Study Abroad is about exchanging the environment of your native culture for a new one. It’s about living and noticing differences between your daily life back home to the daily life you live abroad. I don’t think that they are drastic cultural differences (usually) but the small cultural tendencies that we overlook in our own countries as universal or normal.
Since I focused on lists in my last blog, I thought that I would continue the trend in compiling a list of the differences I have personally found between my life in Rio and DC in no particular order nor particular importance.
U.S has two extremes with breakfast, either we don’t eat it at all or we have three different types of meat, two egg options and various options of morning beverages. Pancakes, waffles, french toast will be forever associated to the American breakfast. In Brazil, breakfast consists of a tiny cup of coffee and a bread option: a small baguette (pão francês), a grilled cheese (misto quente) or cheese bread balls (pão de queijo). Unlike the US, I rarely see breakfast items taken on the go. To-go cups of coffee aren’t all that common and I feel pretty weird when I run out of the house with a piece of toast because I have never seen anyone eating breakfast on the streets.
Spoiler: soccer is Brazil’s thing. Soccer jerseys are everywhere and anywhere. There are games almost every night of the week and different leagues, championships, rounds going on always. There are different teams within cities. For example, Rio has four teams: Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco. As confusing as soccer culture can be, I think that it has been so much easier to keep track of than American sports culture. We have so many sports, leagues, teams. When someone asks me here “what’s my team?,” I know to respond with a soccer team (my answer is always the non-committal “Brazil”). But in the States, if asked the same questions, I need to know if you are talking about football, basketball or baseball, if you are talking about college or national, etc. Brazil soccer can be overwhelming but at least they’ve decided on a sport as a country.
- Handling of Food
I don’t have much to say on this but this is a pretty big difference that I’ve noticed since I was a child between Brazil and the US. If my Brazilian cousin and I are both eating pizza, I’m picking it up and stuffing my face while she’s eating it with a fork and knife. Hamburgers are the same way. Typical Brazilian will use a napkin to pick up the burger. Americans, on the other hand, pick up nearly every food with their hands. We literally have a whole category of food called “finger food.”
- Elevator/Metro/Other Commute Spaces
In the US, I believe there is an unspoken rule that in these spaces, people are in their own little worlds. I am totally guilty of it. When I am on the bus in DC, I expect it to be a quiet trip with no interruptions of any sort by my fellow passengers. Don’t be THAT guy and talk on the phone, eat/drink loudly or start small-talk. It seems like as we travel from one social space to another, we want to shut down and close off. I have had quite the different experience in Brazil where I have many conversations with people on the metro, the bus, the elevator, the cable car and even the cross walk. The conversations are always very different, rarely just the normal small talk. I’ve swapped numbers with a lady who runs a hot dog cart in Ipanema, been asked for directions as if I was actually from here and even offered a job teaching English twice.
To this day, six months in, I am still not used to Carioca greetings. I have been told its two kisses on the cheek but then sometimes it’s just a hug or one kiss then a hug or a handshake then hug. Whatever it is though, you have a lot more body contact than any American greeting. I can say for a fact that I have never given any friend back home a kiss on the cheek and for a majority of my friends, my normal greeting to them is a wave, smile, “hey!” combo. Despite some of the embarrassing moments here where I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, I think you definitely feel closer to friends with an affectionate greeting like a kiss on the cheek. I have a feeling that I might freak out some friends in the States during the first couple weeks back.
I was reading a guide to American culture in the study abroad office here and it said to be aware that Americans are obsessed with time. I thought it was hilarious until I read on and realized how true it was. We look at our watches, phones, clocks all the time and schedule our lives down to 15 minute intervals (looking at you Georgetown). Here, time feels very relative and flexible. Classes rarely start on time, buses come when they come and being 15 minutes late sometimes is showing up early. For some of my international friends, this goes against every punctual instinct they have. I’ve grown to enjoy the flexibility though, and not being tied down to time.
These are just a few observations that I’ve had while being here.
I only have 2 more weeks left in Rio and I am having a real hard time dealing with that fact. Rio has become home to me. It has changed my plans for the future and the only thing that gives me hope as I wind down my time here is that I will be back again, for longer.
P.S I just turned 21!