By Hoover Serres
February 18, 2014
I am a Belgian national living in Brazil for 5 years, working for a big international enterprise and currently living in the southern city of Curitiba. Prior to this, I lived in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belem, Brasilia and Salvador, and had the opportunity to visit all the state capitals except Vitoria (ES), Cuiaba (MT) and the northern ones. My article is centered on my amazing experience living in Curitiba, a marvelous city where I intend to spend many years more.
Since I arrived at the airport, I could perceive that I was entering a somewhat different concept of culture, different from what I had already seen throughout this country. The cleanliness of the terminal, the fine and sober decoration and the politeness of the staff were impressive, and no more than 10 minutes were needed to claim my luggage and take a comfortable bus, which costed me 5 dollars and left me in front of my downtown hotel. I was just discovering that there was a decent public transportation somewhere in this country.
For an European, it can be disappointing to visit a Brazilian town where the thermometers fall below 10 degrees very often, thanks to the altitude of almost 1000m from sea level. But for me, an expatriate personnel who shares the real life with residents, it was a welcoming relief to feel the cold breeze and to be far away from the stove-like temperatures of this entire nation. There’s no necessity to have an air-conditioning set here. Even the hotter days rarely go above 30C, and when they do so, do not last for more than two days. Curitibans like to complain about the weather, specially because it rains a lot (there’s no dry season), but for a Belgian it is pretty fine.
So I was getting used to the city life. It was entirely different from what I had lived before. Public transport, although not perfect, is much better than any Brazilian city, and one can go anywhere with only one fare (about 1 dollar), in a variety of safe and clean buses. Cleanliness, in my is opinion something that distinguishes Curitiba most, it seems to be an obsession between residents, you can walk for many blocks without seeing even a used napkin. It is certainly cleaner than London or Brussels, not the better examples of tidyness, but remeber, we are in Latin America.
This is precisely what I was forgetting as my life was going on. I barely remembered I was in Brazil and within two hours of flight from the enchantment but also mishmash of Rio or Salvador. Walking in clean streets, using public transportation, living in a mild climate and dealing with punctual and respectful people, I had the perfect sensation I was living in some European city. Besides, the variety of parks, more than thirty, are an invitation to practice some sport (I have chosen to be a cyclist). The cultural life is thriving and there’s quality museums and theatres, as well as cinemas and restaurants. These last ones are among Brazil’s best.
What I most like in Curitiba, in spite of my lovel of so many aspects of this place, is the possibility for a typical european like me to blend in among the inhabitants to the point I am not perceived as a foreigner. It is probabily due to the great amount of European immigrants who chose this area to settle in a century ago, which makes Curitiba a melting pot of cultures. Blonde and light skinned people are everywhere and I do not draw attention at all, unless if I talk. My second favourite thing is the custom of talking less and in a lower volume, something that disturbs me in Rio. People here act with great discretion, which again makes me feel more at home.
I did not pretend, with these words, to advocate Curitiba is not Brazil. It does share some problems with its Brazilian counterparts such as poverty and violence. It does have some shantytowns in the fringe areas, as well as places where people should not go at night. The cost of living, significantly lower than in Rio or SP, is rising steadily. Services like telecommunications and water supply, works fairly, but are far from European standards. Indeed, it is Brazil with all the delights and complications, I only want to express my opinion that problems from lack of development tend to be less perceived in this part of the country.
I am having a great experience over here and feeling that i found my place on Earth in this dynamic city, socially and economically well above what many could expect from the absolutely fascinating Brazil.