Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm Not Middle Class


After reflecting on comments from my last post, I have to say that I was wrong. I am not middle class in Brazil.

It's a strange phenomenon being an American in Brazil. While I do not have near the money of those I consider truly upper class, I have far more than the majority.

It's hard to imagine that there is still this much struggling to make ends meet in upper class.

That last statement was bait. I have honestly thought it but reason is a bitch. Struggling is relative and the fact is I am not really struggling. I suppose that this is a highly common and negative aspect to the American line of thinking. I feel entitled to certain comforts in life that are not at all essential. I am accustomed to a certain level of things and ease in buying them.

Brazil is different. Items that Americans would consider a household staple are usually expensive. The truth in that is that they are not actually staples but luxuries.  While I spent years wishing I had a dryer, I actually survived just fine without one. Hell, my clothes are far better off!

Of course things are changing down here and it is much easier to purchase big ticket items. I just got my first washer/dryer combo, as you all know. Of course I will be paying for it over a period of months. Think of it as layaway but you get immediate custody.

And that is where I feel less than upper class.  I don't have the cash flow to pay for things a vista (all at once). All our big ticket items are paid over 6 to 10 months, including our trip to the US every two years.

Again though, I get to fly home every two years. I consider a trip for a family of 4 a big ticket item. That is a bit of a understatement as it is ridiculously expensive but you get my point. I'm not separating the cost of a toaster over 2 or 3 times, I'm breaking up something quite expensive.

So I was wrong. I am not the 99% in this country nor am I the 1%. It really doesn't matter the percentage I am in or if I am upper or middle class. The truth of the matter is that living in Brazil has taught me to appreciate things more.  It is as Jim says, Qualidade da Vida

I get that the amount of labor put into supporting my family and the quality of life I have is something I  should be thankful for. If I have ever implied otherwise I am sorry. But I have to say that this is something I may not have learned if I had stayed in my country. While I would have always been "thankful," it would have been expected. Mr. Rant and I are college graduates with work experience, why wouldn't we have a decent life. Brazil taught me that things are not so black and white. Even if they are, thank whomever you give credit to for life that yours is one where have time to sit and surf the web instead of otherwise.

On a side note, I still think the "expanding" middle class thing down here is bullshit. Just because some people are actually afford to buy things doesn't mean the work here is done. There needs to be better public education, smaller classroom sizes, and easier access to it.

Thoughts?

57 comments:

  1. I hope it isn't too upsetting to have been kicked up a notch in the social structure. I live off a Dollar income, my social standing has fallen from Viera Souto Paradise to Exile in Niteroi over the past three years. But, things are finally improving, as in from 1.53 to 1.88 in just the past four months. I greet fellow Gringo's in the same situation like this, "Boa Tarde. Um oitenta sete!" Something like a secret handshake.

    Brasil has a long ways to go, no doubt about it, but I like the fact they are doing it from the bottom up, unlike the US where the excessive use of some sort of mind altering substance has convinced some people it is done from the top down.

    I have always feared the cost of electricity for a dryer, please share your experience with the monthly electric bill. I am curious......

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm afraid of the electric bill too. I still hang dry but I just don't have the space for things like sheets. I used the crap out of the dryer just to catch up after the move. Now it's back to normal

    ReplyDelete
  3. Expanding middle class, true. But it's a middle class that would be considered working class or less in other places. I think education begins at home and kids are fortunate to have a parent or a figure that will instill basic manners and education, because even at the upper class levels, you don't necessarily see this here. Ebb and flow emotions. Mostly I like it here, and try to remind myself of those things I love on a daily basis, but there are several things that bother me to the core. Quality education, starting from the get-go is so needed, at school and at home, SO needed. Labor laws might need to be adjusted a bit... sometimes I feel like I'm dealing with people who have no brains, or no authorization or encouragement to actually use their brains to get things done. Why is it so difficult to get things done here? Why are there always 5 people standing around doing nothing and you have to flag someone down to get some assistance and they don't know what they are supposed to know? My husband blames the Portuguese. I don't know if things will ever change that much, but some days, I really wish for that. Why should it take one month to jackhammer a futebol court in the play area of a building? Why don't people complain? Why don't people expect or demand more respect? Why can't anyone show-up on time, or call in advance if they will be late? Why do I need to go to a hotel 3 different times to pick up an envelope left for me (the last time waiting 30 minutes) to locate an envelope that was left with the concierge at a 5 star hotel the day prior? Because it's Brazil. Maybe it's a changing Brazil, but it still drives me insane a good part of the time. Manners? I was at a school performance the other day, 400 people in a theatre...the people in front of us brought their 1 month old baby, when the sound system came to life at Iron Maiden 10 volume, the baby started screaming, and you know what they did? They tried to keep the baby there, screaming, for like 20 minutes (I wonder about the risk for hearing damage, really) and those were the "upper class" people. No one complained. The row behind us, a grandmother with a 3 year old and 2 babas...didn't stop talking the entire time...the kid was hitting us, jumping up and down which forced our seats to bounce up and down, an hour and a half of this BS. No one complained. Couldn't hear a thing that was going on onstage, and mostly, couldn't wait to get out of there. Gotta love the patience for kids here, but I think there are some situations where the parent, baba OR grandma, should take the yelling, screaming kid out of the teatro and not spoil it for all those who are there to see their own kids. VENTFEST! I'm having a biotch day too here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Michael Jordan's mom said "Everyone needs a budget, even Michael Jordan." Melanie Griffith said she needed "30 million dollars" to feel secure and like she had enough money.

    People of means often don't feel like they have enough, or find very quick ways to spend it- like gambling in MJ's case.

    Carlos and I are better off than most people in our town, and I try to do everything I can to take responsibility for my privileged place. I know how lucky I am, as an American, to have had the education I've received, the equality with others in my community, the good nutrition, and excellent dental care, to name just a few.

    Privilege isn't something most people acknowledge, and that's the design of privilege! To get the privileged to not notice what they have or who is oppressed/shortchanged for the privileged one's benefit. For example, many people do not sign the cartorio de trablaho for their domestic staff, then excuse it by saying "But your family to us!" Really? Are they in the will, also?

    I applaud you for peeling the skin off your eyes now, and acknowledging to yourself, and the blog world!, your place. It's also part of growing up emotionally (which some people never get around to doing.) Claim it! Enjoy it! You have had good luck, and have probably made good choices and worked hard. It doesn't always work out the way it has for you, so celebrate your good fortune!

    I went back and read the post you referenced, and saw the comments that were finger-pointy/blamey. I can see where those posters are coming from, but really does it solve anything? I hope you let it roll of your back.

    One of the most important women in my life is an African American woman I met through church 20 years ago. She told me to "Go on out there baby, and tell them what you see." when it comes to racial and wealth disparities. It was her belief that every oppressed group needs allies from the majority- and I could not agree more.

    And my New Year's Resolution is to get a washer/dryer in 2012! I'm also afraid of the electric bill, but the towels and jeans...they just don't dry out here in the Amazon!

    Thanks for the post.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Rachel,

    I am with you, I don't think those people are becoming middle class because they can now buy a fridge and a flat screen TV in 200 installments. Now, they are poor people with a better quality of life.
    I also don't think having a dryer boosts someone into upper class. My mother has had a dryer since 1971, not electric, but a gas powered one, because we had always been middle class and electricity has always cost a fortune in Brazil.
    Keep in mind, the Lula governament really enjoyed patting themselves in the back by saying they were lifting millions out of poverty.
    In my opinion they were lifting millions out of total misery into poverty.
    Middle class is still middle class, middle class live in nice areas, drive good cars, have dryers and yes, dishwashers too and ocasionally travel overseas, and that doesn't boost us into upper class.
    The rich in Brazil are actually filthy rich...

    Ray

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is a tricky one. While living in the US I would be considered middle maybe lower middle. In Brazil since we are sponsored by our company we get placed in the upper class. Unfortunately we cannot even begin to compete with the real upper class. I may live in their neighborhood but I don't have to pay the bills... I feel very out of place when dealing with upper class here in Brazil. Not jealous just weird. The money we do make goes toward savings for a future and the future of our children. Yes, we travel and enjoy life but nothing compared to what I would consider the upper class.

    In conclusion I have to agree with Ray about the 'filthy rich' and empathize with you Rachel.

    Oh and the bills for a dryer we nothing really- I used it once a day and the electric was around 160-200R a month plus ran three air-cos 24/7 but of course I am sure it depends on where you are at though.

    Sara

    ReplyDelete
  7. Like most have said here, I think there needs to be a re-structuring of the class system in Brazil.

    Here's my idea:
    -Rich
    -Upper Class
    -Upper Middle
    -Middle
    -New Middle (da Lula)
    -Working Class
    -Poor (Favela dwellers)

    What do you think?

    Abracos,
    Alex

    ReplyDelete
  8. Whether or not you are middle class or upper class or working class, it comes down to this: the decisions you make with the money you make are yours to make. Our Brazilian side of the family is "middle class" but as I constantly have to explain to people here in the US, Brazilian middle class is not the same as American middle class, so there really is no comparison. My husband had a great job in Brazil that would put us at where you guys are at (from what I read)... enough for me to stay home, but with great scraping to make sure the schools and trips home are taken care of. Yes, we would have had more than many (not all) of our family/friends there, but we wouldn't be living in the lap of luxury, for sure. Far from it. My complaint comes when the SUPER rich make sweeping proclamations like, "Every has this (incredibly expensive gadget that nobody really can afford)... " or "Of course we buy xxx brand (because it looks really great in our facebook pictures)..." You are NOT one of those people, for sure, so therefore live, be happy, be aware of what you have and be grateful for it, whether or not it is a little or a lot. (And I think you do a pretty good job of that!)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Something like that Alex! For sure. You can't group people together in class A who make R$8000 per month with those who make R$100,000 or more per month...it doesn't fit at all. Look at the difference. Annually (net income), I (personally) would say Rich, above R$1,000,000, Upper, above R$500,000, Upper middle above R$200,000, Middle, between R$50-$199,000, New middle, between R$25-$50,000, Working class R$10-$25,000 and poor below R$10,000 per year. But it's all guesses of course.

    ReplyDelete
  10. When the average starting pay is R$1500 for people with college degrees, I'd say earning 6-10times that is enough to be considered "upper."

    In a country, state and city where there are a bunch of truly rich people...and when you go from being truly middle class elsewhere with less contact with the uberwealthy to seeing them every day...it is easy to lose track of things.

    When you think that the American school charges R$6000 a kid, then scraping by to pay R$1000-1500 for a top Brazilian school seems like a lot, and seems to "put you in your place" a bit.

    Then you really stop and think about it and consider all of the families struggling to pay R$200 for tuition. And you realize that somewhere along the line you started judging yourself by a different yardstick. While in the US you would've been happy with a house in the suburbs and decent school for your kids, here you feel pushed to be keep up with a higher level of the Jones'. You jumped into the upper class and are fighting for a place in it like you were for a spot in the middle class back home, confusing the truly rich 1% with the upper class.

    The Brazilian middle class spoiling you in your last post, was really the jump in class that you didn't even feel because the truly rich are very present here...and they flaunt it a bit. If you were to move to NYC and join the executive circles, you'd probably have similar benefits.

    The truth is, 80% of households in Rio make less than R$6000 per month. That figure is 90% of the country.

    Also, the remarks about the Z. Sul don't mean you're valued less, it just means that even someone who isn't your accountant knows that you have to make R$10.000 or more to do that with kids, putting you in the top 10% statistically. R$6.000 or more just to qualify to pay rent there (R$2.000 small apartment needs proof of income 3X that to rent) + maid (R$700) + light (R$200)+ car (R$500) + condo (R$300-R$700) + school (R$1000+/kid) + overpriced food at the frustraing/rip-off markets (R$500-1000 for a family of 4) +netcombo (R$300) + cellphones (R$200)and the 1/3 of your check that goes to taxes.

    There are plenty of upper class who live outside of Z.Sul and who probably spend more than you on superfluous items, but there it is harder to hide what your living MUST be just to fit in there and to feel like you are giving your kids the bare bones.

    Just because you're upper class doesn't mean you don't work hard, pinch pennies to give your kid's the lifestyle you want or deserve to be spoiled/pampered on occassion. It's that change in class and the associated increase in qualidade de vida that comes with it and the move that help keep you (and many of us) here, rather fleeing back to the states.

    I don't think anyone was trying to accuse you of being truly spoiled or saying you are rich, it is just important to remember that most of us reading this blog aren't in the middle class and should be thankful for what we have, and mindful of what we have to lose. Brazil has improved a lot, but the middle class here would still be considered working/poor in most places.

    I'm glad Brazil has opened your eyes a bit.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Are you talking before or after taxes? Makes a huge difference. Regardless, I don't have an accountant as I don't need one nor can afford one. Secondly, R$10000 a month would be nice...

    I do not pay rent, I own a small place that we managed because of a small amount of money we inherited before the jump in the market. We own a home because we were smart with a small lump some of money we got many years ago and played the market well.

    Needless to say, I do not know any Carioca that has needed R$6000 to rent in Laranjeiras. That is what foreigners who come for business pay. Brazilians get a fiador (a co-signer)

    I also do not pay my twice weekly maid R$700 a month. My children do not go to the American school (which I believe costs R$4000). My car does not cost me R$500 a month. We only have to pay insurance on the old thing 6 months out of the year which is R$400. Our light, before air or the dryer at least, was never R$200. Overpriced food is pretty spot on...

    No net combo, we don't even have cable. Of course we have internet. I believe I get my oxygen that way.

    It is true that majority who read my blog are not poverty level, but I personally know quite a few middle class who do.

    The thing that is automatically assumed because I'm a foreigner living in Zona Sul is that I am living like every other foreigner. My kids are Brazilian, with a Brazilian Father who makes Reais. We live a Brazilian life in Laranjeiras. It's not poor but it is not rich. That is why I say middle class.

    While many MANY executives make R$15000 plus before taxes, that is not our situation. To assume is to make an ass out of you and me. I do resent when people make assumptions.

    Regardless, Brazil has opened my eyes. Of course it has. You'd have to be walking around pretty blind not to be...

    ReplyDelete
  12. I forgot to add, we are where we are mainly because Mr Rant has busted his ass professionally most of his life. I married an amazing man with good work ethics and talent. Thank you for a good life Mr :)

    Dave: lol!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Way to throw it down, Rachel! And good for Mr. Rant for workign hard to provide a good life for his family!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yeah, you're not middle class at all in Brazil. In the U.S., yes, but Brazil -- no. If you can afford to have a nice apartment in Zona Sul (within a complex, with a pool, a gym etc) and have a washer and dryer in your apartment and AC (among the other perks that you live with, such as private school for your children and trips to the US) you're just not considered middle class. You're upper class and like the other ANON said, that's not a bad thing. Middle class here doesn't send their children to private school and doesn't have the perks that you do. You live in a big city in a third world country. You're in the top 10% for the amenities that you have.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I think owning your own place and being college graduates are absolutely key. My husband and I fall into the B2 class - which makes us better off than 75% of the population - but rent plus tuition (for him) eat up nearly half our income.

    We have no washer, dryer, car, maid, or kids yet. But I consider us "middle class" because we can afford to rent a place in the city center, as well as his education at a private university.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wait, my husband grew up in a total middle class family and still went to a private school and also visited the US far before meeting me.

    I'm sorry, but in the big cities even the middle class sends their kids to private schools.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Mr Rant calls bullshit on all of us. He said that you shouldn't compare the old upper, middle, lower with the A B C D system as they are two ways of classifying things. It changes the way you look at it. The old Brazilian way of classifying like the American upper, middle, lower would put us in middle but the new doesn't.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Rachel,

    It's super hard to go through this lens. I really really think you need to forget those comments that got tossed around. I never put anything on my blog that is going to offend anybody. At least you have the strength to be honest. I give you credit, to open up the door. The topic is why Rio is Spoiling me.

    Culturally, things are different in Brazil too. MIL who makes jack Sh*t for money has a maid. We can get spoiled in areas that is not possible in the US.

    You made good choices. Oh, and if you made bad choices, people would be calling you lazy and say that your living off the system. blah blah. Damn if you do and damn if you don't.

    I just think it's funny that people LOVE to point fingers. I wonder what the finger pointers have done for their country, for the poor here. Because, I really don't think a person is in position of pointing fingers until they look at themselves. Foreigners with an English Education, your telling they are coming from poor families? I don't think so.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Class warfare has never led to a better life for any of the parties involved, except for the populists who profit by using resentment for personal benefit ( usually to get elected).
    Yet resentment is useless when it comes to solving problems because people who have it don't reason out solutions; any proposal they offer is contaminated with emotion, which deters clarity.
    Enjoy our life, be honest, educate your kids, be a better consumer ( try subscribing to this http://www.proteste.org.br/ and spread the word: help make capitalism more efficient in Brazil).
    All this talk has been about who gets placed in what category --A,B,C,D, etc--, but if you make your money honestly does this matter at all? I think it is irrelevant, unless there is an underlying argument based on, and meant to foster that evil little creature that kills objectivity and rationality: class warfare.

    ReplyDelete
  21. If you have a maid that comes in to your apartment to clean...you are upper class. I you can go back to the US every year...you are upper class. If you have groceries delivered to your apartment...you are upper class. Just face it...accept it...live it...you are upper class in Brasil. It is not so much what you earn as much as what you can do - especially with the possibility of travel to the US or Europe.

    ReplyDelete
  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Greg, you are wrong about the maid. Full time maid, maybe. A weekly cleaner is not a marker of upper class.

    Groceries delivered to your apartment is not only upper class either.

    That is the thing that gets me in this debate, the generalization that all things "easy" are upper class. Just not true. My maid is not upper class and has a woman come do her nails at her home. My husband's Grandmother is not upper class and has her groceries delivered, has been to Europe, and has a maid twice a week (used to be every day but they are having issues finding someone who wants to). Seriously, they live on a pension and support a daughter who live with them.

    Annual trips home... total upper class thing, unless a company is paying for it due to contract. Seriously, flying our family of four home last Christmas was back breaking!

    Thanks for all the input and points people! I agree about just living your life. I will say though, people do judge easily. Thanks to those who specifically did not make it snippy!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I am grateful for the myriad ways Brazil makes it possible to live well on so little money. Or, at least, not to have to surffer through a lower wage reality.

    Great discussion all.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I disagree with Greg! having a maid , traveling , groceries delivered and private education is NOT an upper class thing!

    I know lots of people from small medium and big cities that go to private schools and they are not rich at all.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I'm new to Brazil so I don't have as much experience about "class" as other foreigners do. However, I have to agree with the last comment (Anonymous) above me. Hiring a cleaning lady does not make you upper class (we have one that comes 2x a month). Groceries delivered are not expensive in Brasilia. And private education, at least here that is not a marker of upper class. Ok, if you send your children to the school where I teach then yes you're upper class because it costs up to R$3000/month per child to attend, but there are different types of private schools. There are "good" schools here for R$1000/month. A colleague of mine (not upper class) sends her 2-year-old to a private school and pays R$1000/month for 1/2 a day.

    I have a co-worker who is an assistant at the school and has just afforded a trip to Europe. He split the price of his ticket up into __ months. That way it's affordable.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Wow, still?

    I have been following Rachel's blog for long enough to know many details about her life because she wears herself on her sleeve. When she went to the US last year, she stayed free at her parent's house. And when she came back her bank account went negative. She posted about her and mr. Rants's discussion about the situation. And she also posted a long time ago how the bank f*cked her on her apartment and that she would be paying for it, forever.

    Yeah, so I don't think this apartment is paid out right.

    As a sociologist, I can say that class things don't translate well. Things like a washer, dryer, dishwasher, flat screen and good car a poor person can get in the US. A working class person will have this and more, if they want. I have friends with two or three cars, campers, land, a house-- why? credit. Credit and consumerism does NOT MAKE UP CLASS. These are behaviors within classes. Class is numbers and culture mostly.

    Even if Rachel's family made 10,000 heais a month that is just entering into middle class in the US for a family of four. But she doesn't. Lumping tons of people in class "A" is wrong. Because we have many differences. Don't you think it's funny that the poor have four classes here and the higher classes just have two? In the US, the wealthy have three, then the middle and three poor classes.

    Elite
    Upper
    Upper Middle
    Middle
    Lower Middle
    Working Class
    Lower Class
    Underclass

    The scale in Brazil has lopsided problem. In fact I really really hate this scale. It puts me in the Middle class here, Class B. And in the US we would be working class/LOWER CLASS. It doesn't make sense to me as Sociologist. How?

    We have different things at different values in different countries. Here a maid is cheap, mostly because it seems women's labor is not valued and cheap labor is over runs this market. Education is dirt cheap in the US, and so are many other social programs for US. Education is INSANE here.

    In reality, Rachel is upper middle class in Brazil put her in the with the same income lower middle class in the US. Sorry class ABCDE, I totally reject. Upper middle class does here does have budgeting problems and they often need to make choices on what's more important. Rachel blogs about this constantly. It one of her things, talking about how expensive middle class is in Brazil.

    Rachel's husband works really hard and has had this job for a long time. IN brazil when your husband works at a company for a long time, it gives your family security and hahah more credit.

    If I moved to Brazil ten years ago, and lived in Rio. I would be living in a GREAT neighbor too. There was a time when real estate was dirt cheap. Don't be a hater.

    Sorry Rachel, I couldn't resist another comment. It's my thing, I love class chats.

    ReplyDelete
  28. WHat an exciting discussion! I also want to add that 'hard work and good choices' is not what brings prosperity. Often it is accident of birth and luck. Actually, that's usually the case.

    ReplyDelete
  29. wowow i loved this and i dont have anything to really add... i just wanted to say that i enjoyed it fully!! class is a complex issue no matter where you are... and in Brazil, especially for foreigners, it is even more confusing since, as was already stated, our "staple" items are "luxuries" here. living here has really helped me to re-evaluate AGAIN my life and what is important.

    ReplyDelete
  30. "WHat an exciting discussion! I also want to add that 'hard work and good choices' is not what brings prosperity. Often it is accident of birth and luck. Actually, that's usually the case."

    Jennifer do you have evidence that backs this up? It doesn't add up with what I observe regarding most people.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Classifications of people...designating their level in society by their feeble...or highly successful attempts...at survival, assigning a label because of the manner in which they live, giving them a position on the social ladder because of the plot of ground their house sits on...and if they own it or rent it, ranking them by the schools they can or can't afford, assorting a position in the strata because of an ability to hire a maid a few days a week...breaking down their position on the societal step ladder by their ability to put a dryer on credit.

    Does anyone not find this ridiculous...that we do this to ourselves...and at what point does it really matter? Are we all not just as worthy, amazing and miraculous as the next person, no matter what type of jeans we wear? Do we not all struggle in some way, find ourselves deficient or pleased with our success, celebrate love and mourn death...no matter how much we have, or don't. We are all participating in the human experience...why do we classify the level we are functioning in?

    Classifications are political and societal attempts at controlling our conversations with each other. It's the us and them conversation. If we are all so involved in that discourse we fail to pay attention to the greed and political expediency surrounding us?

    We're having a class discussion in the US again...I hoped we'd were on the way to getting past that, but guess not. Our attempts at leveling the playing field and growing a broad middle class through access to decent education, legal and social protection of minorities and the ability of all levels to achieve have disolved into political wrangling over misplaced ideology and blame for the economy...all smoke and mirrors. If we point the fingers at the poor who want to much, immigrants who shouldn't be here, social nets for the least of us that are draining our coffers, marriage equality and a political system that can't agree on when to have coffee breaks much less come up with an effective solution...we won't notice the "man behind the curtain"...the greed, avarice, superiority and manipulation that really got us into the situation we're in.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Jennifer, I see your point, and I have to say I agree and disagree. It depends on the situation. There are some people who are born at the bottom of the bottom and will only be able to stay there because they don't know about the ways to get out. They could be incredibly hard working, yet if they are never shown opportunities or how to use them, then it is will never happen. Unfortunately, that is true more often than it is not. At the same time, my husband was born to an incredibly lower-income family in Brazil... dirt floors and not running water in Sao Paulo... mom went door to door selling pae de queijo to make sure her kids had food while dad went three hours each way to work. They put duct tape on their shoes when they fell apart and they wore their clothes until they fell apart. But today he and his sister are successful Brazilians. He worked for IBM, his sister is a lawyer. So birth set them back, but their parents taught them that they could work hard to get a better life. They both found full time jobs when they were 14 and went to high school and later college at night time. His first job was helping a shoe cobbler, eight hours a day. They brought home their money and helped their parents buy a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood out of Sao Paulo, where their parents were able to find better jobs. My in-laws are at the bottom of C class, but they make ends meet. They have a beautiful three bedroom place with a view of the hills, and walk where ever they need to go. My husband learned early on to save and he is doing quite well for us. His sister just opened her own practice. So, yes, they were born at the bottom, but in their situation they had people showing them where they could go and how to get there, and they were willing to do it. Neither of them have memories of shooting the breeze with friends as teenagers or young adults, which to me is utterly sad when I think of my good times with friends. But they were able to climb out. So yes, hard work and good choices can pay off. Unfortunately, too many people don't have someone showing them/pushing them to do it. Too many people only know what they see in front of them, and that is all they will ever know as a possibility, which is the great tragedy of every society.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I left my comments in the form of a post on my own blog: http://daniellebrazil.blogspot.com/2011/12/class-classifications.html

    ...but I encourage people to continue the conversation here.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hey Tiffany- I think their 'accident of birth' was actually an asset. I just can't fathom how having parents that work SO hard, and clearly loved their children and wanted to righ by them, would ever be considered a 'set-back.'

    My husband is from similar circumstances, BTW, and has told me he has never seen another parent that loved their children as much as his dad & mom loved him (his dad carrying 40 pounds of rice walking for 3 hours, eating dinner together and sitting around listening to stories due to no TV/electricity).

    And after reading Danielle's post, I for one, say PLEASE keep hiring maids, because my in-laws need the jobs, and goodness, they are VERY happy with these jobs. My SIL even has a job now that signs her cartorio de trabalha. When she leaves work, she is done, and can spend Carnaval in Bahia with her cousins as well as relax with her friends on the weekends. She's very happy and doe snot want to go anywhere in terms of social standing or economic change.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Darn it, hit enter before I was ready.

    Kay- No, I do not find it ridiculous, as those above got there on the backs of oppressed- in both the US and Brazil. Maybe R's blog isn't the place, but these things need to be uncovered and hopefully resolved and let go. To say 'don't we all struggle in the same way' sound like the words of a person with wealth- maybe even transgenerational wealth- but I'm just guessing here form a friend of mine who has said the same tings- b/c, no, we don't all struggle in the same way. For example, if you are gang raped by your uncles at 7, b/c your father sold you to them, them placed in foster care and moved every 6-9 months until you're 18, then told 'Good luck with life! Hope you get an apartment soon' you are not struggling the same as say I am- to pay my car month by month for 4 years.

    Gritty- Your questioning sounds like someone who has not been exposed to the length/breadth of life experience. It is the American refrain that if you work hard and make good choices you will be successful. Here's an example of someone who did work hard, and at one time employed 20 people, and whose wife worked hard. And this is just an example I can think of right now, off the top of my head:

    http://www.sacbee.com/2011/12/18/4130567/terminally-ill-woman-to-stay-in.html#storylink=misearch

    ReplyDelete
  36. In mobility, usually one can go down REALLY easy and then work a life time, not getting any class mobility.

    Yes, luck, hard work and born into wealth all exist. I received close to a full ride in college with Hard Work and luck. Getting scholarships in the US today is LUCK.

    There are tons of debate luck vs. fate. Hard work vs. fate.

    I think Rachel getting married to a Brazilian, moving to Rio at a good time and buying cheap prime real estate is both being smart and lucky.

    Actually, A LOT of people in brazil have made their wealth off real estate. IN Paulinia there WAS NOTHING ten years ago. Land was free given away by the city for people just to live in the city. Why my husband's family came here. There were families who bought a ton of land and now their kids don't need to work a day in their life. That's luck.

    Oppression exists. But we can't stop that us from trying. I agree, many rich people are born into wealth. Normal we die in the class we were born into.

    Ok, terrible things happen. But those things shouldn't defeat us. I don't think it's right to let those things destroy us.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I can see how Danielle felt the comments were harsh as I did too. I usually go to Mr. Rant for this as he is the "expert" in internet relations. Anyway, things come off as harsh in written text. It's just how it is.

    Regardless of the comments, harshness, or lack there of I am pleased with the comments. I am very happy to have stimulated so much discussion and this is an area that is important to discuss.

    ReplyDelete
  38. @ Jennifer

    I think the question is if the statement you made below is true.

    "WHat an exciting discussion! I also want to add that 'hard work and good choices' is not what brings prosperity. Often it is accident of birth and luck. Actually, that's usually the case."

    So far you have presented rather dramatic examples and while they are certainly moving they do not prove that luck and accident of birth prevail over hard work and good choices when it comes to being prosperous. Other commentators have pointed to cases where hard work lifted people to prosperity regardless of their meager (economic) beginnings.
    So far the only reoccuring pattern I have noticed amongst those who reached prosperity is a stable and loving family invironment while in the examples you presented the opposite seems to be the rule.
    The link from your previous message though is quite interesting in the sense that both man and woman were alcoholics and seemed to have found stability and prosperity when they joined together as a couple and together pursued a more spiritual life via the Adventists. Their current troubles appear to have been caused by financial decisions taken without access to vital information: a true picture of the wife's illness, and the costs it would entail.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Uh, what, Gritty? I don't understand how it couldn't be obvious that most of the time it's birth and luck that play a larger part in creating prosperity. Hard work matters AFTER you've made it into the middle classes, but most of Brazil is poor and without the infrastructure for social mobility. If your family is poor, you won't go to college because that's time and money no one can afford. So you work your ass off for less than 1000R a month and you never learn to save because everything you own you're paying off in a million installments.

    In Brazil, money makes money. Poupanca rates are like the highest in the world. But if you are in debt from the minute you're born to the minute you die, it doesn't matter how hard you work or what choices you make. And that is the state of the vast majority of Brazilians.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Gritty- I suppose you'll just have to trust me on this one. I can't re-create 20 years of education and social service experience in blog comments! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  41. Jennifer- check this out.

    -Affirming the antecedent.
    A valid logical argument that concludes from the premise A → B and the premise A that therefore, B is true. The name comes from the fact that the argument affirms (i.e., asserts as true) the antecedent (A) in the conditional.

    -Affirming the consequent.
    A logical fallacy that argues from the premise A → B and the premise B that therefore, A is true. The name comes from the fact that the argument affirms (i.e., asserts as true) the consequent (B) in the conditional"

    http://statistics.berkeley.edu/~stark/SticiGui/Text/gloss.htm

    I ask: aren't you affirming that the consequent -- the origin of those you help in the environment of social work -- is proof of the conditional ( that their social class indicates your argument stating that accident of birth and luck trumps hard work when it comes to reaching prosperity?

    If so this is a fallacy. Is it not?

    ReplyDelete
  42. @ Anom

    You wrote:
    "Hard work matters AFTER you've made it into the middle classes, but most of Brazil is poor and without the infrastructure for social mobility".

    Are we to conclude then that MAKING IT to the middle class is due to luck and accident of birth AND THEN hard work starts to matter after you've made it into the middle classes?
    Well then out of the factors to making it into the middle class we have to exclude accident of birth since the person in question was born into a poor class, so I deduce you are saying it's luck that gets you there. AND THEN hard work starts to matter after you've made it into the middle classes?
    This doesn't make sense to me.

    Anyway you then wrote:
    "So you work your ass off for less than 1000R a month and you never learn to save because everything you own you're paying off in a million installments."

    So if you make x (1000R) then you are automatically thrown into a spiral of consumption which leads you to always be paying installments and hence does not allow you to save and grow financially?

    Yeah, I don't think so. I think the argumentation you used applies to a person that does not know how to organize his/her finances. In this case financial education is needed, prosperity will probably then follow.

    The book linked below is great in order to obtain such knowledge since it is straighfoward, with concise and simple exercises to financially educate someone.
    Give it to someone in need. It is much better than consoling them with class warfare and making them feel like victims. They actually may be victims, depending on your point of view, but a victimized mentality will only keep them in the station they are currently in.

    http://www.livrariacultura.com.br/scripts/resenha/resenha.asp?isbn=8535213015

    ReplyDelete
  43. Gritty- I really appreciate your youthful enthusiasm and belief in the American way. I hope you don't lose the underlying nature of your positive outlook!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Hi Rachel.

    I am a silent reader of your blog, in which I follow almost one year and a half.
    The following two sites with table to know the income of social classes in Brazil.
    Well enjoy it.

    http://blog.thiagorodrigo.com.br/index.php/faixas-salariais-x-classe-social-qual-a

    http://www.hostpobre.com/como-descobrir-sua-classe-social.html

    ReplyDelete
  45. I live in a favela and seeing how much rents cost outside and needing a fiador, I dont see how I would ever be able to move out of here.

    But I enjoy my simple life here and I know everybody and they know me. So why should I move from here? For a better life? How does a person define a better life?

    To move away from here would be very scary for me becase although I might have better "things", I would lose a comunity where I feel needed, wanted and loved and for me this is more important..Its priceless. Zezinho

    ReplyDelete
  46. Gritty lives in utopialand :)

    ReplyDelete
  47. Mhg and Zezinho, thanks for joining the convo and for your sharing good info/thoughts!

    As for gritty's utopialand: I like to think he lives in grittopia, the land where funny &quirky youtube videos were created;)

    ReplyDelete
  48. Btw, I love how a lot of you feel the desire to defend me. It's really sweet and makes me feel special :)

    I also respect the passion behind all of you, especially the ones disagreeing. You come back and the conversation is just going!

    On a side note, no low blows or ball shots ;)

    ReplyDelete
  49. Gritty, you ask for evidence that often luck is what brings prosperity.
    I suggest you and everyone interested in this subject read this book.
    http://www.amazon.com/Black-Swan-Improbable-Robustness-Fragility/dp/081297381X/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1324513713&sr=8-4

    ReplyDelete
  50. @ MHGonçalves: Great links, they really add value to the discussion here. Thanks for sharing.

    @ Zezinho: I don't think anyone should make a decision about moving without really considering the options and consequences, be the move from Favela to Favela, Favela to Bairro, Bairro to Favela or from overseas to Brazil: be it to a Favela as some foreigners choose, or to a Bairro.
    I am arguing that people have more options than many of those, who opined in this comment box, seem to think. Even if the people in question have less than the average reader of this blog considers to be sufficient, they do have choices.
    I have read your blog and find it very interesting, specially since I like geography, and specifically how space ends up taking form. So when I read this post that you wrote It was a real eye opener, and a treat.
    http://lifeinrocinha.blogspot.com/2010/10/interesting-facts-of-favela-life-part-1.html
    After finishing the article I could not help imagining the economics of living in Rocinha. For example I noticed that you work partially with tourism and you live in Zona 7. Being that there are less expensive places to live in Rocinha, and according to your blog you own your home, then the possibility of moving to a more affordable area and renting your place exists. The money you would make from this strategy could be set aside to purchase a Van which you could then use to start your own tours and expand to other areas of Rio, besides Rocinha. Since you speak English and seem to have contacts with expats in Rio then a network already exists, you just have to expand your contacts as your business grows. Or you could decide to do something else with the money: a savings account, invest in the house you own to make more on rent, and reduce costs of future maintenance--like waterproofing the Laje and the walls-- and so on.
    I know that none of this is my business. I only mean to point out that choices do exist and it seems alot more productive to talk about them and about books that help people make better economic decisions, like the one I linked in a previous message, than to engage in an endless and pointless investigation over what social class Rachel belongs to (I'm not saying you did that but many here seem to think this is relevant, which I fail to see).

    E viva Grittopia: a land where studying and pointing to opportunities always beats being condescending and fostering bitterness amongst classes.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I'm seriously impressed by those links provided by MHGoncalves. Very concrete stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Gritty Poet..ok i dont know where you read this but I rent here. I do not own. My father owned but then he died and my mother now owns the house, but I do not live with them. I live in Rocinha becase my roots are here. :)

    I dont know how to drive and have never driven a car before and at 49 years, i have my fears of this. I do work in tourism but do not work everyday. You said I live in Zona 7?? please explain as I dont undestand this?? I dont have a bank account so having access to loans and things is not possible right now. My dream is to someday be a home owner and I prefer stay here..Just wanted to clarify..Happy Holidays everyone!!

    Zezinho

    ReplyDelete
  53. @ Zezinho,

    Sorry, the post actually says you live in Area 7, not Zona 7. This is what was actually written.

    "Neighborhoods- (Cachopa, Roupa Suja, Capado) we have 25 different neighborhoods and sub neighborhoods here. These names help for us to know where we live. I live in area 7"

    http://lifeinrocinha.blogspot.com/2010/10/interesting-facts-of-favela-life-part-1.html

    Regarding you being a home owner I made the mistake when I read this under sub-item "Land", in the same post linked above.

    "Most people don’t really care about land so much. We value our houses more. We now have rights to our houses and do not have fears to be removed."

    I am guessing what this refers to is that now the government recognizes the once larger farms that make up Rocinha, which historically has been in private and not public ownership, to be dismembered into smaller plots of land and sold that way. This then finally allows people to get private deeds (escritura particular). So today people can legally prove ownership via their escrituras particulares, that are registired by a cartório. Uff, that probably took a long time. Anyway sorry about the mistake, specially since you mentioned later in the same post that you are not a proprietor, yet do want to buy a house there in the future.

    Feliz Natal. And learn how to drive dude :-)

    http://thesys.blog.uol.com.br/

    ReplyDelete
  54. no problem...:) yes I used to live in 7 but now I live in Cachopa..the last house I rented here, the man sold it..I liked the house becase I had a rooftop and I would bring my friends over to hang out and sit on the roof and see the nice views..I dont know if I want to learn to drive. I have my fears about this..

    ReplyDelete
  55. A friend and blog reader felt that I should point out that I gave birth at a public hospital, as well as getting all my prenatal care done there. That is not a middle nor upper class thing to do

    ReplyDelete
  56. This is a bit of a delayed comment, but I just remember when my Brazilian ex was visiting this summer he bought the most random assortment of things to bring home such as a toaster, electric kettle, food processor and even little magic wands for dishwashing. All things we take for granted here but cost an arm and a leg in Brazil. I definitely appreciate the perks of living in a 1st world country (small and big)!

    ReplyDelete

/>