There is a guy on my running team here who lived in Australia for a few years, a few years back. He went just because, just to stretch his wings. He loved it. Australia, he said, is what Brazil could be, if… He trailed off. I asked what he meant, and he shrugged. Things work there, he said.
Weeks later, I met another guy who’d spent a memorable year in Australia. His dream is to go back there for good. His sister already did.
Taxi drivers say: Why did you come?
A guy I met in a café said: I’m scared all the time.
Maybe they’re just talking. Maybe they’re just frustrated. Maybe Australia is the bomb. Regardless, the mood around here often isn’t great right now. The news is one long stream of bummers. This morning, they literally came to blows in Congress, where, last week, they took a first step toward impeaching the president. There’s recession, there’s inflation, there’s violence, there’s an outbreak of zika.
Not too long after I arrived, a Brazilian journalist and I exchanged emails about the media scene and the freelancing life here. I don’t think I have very encouraging things to tell you, she wrote. São tempos difíceis pra ser journalista no Brasil. These are tough times. (For the record, not unlikely that an American journalist would say the same thing about our situation)
The other day, I met a columnist for Zero Hora, the main newspaper in Porto Alegre. He asked how I was enjoying the place. So far, so good, I said.
“How long have you been here? A week?” he said, with a bitter laugh.
Just wait, buddy. It’ll get worse.
This sort of attitude – from Brazilians, not culture-shocked foreigners – can feel pervasive: the cities are dangerous, the food is contaminated, the roads are bad, the police are not your friends. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad… some of them are literally thinking of moving to Australia.
When George W. was about to get reelected, I remember American friends of mine threatening to leave the country if it happened. Of course, none of them actually went through with it, because in the grand scheme of things, putting up with George W. for four more years was a whole lot easier.
And I’ve always had friends back home who’ve wanted to get away for less cynical reasons – to explore the world just because, to maybe even live somewhere for a while. That’s pretty much what I’m doing now. But I don’t recall ever having friends who just wanted to leave and start from scratch and find a better life and never look back. We might want to leave claustrophobic hometowns behind, but we don’t want to emigrate.
I don’t have conclusions to draw here. These are just observations – though I’ll admit, this has made the transition harder. In the selfish and me-centered sense (a frame of mind that’s easy to be in when you’re adjusting to life abroad), this downer vibe feels like yet another obstacle against feeling comfortable and settled.
But even when I’m able to approach them with a bit more grace, these experiences still leave me sobered and confused. If I were a foreigner in the US, would I be feeling the same way? Would I have the same sorts of conversations with people? Would I interpret them the same way?
Or, despite our gun habit and our 1 percent and our nomination process and every other good reason to feel glum about life now in the United States of America, is it reasonable that Brazilians seem (to me) to feel much more glum about their lives now in Brazil?
And which scenario is preferable?