Many of you probably know the concept of home-exchanges through the movie ‘The Holiday’, where Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz decide to swap places: a little cottage in England for a mansion in the USA. This movie happens to be my favourite feel-good movie of all time, and it’s the way my mum and I have been traveling for many years. I love to explore the world by exchanging homes, because you get to ‘live’ somewhere and feel less like a tourist, save a lot of money and often get really great insider tips as a nice bonus! Among many places, we have stayed in a massive house in San Francisco of a former Harvard University law student, a gay couple’s flat in New York, and a large farm in England. Now, we are in Brazil for the next 2.5 weeks living in a house with a swimming pool at a peninsula’s coastline.
Our arrival in Rio de Janeiro started off great! I was completely energized for the day, as I had slept for 9 hours straight on the plane. This never happens to me, so I figure that I should travel more often after a full day of working ; ). We had to fill out some papers at the border. A handsome-looking border control officer told me flirtatiously, after chatting for a while: ‘I don’t want to let you go!’ This was quite a different welcome from the ones I am used to at the American border control!
The people here generally just shamelessly flirt… a lot! Apparently the word for beautiful is ‘Linda’, and they don’t hold back saying it. I imagine it must be quite confusing if you’re name is actually Linda and everyone seems to know it ; ). Moreover, people turn around indiscreetly in the street and it’s a really Brazilian thing to honk the car as a compliment. I don’t really like this car-thing… it made me jump up and down in the middle of the street with a small heart attack quite a few times! But what I like is that they flirt here without necessarily wanting something from you or keep on going when you are not interested; it seems to be a normal thing to give genuine compliments out of kindness, without consequences.
The people also seem to be extremely comfortable in their bodies, whether they are a bit bigger or not. I mean, they should be ‘cause they are really beautiful and curvey! Old and young move in a sensual and sexy way. They also show it by their clothing, which is made of a lot less fabric!
I now have a new understanding of why they consider us North-Europeans to be very rigid and closed. Everything here seems to be more lose. For example, a lady selling bus tickets was singing on top of her longs whilst handing out tickets and a boy working on a boat explained how to put on a lifejacket while zumba-ing. People here tend to dance whenever they hear music; regardless of whether a whole group is dancing or they are just by themselves. It doesn’t matter, there is no shame: music equals dancing.
Another thing I have noticed about Brazilians, which I find really fascinating and I can’t get my head around, is that they always assume that my mum and I speak Portuguese too. I like the fact that absolutely no one speaks English outside of the city, because it makes me feel like I am truly far away, but it would be helpful if they slowed down a little while talking and help us with body language or drawing or something!
But no, without kidding, it doesn’t matter whether you just stare at them with a completely confused expression or keep repeating ‘não intendo’; they will continue to speak Portuguese. Once a Brazilian man called the home-phone of the apartment we are in, because he wanted to speak to the owners of the place. My mother kept saying that she didn’t understand what he was saying but he continued talking rapidly in Portuguese nonetheless. Luckily, my mum knows how to count in Portuguese so in the end, she managed to give the mobile number of the landlord to this man. He seemed to accept this and hung up the phone. Five minutes later however, he called back! In Portuguese! With what idea in mind can you call someone back that you literally cannot converse with… it’s a mystery to me.
Another time, my mother and I went to a little supermarket to buy some groceries and befriended the two ladies working behind the cashier. They were lovely and helped us find everything we needed. They talked to us in Portuguese for at least half an hour, of which we understood nada… but smiling helps a lot! My mum managed to ask them if we could take a picture, and they absolutely loved this idea. Within a few seconds, they had gotten their make-up from underneath the cashier, put on bright pink lipstick and brushed their hairs. Afterwards, they asked us whether we could send the pictures to them on Facebook, which we did. My mum received a really long message back… in Portuguese!
An ‘empregada’ also came along with the home exchange; a housekeeper who only speaks rapid Portuguese as well. She is around the house from 9 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon to clean and cook. It’s a real luxury and a first for us in our history of home-exchanges, but we realized that we don’t feel really comfortable about it. In Brazil, it’s very normal to have an empregada, but for us it feels very odd to have another human being working for us. She cooks amazing Brazilian dishes, but she eats it herself whilst standing or sitting on a small table. We kept asking her to sit with us, but for her in turn that is probably abnormal so she preferred to eat separately. She makes us a lot of coffee too, but again, drinks it herself while standing up. I realize that the other side is that she is probably happy that she earns an income since there is a lot of poverty in Brazil, but I just keep thinking that I could have been born in her position too… it’s just a lottery.
Another big cultural difference from the Netherlands is the fact that we live in a ‘compound’ here, a secured area where rich Brazilians have their houses. You have to enter through a big gate and there is security everywhere to guard you from the ‘outside’. However, the paradox is that it is so safe within the compound, that people literally leave the doors unlocked. There are people walking in and out of our home all the time, to do some work such as cleaning the swimming pool. Sometimes we don’t even know what they are doing. Although they are all very lovely, I would find it difficult to live in such a way because I am quite fond of my privacy.
A last thing that’s very different from the Netherlands is the living-pace. Everything is more relaxed and slower over here. I appreciate it now because I am in ‘holiday-mode’, but it is something to get used to. Everything takes more time; going to a supermarket can take a whole afternoon, because the cashier might just have an interesting conversation with someone standing before you in line… Also, what happened to us is that there was no price tag on a package of frozen vegetables, so the cashier simply told us she therefore could not sell it!
Overall, Brazil is very exotic to us and has a completely different culture, but we absolutely love it. I think it’s the best place to relax. The people are super friendly, the music is great and the food…. I can’t even begin to explain it! Not to mention those beaches…. That’s a whole story by itself, which I will write about in ‘chapter 2’ ; )