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CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN DIFFERENT REALITIES

 

This time of the year nine years ago I was starting my last month at an internship in Sao Paulo and slowly making all the necessary adjustments to make my next move: start a completely new journey in Switzerland. I left my hometown and moved to Zurich in February 2010. I still remember the farewells, the uncertainties and the butterflies in the stomach. I didn’t know what to expect really. I went for my studies, following the path of my older sister who also went to Switzerland for her undergraduate diploma, but was no longer living there (after finishing college she moved to Dubai).

Looking back, besides all difficulties along the way (especially in the first year of abrupt changes – living alone, in a new country, new culture, starting university, away from the family – pretty much starting a new life from scratch without an expire date or any intention to go back), I can say it was the best decision I made.

Now, after living nearly eight years in Zurich (and surroundings) and one year in the US (Florida and NY) it is the first time that I come back to Brazil to stay longer than three weeks. This time it will be a total of three and a half months back to where I used to call home. After all these years living alone, having built new habits abroad with new people, new friends, and new routines, it is quite peculiar to be back to my hometown, living again with my parents and revisiting acquaintances and friends from the past. Things have changed…or have I? That feeling of being an alien in the city where you spend more than half of your
lifetime…My family and friends make fun of me, people at restaurant or stores get confused with my strange behavior or questions in perfect Portuguese (or when I’m not even able to fully express myself in my mother tongue due to the German and English influences – the languages I use most when in Switzerland). I should start creating a dictionary of the words I create as a merge of the languages… the same pattern also happens when I’m in Switzerland using the Swiss German to communicate with locals.

Spending a longer time in Brazil has shown me the strong cultural differences that exist (or at least my perceptions of it)– in both social and economic aspects. In Sao Paulo you need a car (be it your own, an Uber or a Taxi) to move everywhere – especially from where my parents live, since there are no connections to the subway network). You always have to be aware of security, have your eyes open at all time. The differences between social classes are clearly evident. The consumption in restaurants cost nearly as much as in Switzerland but people’s wages are one forth (or much less) compared to the Swiss paychecks. No wonder why individuals (independent of their social class) live with their parents until their
late 20s or up to early 30s. In Switzerland, young adults leave their parent house quite early, and start living in shared apartments (either with friends or strangers – there are different platforms where you can search for rooms to rent), before renting their own flats or sharing it with partners.

This leads me to also mention the differences in family ties… From my experience, Swiss citizens are much more independent of their families and tend to live their own realities, while the Brazilian are much more tied to the family bounds and traditions. Which maybe also explains the early weddings…? The married life starts much earlier in Brazil when compared to Switzerland. I have the feeling the Swiss are more independent, individuals, whereas the Brazilians prefer to settle, to be accompanied.

Am I making false assumptions? What is your view on the subject? Which comparisons or observations have you made with people that you’ve met along the way or while travelling abroad? Do you think there are also differences across the countries or could these theories be applied generally to one culture?

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