Flats onder de zonsondergang in Recife

My first weeks in Brazil

A little over a month ago I arrived in the sunny Recife in Brazil. Sometimes I think about how I got myself in this situation in the first place. 6 months ago I would have never thought that I would would live in Brazil someday. The language, its enormous size and the lack of high mountains were some of the reasons that Brazil appealed less to me than other countries in South America. However, the moment I was offered the opportunity to do an internship in Recife it felt like the perfect fit for me. Are you curious what it is like to live and work in Brazil? Read about my first impressions of Recife and the daily ups and downs of the life of a gringa in Brazil.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The first weekend in Recife I locked myself in my appartment. I found myself having difficulties to communicate with Brazilians since I don’t speak Portuguese and my body did not take the exotic temperatures very well. My first impressions of Recife were heat, noise and something I call ‘organised chaos’. It is a word I use to describe a situation in which I do not have a clue what is happening but everyone else seems to be organised and to know what they are doing. Also, I felt like the supermarkets had no food to my liking and I caught myself wondering whether I had made the right choice to move to Brazil.

When I started working I felt comfortable in Brazil for the first time. I realised Portuguese is somewhat similar to Spanish, maybe it wasn’t that hot here and I got used to the noise on the street. And if I am being completely honest, I do like a bit of organised chaos every once in a while. But, the first moment I truly felt like I made the right choice was when I started doing what I am good at: travelling. I work 5 days a week so that leaves time for 2 days to do fun things! Curious about what trips I have already made? Read about my visit to Olinda.

PORTUÑOL

After a few weeks of struggling I invented a new language: Portuñol. Portuñol is a combination of Spanish and some Portuguese words and pronunciations. During the first few weeks I got around with sign language because I felt like I lost my Spanish. By now I enjoy to speak Spanish with my colleagues or people in shops or on the street. I have Portuguese classes twice a week, so somtimes I use some words or sentences that I am learning here when I try to communicate with Brazilians. Although Brazilians make fun of me because of my Spanish pronounciation (lots of GGG and RRR), things are moving in the right direction!

ONE WEEK IN THE LIFE

My life in Brazil is very different from my life in the Netherlands. For example, this internship is the first job with a ‘regular’ working schedule. Here in Brazil the sun rises at 5 am and sets at 6 am. Consequently, I get up very early (generally around 6) and I go to bed earlier. Unfortunately, the streets in Brazil are not very safe at night. Therefore, it’s a shame that I can’t go out on the streets alone in the evening. The only safe option after 7 or 8 is travelling by Uber which makes me feel very dependent.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that I travel everywhere by bike. Cycling is not a habit in Brazil, but in my neighbourhood in Recife there are some people that ride a bike. I have to be careful though because people driving cars do not care about people riding bikes. Moreover, the fact that I eat vegetarian I was a bit worried about what there is to eat for me in Brazil. I was surprised when I discovered there is a wide range of vegetables available in every supermarket. Also, it is not hard to find vegetarian options for streetfood. The giant avocados are my favourite!

Currently I doing an internship at a DMC that sells trips in Brazil to travel agencies in the Netherlands, Germany and France and other countries in Europe. People work hard in Brazil, just like in The Netherlands. Maybe they even work harder because an average working week is 44 hours. I noticed that we have moments without internet or short power outages at the office at least once a week. Finally, I enjoy working with travelling all day, but ironically you don’t have to travel a lot to work in the travel industry. But travelling is something I really love to do so I leave Recife for a trip almost every weekend!

ONE WEEKEND IN THE LIFE

I’m not quite sure how I feel about Recife. I enjoy my internship, I live in a lovely apartment and in Recife I can find almost everything I need (like Body Shop!). But I love small remote villages with sandy roads, a lack of WiFi and good vibes. That’s why I plan an escape from the organised chaos in Recife almost every weekend. I really like that there are a lot of beaches around Recife that are good for surfing. Surfing is something I love to do but I never had the opportunity to get really good at it. Lets see if I can surf some proper waves a few months from now!

GRINGA STRUGGLES

As a gringa in Brazil I have a lot of struggles. My biggest struggle in Brazil is the sunburn struggle. I brought a sunscreen with protector 50 from the Netherlands, but after some embarrassing burning flammable skin moments after beach days I realised this sunblock does not work for me. So I did what any sane person would do and went out shopping for sunblock. As in this moment I am the proud owner of 8 different types of sunblock for every part of my body that I systematically apply in layers every day. Call me crazy, but at least I am not running around like a foreign tomato all the time!

My blond hair and blue eyes make it hard to hide that I am not from Brazil. Consequently, just by the sight of me people assume that I am a gringa. I have found that it sometimes works to my advantage – but mostly to my disadvantage. For instance, I had my bike repaired free of charge because I was the first gringa customer, but usually it works the other way around: I have to pay more. Because I don’t feel like arguing about prices, I decided to only buy things that have a price tag. When I know there will not be a price tag, for example when renting a surfboard on the beach, I make sure I ask someone who I trust what the prices are to prevent getting ripped off.

Another daily struggle is the poor image that Brazilians have of their own country. Every conversation I have with Brazilians concludes with a sad note about crime in Brazil. Admittedly, the political and economic situation in Brazil is not great, so crime is a significant problem. However, the majority of the Brazilian population earns their living in a fair way and this is something I always bear in mind. If I have to believe Brazilians, it would be best for me not leave my apartment so I will not get robbed. I am proud to tell you I have made it in Latin America for a year without being robbed and I am planning to keep it that way!

My time in Brazil is passing by very fast and I cannot believe its been a month already. My adventure started with a big down, but it did not take me a lot of time to get used to life in Brazil. I hope to improve my Portuguese language skills quickly so that it is easier to meet people and arrange things. I leave Recife almost every weekend, but I aim to look for nice places to visit in Recife because I believe that this city has more to offer than just flats. 

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