Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Expats and turtle doves - São Paulo

This is a photo of two presents given to me by a friend here in São Paulo. The tree quilt is pretty much my single favorite art item in the house. It is a cashew tree, honoring my 13-year old labrador named Caju. The little stuffed birds I have put around the tree--they are turtle doves which were my Christmas present this year.

I have no crafty gene in my body but once in a while I go to the sewing group get-togethers held by this friend and another. It is a great group of women--Scottish, Irish, Italian, American, etc. I drink the coffee and eat the treats while the rest of the women actually get stuff done like make gorgeous quilts, clothing or presents.  They don't judge that I can't sew a patch on a pair of jeans, and I love to see the work they are doing.

One of the things that I have noticed about ex-pat life here (and I'm sure in many other countries) is how spouses of the working ex-pat get side-lined. As in, some career paths are altered by circumstances that brought a couple or family to Brazil. Some spouses are happy with the learning experiences offered, and that has been my personal experience with these friends. Some spouses fall into depression. They may get isolated by language or inability to work due to lack of work authorization. Most companies pay for work visas only for their own employee and not for the spouse.

Because I am married to a Brazilian, I can work legally here. Many women (and they are mostly women) cannot. So they may pick up teaching English, take classes on anything from painting to Portuguese to an MBA, or they may do a little of everything. My quilter friend is a trained dentist--she cannot practice here. I have two other friends who were in the finance world, but are now working as private English tutors. Some work in a grey zone--either with foreign clients, or with cash under the table. 

I cannot judge if this is a waste or not. For some it is an opportunity to learn new things and have time for themselves. For some, it is a solitary and sad life. I particularly worry about a couple of acquaintances who have small kids who don't yet go to school--they stay at home not meeting new people or learning new things. The probability that they will hate it here is much higher (in my experience; I have no data to back this up). And the strain on marriages is large--when a spouse gets home from work exhausted, he/she may be greeted by a desperate spouse.

One of the pleasures of my life here is having a wide range of friends--not only from different countries and backgrounds, but of ages and interests.  The only problem with ex-pat friends is that many move on, back to their home countries or on to their next challenge. Though now I have friends in Australia, Poland, Italy and South Africa, among other spots.  Lucky me.


  1. What you say is so true. One of my husband's concerns was that I would be lonely and get frustrated during the day as I was used to having a job back home. But the sewing group has made a huge difference and I have made fantastic friends. I'm happy that we met. I know who made the birds but not the tree. Happy 2014!! The italian cat lady.

    1. I am happy we met too, Italian cat lady. I am sorry you will be moving on soon but I might just find you wherever you wind up!!