How long have you lived overseas?
Well, I’ve been spending half my time overseas for about the last 20 years. The vast majority of it has been in Brazil, and this country is quite strict about its immigration policy. It can be done, but for someone like myself, it’s just too difficult of a nut to crack. Thus, without intending to do so, I’ve been living this transitory lifestyle for a long time. In fact, there have been countless times, where I vowed never to go back to the US and contrarily to never leave it after returning.
Since the only realistic way (for me) to remain here indefinitely is to marry a Brazilian, and lacking the courage (no guts – no glory), I haven’t been able to stay. Every time I try to linger in the US and grind it out, I eventually lose my mind and give up. Life in America is an absolutely soul-crushing experience, but leaving it is almost as hard as staying. I suppose it all goes back to Kierkegaard’s wisdom: ‘If you stay, you’ll regret it. If you leave, you’ll regret it.’
What made you decide to leave the US?
I was always a restless soul, and moving around America lost its allure pretty quickly as I found each locale to be slightly worse than the last. I followed the Iran/Contra affair in the news, and I arrived at the conclusion that the US was nothing more than a banana republic (without the bananas), and I would have laughed at anyone who suggested that “caravans” of immigrants would be trying to enter the country in 2018.
When in college at Michigan State, I met a Brazilian girl as one of the six students (out of 45,000) studying Portuguese. Knowing her and her friends gave me the courage to investigate the place for myself when I graduated in 1989.
Since then it has been a comedy (tragedy) of errors as to why I haven’t been able to establish some sort of residency. For the most part, I was attracted to Brazil because of the fun atmosphere, and this exacerbated my lack of self-discipline.
What do you miss about not being in the US?
Seeing my Dad.
What are the challenges of living where you are as a foreigner?
For six months per year on a tourist visa, there really aren’t any. My credit cards and bank debit card work, and short-term housing is always easy to find. I speak the language fluently, and there are enough foreigners around here to acclimate the locals to strangers. Probably the biggest hassle is being asked a couple times per day for money by street beggars, but I get the same experience walking the streets in America.
While foreigners are common, Americans are extremely rare in this part of Brazil, so I’m regarded as a bit of a curiosity. It’s usually a bonus. For the most part, I barely feel like a foreigner. I’ve spent so much time here, it’s turned into my second home.
The only thing I can’t adjust to is the constant invasion of my personal space. People bump into me, cut in front of me, stand too close to me… I could spend 100 years here and never get used to it. Of course, if the person invading my personal space is an attractive female, I don’t mind it at all!
What are some of the pleasant surprises you’ve encountered in your new home?
The biggest pleasant surprise I’ve had in the last few years has been the realization that I could learn to dance forró. I’ve tried taking lessons for other types of dances several times both here and in the US, and I could never get the hang of any dance. I found a dance studio here in Natal that really wants their students to dance. Sure, it’s a business, but they really take an interest in you. It’s impossible not to get caught up in their enthusiasm, and before you know it, you’re dancing!
What are some of the unanticipated problems?
I’ve been here for too long to remember what the unanticipated problems were. My biggest gripe is having the tourist visa expire while I’m having a big time and being forced to return to America. Even at that low point, I start to kid myself that happiness is just a state of mind, and there’s no reason why I can’t be just as happy in America. And it actually works for about the first month I’m back, I bounce around America with a wink and grin, and America smiles back.
After one month, the reality starts to dawn on me, and I become ever more cautious. My interactions with people become increasingly businesslike, and I dread any unnecessary contact with anyone. All the fake smiles and “have a nice day” start to ring increasingly hollow, and the sneers become more and more menacing. Even places I visit on a regular basis seem less and less hospitable. I feel like a burden wherever I go, and I view everyone as an unavoidable obstacle to my goal of leaving without any trouble.
My financial battles with all my usual nemeses start to become increasingly complicated and dire. Thoughts of shotguns and five-gallon containers of gasoline begin to fill my mind, and I develop a bunker mentality. Shit starts getting real!
Ah, but the question was about my troubles here in Brazil, but somehow I got to thinking about the Land of the Free!
What is some advice you have for Americans who also want to get out?
Depends on the person. If you’ve never lived outside of America, go somewhere that seems interesting to you. Stay as long as you can. If you run out of money, go back to America and make some more: Rinse and repeat. Better yet, try to learn a skill you can do remotely like programming or writing. It won’t be easy, but what could be harder than spending your life in America.
If you’re afraid you might regret it, don’t worry, there’s a good chance you will, but you’ll regret it more if you stay home.
I’m too old to be living this life, but I’ll stick with it until I find something better, run out of gas, or the Empire finally collapses.