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Relax Gringo, Have a Peanut

Change your mindset, not just your timezone

By Grant PattersonPublished 5 years ago 4 min read

Traveling well requires a shift in perspective. It's necessary to look at our surroundings differently, instead of viewing everything through the fatally flawed lens of "It's Not Like This at Home."

I was thinking of this the other day when I tried to tap my debit card to buy a coffee. I got that Price Is Right too-bad, so-sad sound. I was actually irritated that I had to insert my card and key in my PIN.

Forget your Holocaust or Stalin's Purges; that was a real tragedy.

It was only after that I realized how incredibly silly I was being. I was getting mad because something that had once required a trip to the bank was now taking 15 seconds. Talk about a first-world problem. We often forget how technology has transformed our day-to-day lives within the span of our own memories. Did I recall how much of a pain in the ass it once was, buying things?

It seemed, on reflection, that I did remember. Indeed, I made a conscious effort to remember the way things used to work. I do this every time I travel to Brazil.

Brazil strives to be a first-world country, and in some senses, succeeds. Some places look quite nice and sleek, they make their own jetliners, and the basic process of doing stuff looks quite similar to the way things work here. But, if you look closely, there are little flies in the ointment.

Walk into a retail store, and you'll see not one POS machine, but three or four, for all the different card systems. They don't always work, either. Everywhere you go, Public wifi is advertised, but delivery is quite another matter. I worked out this helpful little chart for the newcomer:

5G in Brazil=4G in the US

4G=3G

3G=No G

Try and deal with bureaucracy and it becomes truly mind-numbing. In North America, we've gotten used to doing everything online, and Brazil strives for this also. But it does not succeed. Accomplishing one thing, as a general rule, requires visits to five different offices, some more than once, and the application of at least ten different stamps to various documents.

"Are you alive?"

"Of course I am!"

"Well, where is your 'Being Alive Certificate?'"

Getting a bank account or a cellular plan as a newcomer? This is North-Face-of-Everest Difficulty Level Ten. It can really make your head swim. But it need not be this way. I mean, Brazil is probably always going to move a little slower. It's hot there, and people are laid back. But you, the Gringo, can learn to accept it. You can change your attitude, as well as your time zone!

As far back as my first trip to Brazil, in 2006, I've been thinking about this matter of mental expectations and traveller happiness. Two encounters, in particular, made me realize I was going about things all the wrong way.

I was on the beautiful island of Ilhabela, feeling hungry when I decided to take my future wife for a nice lunch. Though low on cash, I approached a lovely looking place with confidence that it would accept my VISA card, mostly because the patio furniture was adorned with numerous "VISA" logos. You have probably guessed by now that I was mistaken. You are correct. I was told with a shrug that this was just what the furniture said, not them. Lesson learned: You can't go on face value. See wifi above.

On a very hot day, waiting for a much-delayed ferry, I was taught a lesson about patience. My steaming from the ears must have been visible; either that or the look of suffering on my girlfriend's face. A shoeless street vendor approached me, holding a diseased-looking peanut. "Relax, Gringo," he said, "Have a peanut." I have kept this peanut to this day. It enshrines the central lesson of going somewhere else to me.

It's not home. Deal with it. If you wanted things to be the way they are at home, you should've stayed there. Traveling is never a 100% perfection scenario, and if it comes close, it's probably because it was an artificial experience in the first place.

You don't want that, do you? You want real, right? So think of yourself as a deep-sea diver, acclimating himself to his new environment. This process begins at the airport, usually when boarding your flight to the destination country. You see, you're aggravated already. Things are probably behind schedule, it's crowded, maybe hot, and lots of people are already saying things you don't understand.

The departures gate for the Sao Paulo flight at Pearson Airport in Toronto is a perfect hyperbaric chamber for the Latin American-bound. I no longer let the Brazilians trying to stuff ten-ton bags into overhead compartments faze me. I smile as they stand in the aisles, long after they've been told to sit, as the flight attendants get pissier and pissier.

It's just Brazil. People seek maximum advantage, to the limit of every rule, because they're used to living under a regime that relentlessly screws them. And they love to talk and make friends. As national peccadilloes go, those are pretty mild ones. So I smile, put on some MPB sounds in my headphones, and begin to pressurize.

That peanut reminds me to keep my cool, accept where I am, and not write off all the good stuff because of a few aggravations. Don't pine for home before you've even taken off, and don't waste thousands of dollars making yourself miserable. Don't give up on the beautiful beaches, amazing food, wonderful music, and gregarious, beautiful people, just because the crosswalk signal doesn't work.

Find a peanut. And hang on to it, Gringo. And bring some cash, just in case.

south america

About the Creator

Grant Patterson

Grant is a retired law enforcement officer and native of Vancouver, BC. He has also lived in Brazil. He has written fifteen books.

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    Grant PattersonWritten by Grant Patterson

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