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Changing Classes - Transience Divine
July 29th, 2008
09:59 am


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Changing Classes
I've begun to realize the class differences here.

The economic power I'm used to having-- that is, the amount of money I have to spend and what it can buy-- is roughly equivalent between the US and here. Money goes a little further here, especially in some areas (I can get a dozen Brazilian haircuts for one in the US!), but generally it doesn't go much further.

However in the US, that economic standing characterizes me as upper-middle class, and here it's distinctly upper class. And people treat themselves like the upper class, but they do it with the means I'm accustomed to. The basics of their lifestyle-- work, after-work friends, the role of home-- are the same as mine. They often struggle to make ends meet and quibble over their Real's worth. But they have hired help, wear jewelry all the time, have art all around their homes, and discuss society from a privileged and empowered standpoint. Stores that I think of as middle class, like C&A, are the domain of the upper class here.

Of course, there's a lot more upper class above us, particularly in other parts of Brazil. My friends don't have helicopters, like the elite of Sao Paulo, but they or their parents have gorgeous beach-side houses and top-notch apartments, business-relations, and jobs in law, medicine, and university. There's a sense, as my new friends introduce me around that I'm rubbing shoulders with the most important people to know in town.

The class lines here aren't hard or consistent, but they are pervasive. The group I'm referring to often lives, works, shops, and eats in different places than most of society. They're much whiter and more European looking. They went to private primary schools and public University, and didn't do much work until afterwards. And they wouldn't be caught dead in a uniform, as a store clerk, or being on of the hordes of people who sells on the street.

This may all just be part of the Brazilian imperative to always look good and talk big. Button-down shirts and slacks are very common in both work and play. The prototypical Brazilian is loud, uses big motions, and makes talk like a Harvard student.

The causes go very deep. Brazilians are always concerned about what other people think of them. Jokerman had me change out of a shirt because it wasn't ironed. Jokerman's girlfriend, Tesão, a ridiculously hot woman, was embarrassed to go to the movies without a change of clothes. They're also always a little afraid. Jokerman got me a blackout curtain, and plans to get me a lock on the door to my room-- but the house is already impervious. But he won't drive away when he drops me off until he sees me padlock the outside gate.

My Brazilian friends are particularly confused about me. I've been dressing young, to look as not-ripe as I feel, and to go with my complete inability to hold a conversation. My uncombed hair looks crazy to them, and a bit low-class. But I found out that I make about as much as a doctor here. As I edge my way into Brazilian society, I'm discovering that it's high society, and I need to act the part.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:July 29th, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
My friend has recently moved to Hong Kong and noticed a similar thing. She's a photographer, and well to-do, and says that things in the US we regard as "middle class" are distinctly upper class there. A good example of this is American Apparel, which she says is all the rage with the upper class youth but absolutely unheard of by the "middle class" (which is far more of a grey area than in the US)
[User Picture]
Date:July 29th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
That's crazy. Of course, there are places where McDonalds is considered classy, and for that I think it's just some weird quirk of successful advertising and public opinion. One weird thing I noticed: in many ways US middle class suburbs are much nicer than anything I've seen here, but the inside of their houses are incredible.
[User Picture]
Date:July 29th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
It's good to hear from you. I've been meaning to send an email your way ... will do soon. Hope you're doing well down there! Cambridge/Rocky/etc. aren't quite the same without you :)
[User Picture]
Date:July 29th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
Holy cat whiskers, Yeah I'm doing good. Is it just that moves are always exciting, and getting to know a whole new universe of people and all their little ways seems so easy at the beginning? I really don't know-- I've never done this before. But so far, it's been non-stop incredible. Sometimes a bit too non-stop (lots of late nights so far), but really good.

That's sweet! I haven't been thinking about it much yet, but I miss everyone back there. Write me, I want to know how you're doing, and how Cambridge/Rocky/etc. are getting on! Or just come visit: Rua Triunvirato 424, Cidade Velha, Belem (I'm excited about having an address again...).
[User Picture]
Date:July 29th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
Mmmm, it occurs to me, with the address it looks like I really want you to send a written letter. Email's fine-- you just need the address if you plan on showing up.
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