American comforts and the lack thereof

Life in Brazil often makes you want one of these.

Before we got married, my husband asked me multiple times and in various ways if I was really willing to give up the comforts of living in the U.S. in order to stay in Brazil for the medium-to-long term. I explained that I was happy with things in Brazil and that I’d prefer to struggle a bit in this country with him than have a cushy, comfortable life without him. I was fortunate in that I already had a few years’ experience in Brazil, so I knew what I was getting into.

Comforts I didn’t mind giving up:

  • Air conditioning. Temperatures here get down to 70 in the winter and up to 90 in the summer, but I’m actually used to the heat… it doesn’t bother me at all. Our apartment is well-ventilated, so A/C isn’t necessary.
  • Washing machine / dryer. I have fewer clothes here, so I don’t mind washing them by hand every couple of days. Plus I don’t have to worry about the dryer eating my socks.
  • American TV. Some people “die” if they can’t have their favorite TV shows. Not me. There were shows I liked in the States, but there’s nothing I feel like I’m missing out on. We have a grand total of 4 workable Brazilian channels… which is good because it’s harder to spend hours and hours in front of the TV.
  • A higher salary. Well, I never really earned a high salary in the U.S. anyway. I’m a natural minimalist and I don’t crave the “stuff” that money can buy.

Comforts I do somewhat mind giving up:

  • Hot showers. Since I’ve gotten used to the heat, my body has apparently become incapable of handling cold. For three-quarters of the year, it’s not an issue – but taking a cold shower at 6 AM on a rainy, windy winter morning sucks. Most Brazilians have electric water heaters on their shower heads, but we can’t install one since it would involve breaking up the bathroom walls. Of course, if I really want hot water, I can always heat some on the stove.
  • Decent public transportation and/or a car. In NYC, I paid $85/month for unlimited monthly transportation. Here I pay $130/month for the privilege of 10 trips a week. Salvador is a sprawling city and the traffic is pretty bad. But it could be worse… I could live in Sao Paulo  :-p
  • Efficiency. Whether it’s buying appliances, getting a home phone line hooked up, or doing anything in the bureaucratic realm (better set aside your whole day) – most things just take longer and are more difficult. It’s easy to get frustrated… but it’s better to adapt. I’ve learned to budget my time accordingly and set aside 2 hours, for example, for errands that “should” take 30 minutes.

Of course, one benefit of doing without some of these “comforts” is that when I do visit the U.S., it feels like I’m in a 5-star hotel all the time. “Wow! The napkins are decent! The towels are soft! There’s good customer service! The roads are well-paved! I’m in the lap of luxury!”

However, I notice it’s also easier to give into certain temptations in the U.S. Although comfort and convenience aren’t intrinsically bad, they do make the necessity for self-control even higher. When the pantry is always full of food, it’s easier to snack mindlessly. When you can order something online and have it at your doorstep tomorrow, it’s easier to spend yourself into debt. When you have fast, reliable internet at home, it’s easier to get sucked into an online addiction. When distractions and time-wasters abound – iPods, cell phones with games, Facebook and the infinite internet – it’s easy to fribble away time with useless stuff rather than productive/positive things. And when the standard of living is higher, with money and material possessions being easier to come by, it’s easy to forget that we’re dependent on God (and other people) for everything and that we’re not to get too attached to the material world.

  • verdade…I noticed all of those things! I have to say, I was surprised that the word “efficiency” even exists in Portuguese (eficiência) – I will assume it comes from Portugal and doesn’t get used here often 😛

  • Your post reminds me of this video I just watched today:

    Some things are frustrating, but it’s also nice to be reminded of our true values, when all the consumerism gets stripped away.

  • I’m pretty sure my American friends don’t believe me when I say I don’t mind washing clothes by hand. It’s OK for now, but I’ve been eyeing this Dako brand of washing machine…I found a used one for R$500! I also could give 2 bits about TV, but am watching it here for Portuguese comprehension (we just bought one!)

    I watched that video, Danielle- I lived above Plaza Catalunia 10 years ago….brought back memories.

    • Shayna

      What’s funny is that my husband, now that he is also participating in the washing-clothes-by-hand (his mom was doing his laundry before) – is now dying to buy a washing machine! :-p

      I’m just glad we have a covered area to hang the laundry out to dry. In my previous apartment, you had to run to bring the clothes in if it started to rain, and if perchance you happened to be out when it started raining, you’d have to wash everything all over again.

  • Anna

    It’s easy to find a/c , washer / dryer , international channels / cable , heater for your showers /sinks , imported cars, good napkins and towels in Brazil. I know many who have all of those BUT you will pay more for it for all of them.
    Lack of good roads , transportation system , lots of bureaucracy and less efficiency are the problems!

  • Cecilia Butcher

    good reminders