Class of Brazil - 2nd Lesson: Danger Seems Closer from Afar

At the beginning of this post stands a confession: the confession that the closer the departure date for Brazil got, the more I got nervous; by the day before my departure I was a wreck.

Copacabana Rio de Janeiro - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
A gentleman selling Cangas, typical Brazilian beach scarves, on the beach of Ipanema.

I wonder how many people miss out on great travel opportunities only because danger looks bigger, closer and more probable from afar. Maybe God is tricking us that way so that not every destination derogates to a horrific spring break feast.

Being Trapped in the Big Picture

Do you know this effect when you're travelling and people ask you where you 're from, that you first tell them the country; and if they are from there, too, you quote the city - if it's very small so that you cannot expect them to know it, you quote the federal state or the region and then narrow it down to the next bigger city and so on. And if they happen to be from your city, you tell them in which neighborhood or street you live. Where I'm going with this? The farther you're away, the more you are looking at the big picture respectively the big region. All of a sudden your entire country becomes your home - which never happens while you are walking the streets of your neighborhood.

Unfortunately this effect works also in other situations, e. g. the nervousness or even fear before you head for another trip, another adventure: The entire destination becomes one big spot: If a country is infamous for delinquency, you expect it to be everywhere you go, you don't localize. Lamentably I do that every time I travel: Before I go to South America, I'm freaked out because I might get mugged. Asia is better in this respect, but there I'm freaked to become a bus crash fatality. Then there are diseases like Dengue, Yellow Fever and many more waiting for me; and I'm even not getting to wildlife such as poisonous spiders, snakes and scorpions. Ok, let's relax and take a dip in the Ocean. The Ocean?! What sort of suicide freak are you?! Never heard of box jelly fish?! You can imagine that my anticipation gets a bit curbed....

And then I get to where I am supposed to get and nobody tries to rob let alone mug me, the bus drivers are smooth, conscious guys, no mosquito bothers to bite and I manage to swim around the box jelly fish. I'm having a great time and I'm not anguished a bit although realistically speaking I am much closer to the danger than I was while I was worrying at home.
The danger lives next door, but it's a decent neighbor, keeping pretty much to himself.

Sugar Loaf Rio de Janeiro - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
This is where I live: Rua São Clemente. When you look East, you see the sugarloaf. when you look west you might spot Cristo Redentor, but it's not easy to see Thee since he's often with his head in the clouds.

After I gave you a little idea what makes me tick - can you imagine how I felt before going to Brazil?
To Rio de Janeiro?
I interviewed everybody who has ever been there - all I wanted to hear was that it's totally harmless and I have nothing to be scared of.
My friends aren't idiots, of course they didn't say that.
They told me to be careful and promised me at the same time I'd have a great time.
That was by far not good enough for me, I wanted them to tell me that every story about Rio is exaggerated.
They didn't.
I freaked.

Actually I freaked until the cab from the airport - of course a prepaid, registred cab, do you think I'm suicidal?! - turned into the Rua Nelson Mandela in Rio's neighborhood of Botafogo.
It was eight at night. It was dark.
There were various nice, terraced bars and cafes packed with people, none of them dressed in something bullet-proved (by the way, while writing this, I am sitting at one of the nice bars having - what a cliché! - a Caipirinha).
Across the street from the bars was a playground where little kids were running around - it was such a relaxed atmosphere.
It was dark yet people didn't have to duck - good enough for me.
You can imagine my joy when the cab turn left at the next corner of this vivid, pleasant street and stopped in front of a building.

Here we were - I was home; in an animated, but absolutely lovely neighborhood.

Expat for two weeks

When you stay in a city because you are doing a language course there, it's a whole different story than just being on a vacation: You immediately have a life there, chores and errands, schedules and duties. It's a bit less fun since you cannot enjoy the attractions the place has to offer 24/7. But for me it's almost even more fun because I feel like being an expat, not a tourist, from day one; and I love it!
Unexpectedly, feeling like an expat worked extremely fast and well in Rio, I even cannot tell you why: yes, it's a bit like Lima, yes, it's a bit like some US Latino neighborhood - and it's even a bit French, but all this doesn't explain why Rio and I have immediately clicked.

Teatro Municipal Rio de Janeiro - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Teatro Municipal - built after the Opera in Paris. One of several French influenced buildings.

Rio is actually a bit of a rat race for me: Being here on 'Bildungsurlaub' (this is for you, Eric!) I have to take an intensive course which is six hours per day; that's a lot - almost a workday. So I have to build my sight seeing around this schedule.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know by now that I'm an art aficionado, crazy for exhibitions and museums.
When I have to spend six hours in class, I can do one exhibition per day; max. Or any other activity, for that matter.
Remember: It's not a vacation.
In Rome and Milan, I did join a group with a steady schedule so I was able to divide my days regularly.  Here in Rio, I have to take individual classes since there are no other students.
Advantage: this cuts the amount in half - I have to do only 15 hours per week since this one on one situation is far more intensive than learning in a group.
Disadvantage: I'm learning with a top teacher, the star of Portuguese language who works for all the embassies and international companies and what not. I have to build my 15 hours around Marcie's schedule; which is super tight, especially since this week we have to skip Friday because I'm going to Belo Horizonte for the weekend (guys, that will be a great post on a great place, don't you miss it!), so Friday is off the table. Therefore this week we did four hours every day. Can you imagine how tiring it is to express yourself for four hours in a row in a foreign language you're not fluent in?! And every time I make the smallest, cutest, most charming mistake, Marcie jumps in and corrects me. It's great, she's an excellent teacher. It's horrible, it ruins the wit of my stories.

So for four hours we are talking and I'm filling fill-in-the-blank texts with prepositions that are a bitch in Portuguese. Then I'm telling her all these funny little stories -  and she makes me understand how big the difference between Spanish, that I'm fluent in and do rely on a great deal, and Portuguese actually is. While knowing Spanish and Italian helps a lot with the passive vocabulary, it's actually kind of an obstacle when it comes to the active part.

After class - feeling like my head is exploding - I can finally stop thinking and go mindlessly to a mall or hit the beach.

Copacabana Rio de Janeiro - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Soccer practice on the Copacabana Beach

When I have class in the afternoon, I do some sightseeing in the morning and come home running, hoping to be on time before Marcie gets there (since I'm taking individual lessons, the class takes place at my landlady's apartment). On the way, I'm buying a quick bite and a coffee to go; anyway, she's always there before me because the cashiers in Rio are extremely relaxed people and do expect the same from their customers.

Jardim Botanico Rio de Janeiro - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Tuesday I came running from my visit to the Jardim Botanico....

Museu de Amanha - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
....and Wednesday from the wonderful Museu do Amanha - the Museum of Tomorrow.

It's hard. It's even a bit stressful. It's great: I have a real life her. Having a life means to live, right? I'm...sort of....a local.


Like I've mentioned, Marcie is my teacher. And Marcie is great.
I'm staying at Dona I's place in Botafogo, a middle class to upper middle class neighborhood. As a European, you feel comfortable here, not out of place because you seem to be much richer than the poor, not like a bum because you are much poorer than the rich. It's your scene.

So when Marcie gets to the flat, she's ready. No unnecessary pleasantries, no usual class chitchat like 'so, what did you do after class yesterday'.
I tell her what I did, I make her listen. While she's listening, she doesn't miss one opportunity to correct me. She doesn't let me go away with the slightest error.
I ask her questions - which she first corrects, then answers.
What really enriches my stay is that I can ask her everything without crossing lines or hurting her feelings. I can be amazed by Rio - which I am - and I can criticize thing that I notice - which I do - and she either explains or agrees or disagrees and we are talking. I'm learning a lot; not only Portuguese.

Museu de Amanha - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Thanks to Marcie's language boot camp, I was able to answer the Martian's question why humans destroy their planet in understandable Portuguese. Yes, I'm aware that this attraction at the Museu de Amanha is for a different age group.

However, obviously she's an highly intelligent and educated person so it's a joy to talk about everything with her. It was her - and here we get back to the beginning of this post - who told me the first day I should not go out wearing a necklace. I'd like to emphasize that my necklace is a good, hence not flashy, golden chain with a small pendant of a crossed Jesus. Extremely demure. Every gangster rapper would tease me for having something that modest. Marcie urged me to take it off that very moment and made me promise that I put it on again the day I leave Brazil. Otherwise I risk to be strangled with my own necklace when thieves try to rip it off. She might be right: Very few women are wearing necklaces on the street. Earrings, bangles - but no necklaces.

Every time when I finally leave home after class, I run into Marcie downstairs in the entrance hall, quickly munching on a small sandwich or smoking a cigarette or chatting on the phone. That's her only break: quickly indulging or arranging something at the entrance of an apartment building.
Every day she races from some embassy to our place and after four hours of listening to my jibber jabber she has like half an hour to arrive at her next student's place.

To me, Marcie is like a Brazilian superhero - always on her way to where ever her help is needed.

Wanna know what happened before? Here is my first lesson learned:

Class of Brazil - 1st Lesson: We Have it Good

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while travelling, I'll be posting little stories and reflections on my stay. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy some special moments with me.

If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:


  1. Rio looks so interesting. So man sides of it

  2. It's very interesting to have someone correct you and teach you while you are on another country. I'd love to learn more languages!

    1. It's very inspiring, but also challenging. You are constantly facing your limits.

  3. I have been to Rio de Janeiro and I was also a bit worried for safety but once there I kind of forget about everything, such a beautiful city and so vibrant!

    1. That's exactly what I mean: As soon as you get there, you forget about statistics and the place itself isn't scary anymore.

  4. Fear of the unknown is completely normal and I am glad you were able to overcome that. Enjoy!

  5. Rio looks amazing. So many interesting parts to it. Definitely a different look from what I saw at the Olympics. Always seemed kind of scary... actually Very pretty

  6. Rio de Janeiro looks like such a beautiful place. I have heard that it can be a dangerous place, so I completely understand your reservations. But I guess the more you're learning and exploring that more comfortable you become. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, I'm still very careful with my stuff, but I'm not freaked out.

  7. It is so good to see that Marcie is helping you out and correcting your slightest mistakes even. All the best for learning Portugal :)

  8. Wow 2 weeks expat in Brazil, and you did some language course, 2 in one :D I wanted to go to Brazil, but not really sure if it is safe for a girl solo backapacking. But you did it, so will you recommend?

    1. Of course I would recommend to go to Rio de Janeiro if you have the chance. And I never had problems being solo; then again, I'm far from being a 'girl', I'm 55, so that might have an impact on how people - especially men - are treating you. Rio is a rough and tough place that you can visit, but I would refrain from venturing around mindlessly. I was on the alert regarding my stuff - and my life ;-) - but after all I was ok. Other places in Brazil were much, much smoother.

  9. When I went to Rio, I was really nervous too. I was really lucky because I went with friends. I was told that I needed to stick together. Marcie sounds like an amazing person. You're lucky that you are blending it so well and making such good friends.

  10. Rio de Janeiro is on my bucket list but I am not sure whether it is safe or not. What do you think? I am glad that you're enjoying yourself your pics!

    1. It's a very interesting and beautiful place, but you simply cannot go everywhere. Since it's constantly changing - probably a bit faster than most other places - it's best to ask reliable people where you can go and how you should get there. I would refrain from venturing, that can probably be bad in Rio.

  11. Rio is such a beautiful city and it has been on my list for sometime now. Lucky you that you got to stay as an expat for 2 weeks there. :)

  12. I loved Brazil, especially its beaches. I only spent two days in Rio which was nowhere near enough! You look like you had a great time x

  13. I have never been to Rio, but my friends told me about its beauty. I think it is great that you take everything from travelling!

  14. I have never been to Brazil but would love to go. Even if it's just for a work trip. Looks like you were able to squeeze some really great sightseeing in between work obligations. And thank goodness for Marcie being able to give you some valuable info!

  15. I love to travel so I usually do not look at the statistics when it comes to different cities. Every place can be dangerous, and we have to be cautious everywhere we go. I am glad that you had an awesome experience in Rio.

  16. I couldn't agree with you more. When you go to a new country to study or to work, it is much different than being a tourist. You may be new there, but you end up experiencing the culture in a very different way.

  17. I love the idea here about being there for a few weeks and having to really change your travel style. You do have to pick up the language and invest a lot more than if you were just swinging through.


For the required assignment of the comment personal data will be stored, namely name, e-mail and IP address. By submitting the commentary you agree with it. More in the privacy policy in the sidebar.