I would spend a total of three to four hours on the bus because of the inexplicable traffic. If you consider that reading on the bus makes me slightly nauseous and sitting down makes me sleepy, you can easily figure out that all those hours are wasted time which I’m unable to put to better use. If I think of giving up all those hours every day, I’ll simply get a panic attack.
While trying to reach the locations of the interviews, I got kind of lost – which will happen to any small town girl suddenly thrown in such a huge city. However, if I get lost in Europe, I just take the phone out of my bag, type the address on Google Maps and there I am. In Rio de Janeiro, don’t even think of taking the phone out of your bag! You might as well put a blind fold on your eyes and hand your bag out to by-passers. To use your phone in the crowded and dangerous streets of Rio de Janeiro, you should enter a shop and do it there – the same applies to your wallet. Possibly, move your backpack to your front and keep your hand tight around your bag.
Of course, there are things I love about Rio. People there are cheerful most of the time – much more than you can experience in Europe. I guess the sun really does positively affect their mood.
Moreover, Brazilians are much less into looks than Italians – they are not going to judge you on the basis of your clothes, which lifts so much of the daily stress you might experience elsewhere when getting dressed in the morning.
Also, the Christ is visible from most spots in the city. You just look up and there he is, his face caring and forgiving, with his arms wide open, ready to comfort you in your most difficult times. You don’t have to believe in Jesus to get a vibe from that statue.
I love the presence of nature in the middle of the city. Whenever I’m feeling low, I just get a bus and go to the beach. The sound of the sea, the rhythm of the waves, the salty smell and the sand among my toes soothe me. The water is too cold for me to bathe in it, but its only presence restores my balance and harmony. Other times I need fresh air, so I hike one of the many mountains which sprout among buildings like mushrooms in a wood, enjoying the spectacular view after a healthy workout.
As proud about Italian food as I may be, I can’t help but miss Brazilian black beans and açai, a sort of sorbet made out of the fruit that carries the same name.
As pros and cons may be subjective and vary from person to person, no one can argue the beauty of some touristic attractions in Rio de Janeiro – as well as some less touristic spots. The majestic Christ, the evocative Sugar Loaf, the promenade of Ipanema, with its iconic black and white tiles, are only some of the most famous attractions of the city, crowded with tourists all year long. Less people know of the paths up the wood-covered mountains and the breath-taking view on the top. Prainha and Pedra Bonita are just two among the best-known and easily accessible even to the unfit visitor.
While most Brazilians spend the weekend strolling in malls, few of them enjoy an afternoon coffee at Forte de Copacabana, an old fort from where you can admire the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana under a wonderful sunset – if you get there at the right time. You may have to pay particular attention to your wallet in the Centre neighbourhood of the city, but the Municipal Theatre and the Lapa district definitely deserve a visit. If what you are looking for is an artistic and bohemian wonderland, you will find it in Santa Teresa neighbourhood.
Being an expat in Rio de Janeiro is not always as easy and cool as it may look from the outside, but the city does know how to gain your heart.