Learning to Be Vibrant

If asked to describe my style, the words boring or plain would not come out of my mouth. I tend to stick to a few basics: blacks, whites, grays, and greens. Yet when i asked my host mom to describe it, expecting her to use chato (boring), she laughed, saying morto…

Brazil is vibrant. you drive through the streets and see houses of every color imaginable; one of my vizinhos lives in a bright pink house. You walk through Florianopolis and see prints and patterns mixed and matched. You step into the mercado publico and smell peixe, acai, and churrasco.

Brazilians are vibrant. I watch my host mom spark up conversations with strangers on the street without hesitation. The first night in my homestay, friends came over and we were up until midnight fonduing and talking. You kiss someone’s cheek the first time you meet them.

There’s never a dull experience.

My host mom first encountered my ‘dead’ sense of style while helping me shop for a bikini. que cor? she’d ask me, with preto always being my response. She’d show me bottoms with sugar skulls, tops with colors of the sea swirling through the fabric, to which I’d politely try to shake my head. I ended up leaving with a somewhat compromise; black bottoms with a red top. This marked the start of embracing this vibrant, Brazilian culture.

Other aspects of the culture have been challenging: I was vegan for two years before i touched Brazilian soil. an hour later, in line at the hotel buffet, i realized i had to throw in the toalha. The buffet was full of new foods, pão de queijo, coxinha, and at least three different types of cakes. Since we arrived during the third meal of the day, coffee break, the only vegan friendly option was plain black coffee, and i was famished after 30+ hours of travel. After a less than optimal experience staying vegan for 11 days in Peru (in which i ate rice and vegetables at nearly every meal), I knew that I would need to rethink my dietary choices in order to live properly nourished for 8 months. I'm still following a meatless diet, and am happy in my compromise between something I'm really passionate about and a culture I really want to experience. So, I’m embracing the constant stream of cake, brigadeiro, and other unknown sweets (tough, I know), with the help of my new friend, Lactaid.

We’ve been in Brazil for a month as of yesterday, and I've started to notice some subtleties of the culture seeping into my daily life. The staples of my diet have shifted to a daily average of 3 pieces of pão, 3.5 cups of coffee, and 1 mango;  I've begun talking with strangers on the bus, though they’re quick to comment on my portunhol (the mixture of Spanish and Portuguese one uses when they speak one of the two languages and are trying to speak the other), and the recently downloaded songs in my spotify have become overwhelmingly in Spanish or Portuguese. In short, I've been steadily learning.

Though i’m anxious to fit in and be like everyone here, this first process of trial and error has been priceless and essential. I think back on the times I've practiced sentences frantically in my head before starting up a conversation with a stranger, only to not understand their response. or the times I've walked into the bus station and hopped on a bus about to leave, without knowing with certainty if it was my bus. These moments in my stretch zone, regardless of whether or not they felt successful, are the most pivotal in my immersion into this culture.

I know that for many more months, i will still reach for my 'dead' clothing, will still want to retreat into my music on the bus, will still think in English and pull out my translator multiple times por dia. But with each day that passes, I become more comfortable with Brazilian fashion, with talking to strangers, and with trying to navigate conversation and words I don’t know without the help of a translator. My focus is set on living and learningaprendendo a ser vibrante.

*if you’re curious as to how different our two styles are, do a google image search of “Brazil street style” and compare it to “Seattle street style”; my host family and I had a good laugh about how different the two results are.