23 comments on “How not to be an ‘expat’

  1. Woah! Peru! That is going to be amazing – in my usual food-obsessed way I am already thinking of all that delicious ceviche and other great seafood you will have at your disposal at a fraction of the cost it would set you back in São Paulo.

    …oops, no anti-Brazil criticism intended! 😉 Heh heh, really nice post Andy! This whole issue of criticising your host country is a tricky one. As you point out, it’s utterly natural to make comparisons when you start living somewhere new. The issue is that comparisons are well received when you’re praising the weather (spot the guy living in Rio, not SP!), but when you complain about how long it takes to open a bank account (or whatever else is annoying) things can turn sour quickly. I reserve the right to criticise the country I’m living in (I’m not working for the Brazilian tourist board!), but as you say, the vitriol and bitterness in some of those Gringoes posts really turned me off. I left that Facebook group after about 3 months – couldn’t take it.

    I was interested to hear some bloggers earlier in the year state that they weren’t going to comment on the protests because they didn’t feel it was their place (“I’ll leave it to the Brazilians”). This also strikes me as a rather aloof, ‘expat’ attitidue (“these things don’t really affect me”). Yes I’m from another country originally, but I live in Brazil now and I think that gives me a right (even a responsibility if that’s not too pompous) to comment on issues of corruption, human rights and so on.

    Btw, I totally agree about this term ‘expat’. I don’t like it and I don’t use it to describe myself.

    • I spent a few weeks in Peru back in 2007 – loved the people, loved the food. Alpaca and Guinea Pig were the two dishes I remember most (to be fair, how could you forget eating guinea pig?).

      Brazilian defensive is also a good point. Think I’ll discuss that in a separate post as this one ended up being a bit long.

      I agree though, there’s nothing wrong with criticising a country, as long as it’s fair, balanced and coming from the right place.

  2. I love your style, your honesty, your even-handed approach to any subject, and your breadth of interests and experiences! Looking forward to “the view from Peru”. I remain your appreciative reader, Mary

  3. Okay, I commented a bit on the Brazil Bloggers page, but I’d like to add a few thoughts here. I do term myself as an ex-pat because I am living outside my country. I wish it could mean that neither more nor less. I guess I could be a Brazil resident as I hold a permanent RNE here but we could get lost in semantics. I am a non-voting, alternately happy or perplexed, legal alien. How’s that? The fact of the matter is not every ex-patriate sees their ex-pat experience the same–some are here under duress (a spouse was transferred here) and some are not (I am married to a Brazilian).

    As I said earlier on the facebook page, I don’t mind someone criticizing the US if they live there. It should be criticized. The fact that we hole-punch some of our voting ballots still (yes, I did live in Florida at that time) is completely ridiculous. I love it when the Brazilians come in and say “hey, we’ve had electronic voting that is counted on the same day for xx years.” Yes, Brazil does and I am glad.

    Brazil also has a very well-developed online banking system. I posted about this a while back. I can pay people online by using a DOC: I have to send a check through the mail in the US. I would generalize that the US mail system is better than Brazil’s, but that England’s kicks US butt. Is any of that a criticism? Yes. It is also how I see it and blogs are really no more than opinion in the end, and based on individual experiences. I try to be specific in my blog and not complain about “banking” but rather my experience in one bank. The fact that I could not get a passport number changed without seeing my personal bank manager in another neighborhood was a bit of a disappointment to me. I think that when you come from a country where lots is achieved on line, it is difficult sometimes to adjust. But then I read an article that up to 60% of Brazilians are not online. So the fact that you can’t do as much online is not a surprise. Banking is one of the success areas….in general.

    As I also mentioned, I loved your bus post. I read it before I took my first bus ride here and then I laughed through my whole trip because things happened exactly as you said they would. I am sorry that some could not see your humour in it because it was quite obvious to me.

    Anyway, great post as usual and I wish you much luck, humour and new experiences in Peru!

    • My problem with the ‘expat’ tag is that it is only one way. My wife, for example, was never considered a Brazilian expat when she lived in London. It strikes me as being a label only a select few are allowed to use.

      I’m also with you about criticism. You clearly are one of the ‘good ones’ who understand the complexity of situations, and treat things even handedly. Unfortunately, much of the expat bile we are subjected to comes more from people’s own homesickness or failure / inability / difficulty to adapt to life a in a new country.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with constructive criticism.

  4. Nice post. I am definitely going to look into the term ‘expat’ more earnestly. You make some great points and I do not want to go with the flow if I am operating outside of my better judgement as it relates to the term/origin of the term. Thanks for that.

    The Gringoes community – ha – what a trip they can be. I have long since stopped lurking at their forums, but I still keep up with the Face Book crowd. It is a real mixed bag. I definitely try to confine my bitching (if I even have any) to that space, so maybe I am part of the problem – adding to the sh*t storm. I have an “always stay positive” rule at my blog – not to be disingenuous – but to spare readers another rant on simple inconveniences when living in Brazil.

    I look forward to hearing about your Peruvian adventures.

    • I wouldn’t worry Jim, from what what I’ve read of your blog you certainly don’t fall into that category.

      I’m not saying all people who define themselves as ‘expats’ are a certain way. My frustration is just the way it is such a one-sided concept. My wife, for example, was never a Brazilian epat when she lived in the UK. She was an immigrant.

      Keep up the good work on the blog!

  5. I just came upon this, someone had shared it on one of those group pages on FB. I really liked what you said above. I am American, but my wife is from Brazil and we live in BH, MG. Maybe I am just not hip to things, I did not see the word Expat as such a high ranker. I actually have avoided using this term because I felt like it had a negative feel to it – honestly, I can not tell you why that is. I just don’t like it.

    But that is not why I am commenting. Something I thought would be a good follow up on this is the auto-reaction ,of what seems to me, many Brazilians to start ripping into their culture, their country when I say that I sometimes have a hard time adjusting. It annoys me now so much that I cut them off and suggest that they shouldn’t sell out their country like that. Maybe it’s the deep rooted love for my country that many Americans have? Maybe I’m just tired of having that conversation. But it really bugs me.

    We are leaving to go back to America in January. We have a couple reasons why, which more has to do with our income and insurance coverage (my wife is pregnant with our second child). But when I tell Brazilians (meaning Brazilian friends and family) about our leave and then our reasons, it’s like they didn’t even hear those reasons and so the Brazil bashing verbal machine kicks in…automatically…same comments, same outlook.

    Oh, and dear god, do not even get me started on the ridicule we received from Brazilians living in America when we decided to move to Brazil. They thought we were insane and some even said that we were being bad parents by moving there with our little boy! I think out of the dozen or so we knew back there, only a couple supported our decision.

    I think taking a look at this angle is important and would really complement your above piece. If Brazilians are reacting this way, just because someone was struggling to adapt then how can we not expect to see “expats” doing the same thing after a while of hearing it (although, I would agree it is not an excuse for poor behavior, it would be more of the fit-in mob mentality phenom)?!?

    • Hi Joshua, thanks for your comment. The ‘expat’ was something I didn’t pay much attention to myself as well and it was something I avoided. However, thinking back to the kids I worked with in the UK and the raw deal they got as ‘asylum-seekers’, it made me think about the privilege we have as rich (relatively) foreigners in countries like Brazil.

      And the Brazil bashing by Brazilians (usually rich elite ones)…I 100% agree. In fact, my next post is going to be exactly about this….how Brazilians need to start loving Brazil a bit more!

      • Right on! I love telling them about all the positive attention the world is giving Brazil. I tell them how the world economy is just waiting to see where Brazil goes and all its possibilities.

        A coworker, who is Brazilian, and I were chatting about this very issue. He has been to America and it was the patriotism was one of the first things he noticed. He said it was very welcoming to see. He wondered how this could happen in Brazil and the conversation advanced into many interesting points from there about what makes that happen and also why it hasn’t happened for Brazil yet. Neither of us are experts in this field, but it really was a good dialogue.

    • Hi Joshua – good comment. There is a definite sub-section of Brazilians who are so down on their country that they will spout all kinds of rubbish. How many times have I heard Brazilians say that coming to Brazil is the best way to guarantee being robbed and/or killed?

      I touched on this “Only in Brazil” attitude in a post a little while back. Perhaps it isn’t so true in the US where patriotism is, I gather, quite popular, but we are quite down on ourselves in the UK too.


      • Self-criticism is certainly a sign of a healthy democracy. However, the way you hear some Brazilians moans about stuff is really quite saddening – it typically has absolutely no perspective whatsoever.

      • Tom,

        Thanks for the reply, and I am relieved to find that I am not the only one who has experienced this. And no, the self bashing is also quite an occurrence these days in America, and there is much that is true. However, when I experience this here in Brazil, I find that it is being done an a manner that believes me to think that they are trying to save face because of where I am from, and that is the part that really bothers me. I wish that they didn’t feel this need to do that. Thus, I end up going through this list of the similarities of things we both can say is bad about our countries to try to relieve that tension. I would much rather chat about the things that make our country great, especially when both of our medias tend to drown us in the negative.

        Oh, and yes, I should have been stabbed shot, eaten, and cursed by now according to what some said could happen if I moved to Brazil. I walk, ride the bus, and take the metro all around this big city and I have had no troubles. I even did some volunteer work for the first few months we were here in what was a very dangerous slum and neither my wife or I ever experienced fear for our lives.

  6. I have had a lot of experience working with Brazilians and one area of “opportunity” for them, particularly the set that deals with elite expats, is receiving constructive criticism.

    Not that any culture is expert at receiving criticism with grace, but in a lot of business dealings and other personal dealings Brazilians have a tendency to take things very personally. Add in the elitism rampant in these circles and you get a pretty intransigent attitude.

    • Yeah, there is definitely a class of Brazilian who seems to take joy in putting Brazil down – yet, as you say, can’t stand a foreigner doing the same.

      This is going to be the theme of my next post. Brazil needs to learn to love itself a bit more!

  7. No! Say it ain´t so!! I really will miss your observations on Brazilian life. Where in Peru? When i was in the USA I was friends with more than one Peruvian expat (irony intended). I must say that i never met a Peruvian that I didn´t like (sample size 20+). And physically it´s an amazingly diverse country; exploring it was a lot of fun. Will you keep blogging? I hope to keep reading your experiences.

    I tend to avoid those foreigners who can´t get over the griping as well. As you say, it only the makes the difficult even harder. It´s a hard line to walk when blogging, especially since some days you can´t get your head to see past the challenges. I blog to give friends and family glimpses of life here. I think I´d be doing a disservice in the opposite direction if it was all roses (they already glamorize it enough as it is thankyouverymuch), but at the same time the last thing I want to be is THAT person who complains all the time. I´ve got more than one draft of a blog post just floating there because I can´t manage to find that silver lining that makes it worth sharing, and not just complaining for complaining´s sake.

    When Brazilians start beating on their own country (or ask leading questions waiting for me to do it for them) I usually say something vague about not having a preference and that each country has things that I like and dislike–which is very true. Also, those that are likely to engage in the Brazil-bashing also seem to be those that are determined to educate me as to how things REALLY are in my own nation. So maybe it´s not anti-Brazil, it´s a case of over-empowered opinions in general.

    • Thanks Marina. I’ll be in Trujillo for 6 months working for a British NGO there. Very excited as it means I’ll get back to what I enjoy doing most. I’m really gonna miss Brazil though although we’l’ be back for the Copa. There’s no way I’m going to miss it!

      I spent a few weeks in Peru back in 2007 and absolutely loved the place, people and food. Can’t wait to go back although having to convert to Spanish will be interesting.

      I think a lot of the anti-Brazil stuff comes from a lack of confidence – Brazil needs to start loving itself a bit more!

  8. Andy, first of all, we’ll miss you here! Good luck on your Peruvian endeavors!

    About the general expat whine tone in the Gringoes forum, I’d say that it’s just some sort of therapy for many. No country in the world can reach a consensus wether it’s a good or bad place to live in. Miseries in Brazil (they’re not few!) are different from those in the UK, USA, but basically it’s all miseries. It’s just a matter of perspective.

    As a Brazilian, I’d say that the USA (e.g.) is a great country, but I don’t feel attracted to live there, for cultural/social reasons. But if I had to work there as an expat, I’d just accept the challenge and make the most of it.

    For two/three years, I attended the meetings of the American Society in São Paulo, due to a very dear American friend who tried to share his social circle with my family. Let’s say it didn’t work out because the foreign society members were with not so much disposition to interact with us. I assumed that was just their way and, after all, we ended our membership with no fuss/bad feelings.

    I’m also very critical on many of the 66 issues pointed in the Gringoes Forum. Brazil is hard to live in, there’s violence and social unbalance, etc, etc, etc. But since this is my country, I personally would rather try to fix what’s wrong here instead of just complaining about everything all the time in the web.

    Taking it to the bottom line, I’d say the Brazilians just need to learn what citizenship means: to have birth rights and, above all, fight for them, regardless of social rank, profession or whatever else. Only this can change a country for better. Perhaps it’s this behavioral gap that most deeply pokes expats and make they feel uncomfortable living here. Avoiding generalizations would help as well.

    Godspeed, Andy! Hope to see you back soon!

    • Thanks for your kind comments, and thanks for reading over the past couple of years!

      Moaning is definitely a strategy for coping. I think a lot of the time it says more about the person moaning than it does the country they are in – it’s probably a very good indicator that they are homesick or struggling to adapt.

  9. The people who complain the most about Brazil it’s… drum rolls….the brazilians. As we call here, “complexo de vira-lata” (street dog syndrome). It’s a disease that runs through brazilians, specially the ones in the middle/upper classes, the ones who have all the advantages in the social pyramid of the country, but are always the first to throw the stones. In terms of patriotism, we are on the other side of the scale when compared to americans, who never say anything bad about their country unless is some painfully obvious matter. That’s why i think it’s really hypocritical to complain when a foreigner makes harsh observations with criticism against Brazil. We do this all the time, with ourselves and for people from other countries when we meet them. And Gringoes.com it’s a place for nazis, so there’s no need give any consideration to their opinions.

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