Throughout my entire time in Brazil, I made a conscious effort to list every single major difference that I came across in comparison to the United States – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the “simply different, but neither worse nor better”.
The biggest differences for me in Brazil:
1. Food habits
It’s very rare to see a Brazilian eating food with their hands. For example, it’s very common for a Brazilian to eat pizza with a knife and fork, whereas in the US we’d probably just pick up the pizza with our hands to eat it faster. I had a lot of funny conversations with my host parents about which was the “better” way, but I think it’s safe to say that it just boils down to cultural differences, and neither one is better than the other.
It’s very common for Brazilians to take 2 or ever 3 showers a day. Yes, a lot of that is due to the hotter, more humid climate down in South America, but a lot of it is also just due to there being a higher cleanliness culture, in my opinion. Much to my host parents’ dismay, I never really got behind the idea of taking so many showers a day, despite their best efforts to try to make me. After a few months of them trying, we ended up settling on a nice middle-ground of just one shower a day.
One of the biggest culture shocks for me in Brazil was finding out the concept of “parcelling” payments. With almost anything you buy in Brazil, you’ll be given the option to pay the full sum all at once, or make monthly payments from anywhere between 2-12 months usually. In America, this concept really only exists when dealing with extremely large payments such as house or car mortgages.
Houses in Brazil are pretty closed off. They almost all have fences surrounding them, making it impossible to walk up to anyone's front door. This was very different than what I was used to back in the US, and it took me a while to get used to a more "closed-off" community, than a more open one back in my neighborhood in the US.
I think the biggest surprise for me was how much it actually rains in Brazil. In my mind, I always just pictured sunny, clear skies year-round. I mean, I think I brought at most 2 jackets to Brazil, and both were extremely thin. In Brazil, it rains all year, even during the summer, so I was definitely not prepared at all.
Things I liked a lot:
Meia-entrada means “half entrance” in english, which basically means that students there have access to some things for only half price. This is most common in movie theaters, concerts, and museums. It’s a great feeling walking into a theater and realizing that with the discount, you’ll only have to pay 3$ to get in!
I love diverse Brazil is in terms of race, culture, food, accents, and personality, even just between different states. For example, the accents are so different that it’s very easy to tell the state or even the exact city where someone is from just based on their accent. In the South, you’ll encounter a very high caucasian population, while in the North you’ll encounter the exact opposite – a very high black population, which was where historically most Africans were taken to during the slave age. And with that also comes lots of diversity in terms of culture, food, and music!
I just loved how there was a bigger initiative to eat more fruits and vegetables and less fast food in Brazil. Fruits and veggies are a lot more accessible and cheaper than in the US, so it was really nice to wake up in the morning at my homestay and just see a whole plate of fresh fruit on the table without even needing to ask.
Overall, I would describe my experience in Brazil in comparison to my life in the US as neither worse nor better, simply different. I encountered a lot of things that frustrated me, but also things that amazed me. In the end, every single one of those experiences shaped me in some way, and made me more resilient, and I’m very grateful for that. I hope that I was able to give you some insight into Brazil with these comparisons.