The Subtle Nuances of Brazil: Differences between the US and Brazil (and Italy)

Hongxi Wang - Brazil

October 10, 2013

1. Showers

Showers are really strange here — to say the least. They get colder as you turn the faucet and sometimes, they’re just completely freezing. My first day in Brazil, I had to ask the lady at the hostel to check the shower because it wasn’t getting warm. It turns out her definition of warm is freezing cold. In Brazil, they don’t have the industrial size water heaters like we do in the States. The water heater is just this machine that attaches onto the showerhead. It takes a bit of skill to operate one of them. You have to concentrate the water at a point where the pressure is low enough for it too work.

2. Food

I don’t know how Brazilians do it but eating rice and beans (arroz feijão) everyday is exhausting and tiring. It’s honestly my least favorite food here. However, Brazilian meat and barbecue (churrasco) is just divine, there aren’t words to describe it, it’s just simply amazing.  Neverthless, I don’t think anything ever compares to Italian food in the world, it’s just that good.

3. Chemicals in Food

The amount of chemicals in Brazilian food is astonishing. Back in the States, mustard would only have a few ingredients because its high acidity would preserve everything. Here you need 10 more chemical ingredients to have something called “mustard.” Every single thing at the supermarket has a billion chemicals, even the stuff labeled as “organic,” which costs 10 times more. In Italy, chemicals in food were sparingly used: no artificial dyes, flavors, or preservatives.

4. Mold

Every bathroom with a shower here (well at least the ones I been in) has had a mold problem. It’s kind of hard to miss when there are black patches everywhere in the showering area. I’m guessing it has something to do with the humidity from the ocean?

5. Super high prices

The prices in Brazil are outrageous. An iPhone here starts upwards of R$ 2000, a pack of Pringles cost R$ 10, Heinz ketchup cost R$ 15, and Neutrogena sunscreen cost R$ 80 whereas in America, it costs $10 for a pack of three at Costco. Books are ridiculously overpriced, a little pocket dictionary that would cost $7 in the US cost about R$20 here. Basically, anything with a name brand, whether it’s food, clothes, technology, or toiletries, is going to cost 3 times more. For the typical Brazilian, these prices are outrageous. The Brazilian reais really doesn’t go very far. Nevertheless, I noticed that things here are actually a bit cheaper for me because of the dollar to reais exchange rate.

6. Weather

When I imagined Brazil, I always thought of it as always kind of warm and sunny. Boy was I wrong. It rains a lot here, and it can get downright freezing with a high chance of non-stop wind. Maybe in the North of Brazil, it’s always hot and sunny but here in the South, seasons still exist. Unfortunately, all the seasons are in reverse. #SouthernHemisphereProblems! So basically, I’m having 12 continuous months of summer. But it’s definitely going to be strange having Christmas without the freezing winter cold.

7. Hugs and Kisses

Having lived in Italy,I’m already kind of use to the idea of kissing on the cheeks when meeting someone new. However, Italians kiss twice on each cheek and here it’s only one kiss so it feels a little incomplete. Also, I’m not very use to hugging people ever so I’m still learning.

8. Buffets

Every single restaurant I’ve been to in Brazil has been a buffet. But there’s one big difference between American buffets and Brazilian buffets. Brazilian buffets are almost always “al quilo (kilo)” not all you can eat, meaning you can get as much as you want but you’re going to have to weight your plate after you get everything. In Italy, this type of restaurant would never be okay. Mixing foods or having foods of different courses on the same plate would be a big no-no. Doing so would garner looks of disgust or shock. I remember my Italian host family bulging their eyes out when I would mix foods. Pasta had to be on one plate, meat on another, and salad on other and they all had to come in a particular order. Here it seems like everything just is mixed up on one plate and served.

9. Got a problem? There’s a line for that!

The strange thing about Brazil is there’s a line for everything. If you want to get on the bus, you better get in line. They even have a phrase for it, “fazer fila.” At the bread shops (padarias), even the ones at the supermarket, you have to first take a number and wait until your number flashes on the LED screen above. When I first went to a padaria, it felt like going to the DMV (except louder and more people screaming). Strangely enough, you have to wait in line to pay your bills. When my host sister asked me how we paid our bills in America, she was shocked to learn that we mailed our checks straight to the water or electricity company. She was asked if it was safe to do that which I thought was really funny. I guess here in Brazil there isn’t a
culture of trust for the postal service or for the government.

10. Waiting for the Gas

I was extraordinary confused one day when my host family only ate microwaved food. I wondered if all Brazilians just ate microwaved food. It turned out that the gas didn’t arrive yet. Go figure! You have to actually wait for gas in Brazil to cook meals. I’m so use to the gas just being there in America and just using the stove whenever I want. Also speaking of stoves in Brazil, they don’t have an igniter pre-installed. So, you have to ignite the fire it with a match or lighter, which I tried once and almost burned my half finger off for it.

11. Status Symbols

In Brazil, if you own an iPhone or any Apple product, you’re considered pretty rich. In America, it’s kind of the norm even if you don’t make that much. I think it’s interesting to see that there are status symbols in Brazil. For example, there’s even a special bus for the rich here, the fancy yellow “Executivo” bus, which costs more than twice as much as the normal buses. They’re kind of pointless because only 3-4 people actually ride them at any given point. On a side note, there’s this lady at my bus stop that
only rides the “Executivo” buses, she won’t even give the normal blue bus a second glance. Also, she seems a bit snobby to say the least (and she always scoots away from me as soon as I get to the bus stop). Nevertheless, if you’re that rich, can’t you just buy a car and not even have to wait for the bus?


Even though Brazil might have some flaws, it’s still one of the most amazing places in the world. Florianópolis is truly what the locals call it, Ilha da Magia (Island of Magic). The people, the beaches, how you can go from desert, to beaches, to jungle, to forest, to sprawling metropolis in a matter of minutes, basically, the everything! There’s no other place in the world I would rather be than here, right now.

Hongxi Wang