Barbara: Tropical Daydreams
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Brazil, etc.
Born in Miami Beach, Florida and raised in New Jersey, I spent my university and working years in New York City. My husband and I moved to Búzios, Brazil in 2002.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog in 2011, a good 9 years into our life here, by which time I felt I had a balanced outsider/insider perspective. I was also fairly bursting with things to say. And let’s face it, a retiree has a lot of time on her hands!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My personal favorite is the post about Driving in Brazil . I don’t usually “do” rants, but I indulged myself this once. But the post that received the most feedback from readers was one I wrote after Brazil made its presentation at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. I knew from what the reporters were saying that they didn’t have a clue as to what Brazil was presenting. So I felt compelled to explain.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Brazil differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The single biggest difference is that back in New York we were working, while here in Brazil we’re retired. And no, it didn’t take any effort to get used to that! We paint, write, travel, tend our vegetable garden, deal with the house, create imaginative fusion meals and spend lots of hours relaxing with friends. As for culture shock, no, we had been traveling to Brazil several times a year for a decade prior to our move, so our hearts and minds were open to our new country.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Brazil? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Yes, we were good and geared up for whatever lay in store for us. I knew that we’d have to learn new procedures, new systems, new rules and a new language, and that was energizing. But even with all the information available these days on the Internet, there’s really no preparing for the bureaucratic side of setting up legal residence in another country. At times it might have seemed as though the paperwork was invented merely to frustrate us personally, but the United States makes it equally hard for foreigners to move there legally. We kept our sense of humor and our sense of balance, and we also kept plenty of wine chilling in the bucket.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Sorry to disappoint, but the truth is we have no funny anecdotes about plumbers or maids, no goofy language misunderstandings, nothing like that at all. In that respect, Brazil’s pretty straightforward.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Brazil?
- Educate yourself about your destination in Brazil (the country is vast and the regions very distinct), but don’t worry about having all your ducks in order before you move, because then you might never do it. Many things are easier to sort out on-site and in person anyway.
- Learn Portuguese if you don’t already know it. It makes all the difference both in the richness of your experience and in how you’ll be viewed and treated by your neighbors.
- If you’re an American citizen, keep an eye on tax legislation known as FATCA. The details can be easily researched (one good site is American Citizens Abroad, at http://americansabroad.org). FATCA was primarily conceived to get American tax cheats, but has caused chilling repercussions for many honest Americans living abroad, including their children and non-American spouses. Unless FATCA is repealed or amended, a life abroad for American expats might become very difficult. (I also wrote a slightly irreverent post about FATCA).
How is the expat community in Brazil? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Our town of Búzios is a resort town, with the relaxed rhythm of a resort town. Making friends was the easiest part of our move. We had a stimulating mix to choose from, too, between the locals from Búzios’s old fishermen families, Brazilians from all over the country, and expats hailing supposedly from some 96 countries. That made the expat community here large and varied and spicy! However, American expats number very few. And although we do have American and English friends, my husband and I made it a point to try not to fall into the English-speaking “Officer’s Club” clique. Because of that decision, I think we’ve integrated better into the life of the town than some of the other English-speaking expats.
How would you summarize your expat life in Brazil in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s been one hell of a ride.