March 20, 2009

What I Miss

Okay, so now just for shucks and grins I give you my list of things I miss about the United States. Things that at one time I was sure I wouldn’t be able to live without and every now and then, in a selfish princess moment, I feel resentful towards Brazil for not having.

1. Itunes
I miss music – access to new music and the easy one buck download. CD’s still rule here and they are expensive and I can’t get anything other than American top 40 pop and Brazilian music (80% of which sounds like a bad imitation of American top 40 pop). I don’t know the finer details of why Brazil has blocked the ITunes store, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with that bone of contention known as the $0.54 a gallon tax on Brazilian ethanol and the ensuing ripple of trade lockdowns. Lula and Obama had a pow-wow about that and some other things earlier this week. I’m guessing Itunes didn’t make its way to the top of the talking points, but it should have. Come on Obama! You’re here to save the world - give us a hand with this one!

2. Wi-fi Café’s
Brazil will come around eventually with this. Rio and São Paulo probably already have, but popularity there I’m sure will be limited by how many people feel safe enough to walk the streets with a laptop. I really do miss a café culture in general (wi-fi or not). People don’t sit and relax and read or write their novel or surf the web or people watch in cafés – at least not in my city.

If you actually want to drink coffee, you can forget about grabbing it to-go in an oversized sippy cup with a cardboard cozy. I’ve never once seen a coffee to-go cup. Getting a decent coffee means standing at counter, elbowing a little space for yourself between the old timers, and quickly sipping down a little shot of extra strong coffee, paying your 50 cents and moving on your way. The whole thing takes maybe 5 minutes.

It’s not that Brazilians don’t have a coffee culture - coffee is prevalent here. There are lots of these coffee counters all over the place. And free coffee is served is in doctor’s waiting offices, on your way out of a restaurant, in the waiting area of your accountant, at the gym, even the hardware store has a little service set up. It’s not elegant mind you, these freebies are pumped from thermoses into a tiny plastic cup that looks like what you’d get your med’s served in while doing time at the funnybin, and it’s frequently lukewarm and hyper-sweetened.

But Brazilian’s don’t have much of a café culture. Especially of the Starbucks variety. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would miss that oh-so-American symbol of excess – not excess just in the sense of the turbocharged franchising that sometimes found two on the same block in New York, but also in American’s ability and willingness to spend $6 bucks on a “grande skim half-caf raspberry moca latte.” (I actually did hear someone order that on my last day as a New Yorker.)

Yet I would give anything for one to open up in my city (I drooled with envy on reading Riogringa’s description of her trip to the new Starbucks in Ipanema) I do miss the comfy chairs, and low lighting, and soft music, and the hang out culture. I especially miss that environment when it’s in the form of a stand-alone, non-franchise café like Naidre’s in Brooklyn where girlfriends and I would spend an entire Saturday afternoon solving the world’s problems over sandwiches and smoothies. I miss the creative look of the place, the art on the walls, the interesting people you meet. When I go back to visit, I spend a lot of time at Naidre’s and other similar cafes trying to soak it up like a camel.

And speaking of girlfriends, I miss them too. I had such an amazing circle of female companionship when I left. I haven’t really made anything similar here. I have one or two girlfriends, but it’s not the same. I miss having a shared history and experiences and speaking in common cultural references. It’s probably why I really enjoy reading other ex-pat’s blogs because there is that sense of shared experience – that “oh yeah! I feel that way too or had the same impression!” Funny how that dire prediction of everyone living virtually through their computer is slowly coming true – and it aint so bad…

3. New York
Just in general. It’s mystique, it’s character, the feeling of never knowing what you might stumble upon, that there is always something new and yet totally broken in around every corner, the sense of discovery, the feeling of never knowing the city completely, yet always being comfortably at home.

I love this multimedia series in the NY Times.

1 in 8 Million

It really embodies what I miss about New York. It’s stories.

If I came upon a million dollars (well, okay make it two or three) I’d move back tomorrow.

4. Foods

Just in general. I miss a lot of things I can’t find here. The first two times I traveled back I hauled a ton of random foodstuff home in my suitcase. I don’t do that so much anymore. Just one or two special things that are easy, like Earl Gray tea. The rest I’ve just decided to let go, but I still miss them. Things like quinoa, basmati rice, red lentils, tofu, tortilla chips, Ben and Jerry’s, maple syrup, California wines, grapefruit, dried cranberries, pecans, bagels – oh I could just keep going. Some of these things I actually can find here but they are either rare, or disproportionately expensive, like quinoa. We’re thinking of trying to plant it on our sitío. Most of Brazil is too hot for it to grow – it likes a cool mountain climate, but we’re hoping it might do well up there where it gets cold enough for raspberries to thrive.

5. Trader Joes
I don’t know how much I really miss Trader Joe’s or how much I just really wanted an excuse to post this:

It as close as Brazil will ever come to having one.


Rachel said...

ditto ditto ditto!!

there's now a starbucks in rio, but i'm too afraid to bring my laptop there (i always see people there with their macs though).


Lori said...

Ha, ha! I saw the TJ commercial the other day and I love it! I didn't even live near a TJ, but I miss going to them when I traveled.

I literally ache for cafe culture. :( Most days I'd give anything for a Panera Bread to work in or any of the good coffee chains to relax and sip. I appreciate the coffee culture here and while interesting to experience, not the same at all.

I must simply say ditto on all the foods you mentioned. There are things I've grown to love here, but I think we are all drawn to the foods we love in our own cultures and nothing can fully replace them.

Interesting about the iTunes. We have our ipods down here and access the iTunes store just fine.

markuza said...

Now that is the quintessential expat post. What's funny is that your list is very similar to mine- I mean, everyone has the food list, and actually iTunes and TJ's aren't on mine because I didn't really get to enjoy those much when I lived in the States- but Cafe culture and wifi? I shocked myself a couple years ago when I was longing for a Starbucks- or just a cup of American style coffee in a paper cup! And NYC more than anything. I think I'd go back with a half mil. Or how about a nice timeshare for a month every year? That would do it for me (I think...) That video was awesome. If you manage to grow bagels on your land please let me know as I will place an order.

AkuTyger said...

The secret to iTunes is to download it in the States. I have it and it works fine - get all my podcasts, listen to NPR and even get free TV episodes once in a while.

lovelydharma said...

Okay, so I'm not sure I get the Itunes thing...

I have Itunes - the software - it came loaded on my computer. I can use it to organize music and download podcasts.

But access the Itunes Music Store? Lori, how do you do that? I had an account in the United States and when I got here and tried to use it, it was blocked because of my Brazilian IP address. I looked into it and it states explicitly on the Itunes store that access is not allowed in Brazil. I googled for more info recently and indeed, Itunes Store is not legally permitted in Brazil - it's blocked on the Brazilian end, trade related.

I'm so curious that you can purchase and download music here. Not even Amazon's mp3 downloads are allowed...

I"m dying to check out that Starbucks in Rio, Rachel!

Markuza, I'd probably do with half a million, but I think I"ve gotten spoiled by middle class life here and 500,000 just doesn't cut it as middle class back in NYC. lol... You can't even get a studio apartment anymore for that.

Well, we're all connected in our longing for cafe culture!

GingerV said...

the video is just wonderful - I enjoyed right before I go have my imported liquor before bed. Why can't you download Itunes? I do.
Ipanema and Leblon have wi-fi cafes but yes not the same - no mugs of coffee.
to get my mug of coffee I pay god awful prices (R$29.00 last week) for a kilo of coffee beans and grind them myself - boil the water poor through and sit on my veranda and watch the clouds move by.... compromise. Where do you find coffee for .50 my GOD that is great.
I miss my girlfriends (almost) more than my daughter. terrible but true. come to Friburgo we can laugh and talk and drink american coffee, made with Brasilian beans.

GingerV said...

try asking this man how he gets his books, movies,music
maybe he can help you

A Free Man said...

Hey there from another expat.

I know what you mean about missing things from home. Most of mine are food, but stupid junk food for some crazy reason.

I don't know how long you've been away, but it gets better over time.

lovelydharma said...

I know what you mean Free Man. Smartfood... mmmm....
It's been nearly 4 years. It is getting better...

Thanks for the Link Ginger! He's got a great blog. I'm going to inquire.

Evelyn said...

Oi! Glad I found your blog. I'm a Brazilian living in the US since I can remember and it is so good to get your perspective on Brazil. It helps matar a saudade.

Loved the TJ video :)

Ballerina Girl said...

ok, ggeat ad for Trader Joe's...though I have never been in one! :(
I have to admit...yes we have a starbucks in the mall, though I haven't been yet...we have some coffee shops, but sometimes it still doesn't "feel like home"!
we can get itunes and even bagels...4 for only R$ 16.40 (ha, can you say ripoff?)
I do have a recipe for them if you'd want to try making them!
I fill my suitcases...just to have some of home with me..and how lucky are we to be the one of the only countries to still allow 70 pounds per bag? cruel for the gas guzzling planes....yes, happy to live with a little bit of home...
priceless :)

corinne said...

I am finding that the "loot" I drag back from the US is getting less and less. Especially the food. I don´t have as much time to make stuff and it breaks my heart to have to throw it out. I usually just get stuff for baking (Christmas) and have learned how to make most of the rest (especially Mexican). I never ot too into café culture, so I don´t miss it as much. What I miss is being able to do all my grocery shopping in one place and store like Staples, Home Depot or Micheals) to just get whatever I need (as opposed to having to ask a gazillion people and run all over town).

Claudia said...

Oh gosh!
I miss Trader Joe's soooo much!!!