Letters Recife

13 x first impressions Brazil

Life is different in Brazil. Every day is a little adventure and not a day goes by without learning something new. This is my first ‘official’ visit to Brazil (I only visited the waterfalls of Iguazu) and it is the first time that I live and work in South America. Since I live here I have come across quite some interesting things that caught my attention. Curious what my first impressions of Brazil are? 


Sidewalks in Recife are slightly dangerous. Walking through the city can be compared to a full body workout, where you have to pass trees, poles and craters without scratches. Believe me, it’s quite the challenge! A few weeks ago I found out there is an explanation for this: sidewalks are not municipal property but private property. People in Recife generally only travel by vehicle and therefore sidewalks are not high up on the priority list nor well maintained.  


The beach district of Boa Viagem in Recife has one of the highest number of shark attacks in Brazil. Therefore, this beach is known as one of the most dangerous beaches in the country. The threat of sharks on the coast is an absolute no-go for me. To my surprise, the beach of Boa Viagem in Recife is packed every day with Brazilian families whom fearlessly go for a swim. Plenty of food going around for sharks then…


The streets in Recife look very similar which sometimes makes it hard to have a sense of direction. I have a phone with internet so you would figure I could just use Google maps to find my way around. Unfortunately, in cities like Recife I cannot recommend you to wander around the streets with your phone in your hands as you put yourself at risk. A simple solution would be to simply ask for directions, but I have also found that people will accidentilly send you in the wrong direction (not too long ago I took the wrong bus that went to the opposite side of Recife for example).

Whenever I get a little lost (which is at least once a week) I have 3 undesirable options:

1. I keep wandering aimlessly.
2. I ask for directions.  
3. I use my phone.

I always end up sneakily looking at my phone in my bag, but it’s not a great solution. I’m hoping I might develop a sense of direction the coming months!  


In Recife it’s always summer. The average temperature is 28 degrees, can you believe it? Ironically, Brazilians do not like this climate and they long for cold weather (lets see what happens when they spent a month in The Netherlands, that’ll change their minds!). The desire for a colder climate is fulfilled with excessive use of air conditioning. After a fair share of goose bumps and shivers I have decided to carry a jacket with me at all times to protect myself from the air conditioning.


Somehow everything and everyone makes a lot of noise in Recife. Not a day goes by without barking dogs, loud people on the street (really loud, I can hear them on the 8th floor) and raging traffic waking me up at 5AM. After I sleep another hour with earplugs I take the squeaking and creaking elevator to the ground floor, where the gate of the garage where my bike is parked is beeping loudly. On the way to work the choatic traffic rushes through, people play music on the street, a car alarm goes off, well, you get the point …


Travelling by public transport in Recife is a challenging activity and I personally regard it is an extreme sport. In the first phase you put your brain to work by figuring out which bus you can take from where. After preparing your plan of action you start your journey by trying to find the bus stop. At the bus stop you look out on the edge of the road for the buses that are racing by. Make sure you are fully prepared at all times, because if your bus passes (which is not likely to be at the scheduled time) it is your turn to jump on the road so that the bus driver has no option but to stop. Good luck!


Generally the woman in Brazil have one or two sizes more than the woman back home. Luckily that doesn’t give them the feeling that they have to hide their body by wearing oversized clothing, quite the contrary! I think Brazilian women are beautiful and I admire their confidence. I think it’s great men have a very different beauty image, my friends here often tell me I could use some more weight! I think that is an invitation to regularly treat myself to delicious tapiocas, caipirinhas and sobremesas. 


In The Netherlands we highly value local products. Locally produced products are often more sustainable and cheaper, and it is a bonus that it also feels more authentic to purchase local when you are travelling. Brazil is rich when it comes to its resources and a lot is produced here such as sugar, cars and cheese. The problem is the unusual policy Brazil has for its locally produced goods. In Brazil you pay exactly the same amount that you would pay for the same product in The Netherlands for example. Consequently, local products are often more expensive than imported products in Brazil.


In the Netherlands we are concerned about keeping local boutiques in business so that we don’t lose our cozy shopping streets to large chains. Here the boutiques have long since abandoned this battle and there is a habit of gigantic shopping plazas with bright lights, shiny white floors and a limited hit list of bad covers playing in the background. The airconditioning will give you the shivers by temperatures of around and about 20 degrees. Often there is a “food plaza” on the top floor where you will find an unprecedented assortment of fast food. Food plazas are my absolute go-to for my gringa cravings (Subway, you rock!)


Excessive bureaucracy is hard to avoid in South America. People will ask your passport before you get on a long distance national bus and I don’t even remember how many papers I signed when I got fined when I was on a roadtrip in Argentina. In Brazil they take it one step further and ask for your CPF (a Brazilian social security number) for the most random things. Apparently I needed a CPF to purchase a SIM card, buying online bus tickets and most surprisingly for logging into the WiFi of MacDonalds. As I am here on a temporary visa they did not grant me a CPF so I always make something up…


I’m a fan of adventurous sports, but I don’t want to venture twice in public transportation every day. The walking distance to my work is approximately 25 minutes which is just a bit too much for this climate. However, I did notice that there is a relatively large number of people cycling here and that is why I have purchased a bike. I come from a country where cyclists always have a higher priority than cars.

Here in Brazil I sometimes doubt whether people even have to take a driving exam before they are allowed to drive. Even if there is a driving exam I am quite sure cyclists is not one of the topics discussed. I bought my bike a month ago and I already got hit by a car twice. Fortunately for me the traffic is jammed in the mornings so the cars did not hit me very hard. Maybe I should consider getting a helmet?


The image that many people have of South America is that all people are very laidback and take it easy. This is certainly not the case in a metropolis such as Recife. Everyone is always in a hurry here, just like in any big city in the world. Despite the fact that people are always in a hurry, I found it takes more time to organise day-to-day activities such as grocery shopping. It already takes a lot of time to get through the traffic, then I have to scavange hunt my groceries together and I often wait a long time at the checkout. In The Netherlands I went to the supermarket almost every day, but here I try to make it by visiting the supermarket and the vegetable market once a week.

Every day I notice new things that catch my attention. Just the other day I discovered this lovely vegan place in my street! When it comes to things that are different here I always remind myself not to perceive a difference as a negative thing. It was my choice to come to Brazil and I am trying to adapt to life here, it should not be the other way around. 

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