Julia: Rio Real
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Brazil, etc.
I am American, born and bred in Boston, Massachusetts. My destiny was Brazil… my parents even gave me a Brazilian name, though I was named after my Uncle Julius, an East European Jewish tailor who emigrated to the U.S. I studied Spanish and Portuguese, and then met a Brazilian while doing a masters degree in International Relations, in Washington DC. We married and moved to São Paulo in 1981. He was transferred to Rio in 1995, and I have been here ever since, although I’m not married to him anymore. We have three wonderful grownup kids.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I was working in publishing here and had always been involved in the life of the city of Rio de Janeiro. When good things began to happen here, after decades of violence and hardship, I became concerned that the turnaround might not last. I invented the blog as a way to inform people about what is happening and to bring a critical and constructive view of urban events to my readers, both in English and Portuguese. It’s so important to know what’s going on.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours? Please add the URL as well.
The blog is at www.riorealblog.com. It has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, as well. I have written about so many things in the last year and a half, I can’t say I have favorites. But I just created a new page, the Abecedário, which is an ABC of the transformation of Rio, with basic info about it. A fun FAQ. It’s not finished yet, but you can see what I’ve done so far.
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?
I loved it here from the start. Maybe my East European blood is less Puritan, more romantic, and craves the kind of emotion you find here.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Brazil? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think I took too long to engage with Brazil. I depended too much on my then-husband. I thought—all that bureaucracy, it’s his culture, let him deal with it. But you need to know how, you need to understand how and why things work here. You have to roll up your sleeves and get messy.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
When I first got to São Paulo I had a lot of sinusitis, because of the air pollution. The ear, nose and throat specialist prescribed Yatropan, a eucalyptus essence, to be mixed in hot water. I was supposed to put a towel over my head and do an “inalação” of this, over the pot. In the United States, medicines have instructions on the label, not on a piece of paper stuck inside the box. So I read on the bottle “vide bula” and somehow, maybe because of French, understood “empty the bottle”. I dumped the whole thing into the pot of boiling hot water, threw the towel over my head, and—burned out my nostrils! Vide bula means “see the paper inside the box”. That might actually be Latin.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Brazil?
Smile a lot, give it time, and try to understand behavior in its historical context. Due to a long history of slavery that ended only in 1888, Brazilian society is autocratic and quite hierarchical—not egalitarian. This is changing with the growth of the new middle class, thankfully, and newcomers can actually do a lot to help the process along, diplomatically, of course. Oh, and a fourth tip: learn Portuguese!!
How is the expat community in Brazil? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It’s growing enormously and I now happily find great variety. The oil and gas people are all doing interesting jobs, and there are also many young researchers and students coming in. I met a Brazilian-Danish fellow the other night who works on an oil rig. What stories he must have.
How would you summarize your expat life in Brazil in a single, catchy sentence?
I’m a lucky witness to the transformation of a city, a country and a society, with a great array of difficulties and achievements.