Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are you American?

I just met a fellow American at the grocery store. I was perusing the pasta selection when I finished my cell phone call and heard an "excuse me." You learn as an expat in a non-English speaking country that when you hear English at close range it is usually being directed at you, the foreigner. This little fact also makes me quite rude in Portuguese as the person has to say it about 3 times before my head wakes up and I turn around. 

Anyway, I turned and there was a friendly American face. "Hi, are you American?" 

Me: "Actually I am." 

Funny enough, this was the second time I had this same conversation today in my neighborhood (and no I do not live in Leblon or Ipanema). 

So we exchanged expat pleasantries of "what brought you here?" and "How do you like it?" Of course a few minutes had passed and we were heading in different shopping directions. I had my eyes on the leafy greens and he was headed towards the bananas. It was time to part ways. We said a quick nice to meet you and went about our way. 

Strangely enough, I felt like I owed this new acquaintance more than that. It actually crossed my mind that maybe it was rude that I didn't suggest we exchange emails or something.

What the hell is that? Just because he's American? Why would I feel a hint of responsibility to stay in touch just because a person is from my Motherland?

But there is a sense of automatic connection when you meet someone from your country, though it is not full proof. I must admit that I have adapted enough to where I have muttered "annoying American" to Mr. Rant on occasion. That being said, I still have a lot of my annoying American traits as well. What can I say, you can take the girl out of the trailer but you can't take the trailer out of the girl!

Did I just compare the US to a trailer park? I think that's a sign that I should be logging off now. 


  1. Oh, Rachel, you are a riot!!
    I needed a good laugh... :)
    We don't feel the same connection with Brazilians around here, and we hear them all the time...I usually get quiet if I am speaking Portuguese to Gil and switch to English.


  2. Hi Rachel-
    I wanted to send a private email but couldnt find out how so I'm posting off-topic in the comments. I'm moving to Rio soon but I won't be getting paid in reals, but rather euros and dollars. Any advice on currency conversions, bank wires, best brazilian banks, best anything financially related to avoid getting hosed? Much obliged.
    -The Jam

  3. Hey Jam,

    This is a very good question. I'll look into it. Actually, I may post it and ask readers for their advice since we make and live off Reais. Is that ok?

    Ray, that is so funny!

  4. Rach, I feel this way all the time. In fact, during the days that I hear English speakers but don't feel like starting up a conversation, I actually feel guilty walking by them without letting them know that 'hey! Im here too!'.

    I have, on occasion, exchanged emails but I have learned by now that it doesn't usually amount to anything. Now I don't feel so bad if I don't feel enough of a spark to ask for the digits.

  5. The days of being a novelty are long gone. When I first arrived, I knew only one other American here socially, at least for the first couple years. I used to be thrilled when I'd hear English because it was so rare. But not anymore, not for several years now. The Americans (and Europeans) have arrived! And I think to some extent, the Brasilians are a teeny bit annoyed by this. I usually only engage if someone is needing help, like at the bank or at a restaurant (and several times employees from my supermarket have grabbed me and said..."por favor, AJUDA!!" when there's a problem with a non-Portuguese speaking client...which is funny because my Portuguese is so not great), but otherwise, there are so many expats and tourists in this city now I don't feel obliged to reach out unless needed or warranted because it's all around us these days. I'm amazed at how many Americans are here. Off subject, Skittles have left the city it seems...

  6. Jam,

    It is probably a good thing you are about to start a new job and they will want to pay you in dollars or Euros.
    The Real is SUPER valued right now, it is a completely unrealistic situation, so it's probably not the best thing in the world to get paid in foregn currency while living in Brazil.
    However, there is HUGE pressure on the Brazilian governament to implement measures to devalue the REAL so the Brazilian industry can be competitive again and start export once more like they used to.
    You will probably loose a little money when trying to convert currency for your daily use, which should be between 5% and 15% depending where you exchange your money.
    Try to pay as many things as you can with your American/foreign credit cards until you feel more comfortable finding good alternatives to exchange money in Brazil.
    You can always withdrawn cash in REALS from any ATM using your foreign credit/debit card and you will get a decent rate from your bank.
    But getting paid in US DOLLARS or EUROS will be much safer on the long run. The Brazilian REAL will most likely loose a lot of value in the future. Long term, you are better off.
    The REAL is worth about R$1,60 to 1 US dollar. The realistic value should be between R$3,50 and R$4,00.
    So, if you were being paid in REALS you would be running the risk to seeing your salary worth half as soon as the REAL lands from it's unrealistic imaginary flight.


  7. Lindsey, I totally know what you mean. I used to strike up conversations when I heard English speakers. Now I just ease drop a bit and move on.

    Steph, I hear ya! When I first came here I was known in Laranjeiras as the foreigner as there were none. That and there was one, I repeat ONE, official hostel in Rio.

    Bite your tongue about the skittles!

    Ray and Jam, I'm going to check with a friend who had some issues with her bank transferring. I believe she found out which was the best one to use. We did this for a while with my husband's company and paid far more than we liked in fees. That and the bank can decide to hold the money for up to a month if they'd like...

  8. Rachel,

    Thanks. That is always valuable information.


  9. To anonymous: HSBC. Their Premier service, from what I hear, allows you to do transfers between two HSBC accounts in different countries without wire transfer fees. As far as I know, this is unique in the Brazilian banking world....

  10. Ohhhh....all you creatins with Americans to avoid!!! When I first got here, I heard over and over there was another Americana here. But after 2 months, she still has not shown up. Sigh.

  11. Sometimes I eavesdrop and move on, but often I don't even bother. In Salvador, 99% of the Americans you'll run into are tourists rather than ex-pats. I try not to get sucked into conversations because they often end up in the following dialogue:

    Tourist: ...so how long are you staying in Brazil for?

    Me: Actually, I live here.

    Tourist: OMG!!!!! You are sooooooo lucky! I would LOVE to live here!!! OMG OMG you are so lucky.

    Me: [Tries to suppress tirade about how Salvador is nice but it's certainly not "paradise" like they're imagining, and how living in any place is always completely different from spending your vacation there]

    To be fair, I was once one of those "OMG I would do anything to live in Salvador" types too... but let's just say the honeymoon is over :-p

  12. Also my husband usually goes quiet or starts speaking to me in Italian if he "suspects" there are other Brazilians around us. We live in a very Brazilan neighbourhood here in London, so that happens a lot. The last thing you want is to be gossiping about someone only to see your conversation feature in "Conversa Fiada", the fofoca page of the main Brazilian magazine published in the UK. No need to say, this also happens A LOT.

  13. Rachel, I would be really curious to know: as a long-term resident do you see this "gringoalisation" of Rio as a positive thing? and what about the Cariocas you know? Recently the BBC Uk broadcasted a report on Brazil's economic boom and took Rio as an example, saying that the city's real estate is becoming out of reach for its native/residents. This surely must have something to do with Rio's appeal to international crowds...sorry if sightly off topic...

  14. As for money transfers -- use a Paypal account. Put the money in from one end, and transfer it to your Brazilian account on the other. MUCH lower fees -- and none of that "we have to hold your money for 7 days bullsh*t."

  15. Ha, Im transforming from 'oh my gosh you speak english lets hang out' to listening and keeping my mouth shut. I think it was merely the fact that I was new to being an expat and so it was exciting at first but now Ive come to see we are everywhere and as *"Uma Vida Legendada" said recently, just because you are american and I am american does not mean we need to be friends. I wouldn't feel guilty =)


  16. I only feel guilty for a second ;)

  17. It's always good not be to much in contact with people from your motherland. I do the same thing here in the US. I don't have much contact with dutch immigrants/expats because otherwise you don't learn much about the country/culture you live in, what is a must if you live abroad. Not doing that will hunt you in the long term.

    I wonder how Brazilians think about that today to many people from the US (the new Mexicans) want to live there in Brazil because the lack of jobs at home. Same thing with Europeans, though Brazilians are much closer to Europeans than north americans.