Next month, we are traveling back to the U.S. for a visit. I was reviewing my list of future U.S. purchases with my Brazilian sister-in-law today. It dawned on me that product availability and price points are important categories of information for anyone about to embark upon a longer-term Brazilian adventure. So I thought I’d share the items that will be in my suitcase on the trip back to Brazil.
Things you just can’t get here (as far as I know):
Baking soda and baking powder: there is a Brazilian version that combines these two items, but it’s just not the same, and if you bake (or have a child that loves to make pretzels thanks to her German grandfather) you know that sometimes you just need one or the other.
Maple syrup: Again, there is a Brazilian version of this, but it’s definitely not maple syrup, and I believe involves corn syrup. We aren’t huge pancake eaters, but we do own a waffle iron, and neither is fun to make or eat without a little of the good stuff. If you do come across an imported bottle of real maple syrup (which I have yet to do), guaranteed you will pay no less than the equivalent of U.S. $25.
Chocolate chips: My daughter loves to make cookies, but we also used to give her a small cup of chocolate chips as an after meal snack. The premium grocery store in our neighborhood does sell something that slightly resembles chocolate chips, but again, it is insanely expensive compared to the good ole Nestle kind.
Mac & Cheese: I can’t even find this in the speciality expat grocery store. Not that it makes a wonderfully nutritious meal, but a bowl of mac & cheese every once in awhile makes everyone in our family happy.
Clorox Disinfecting Wipes: Sure, household labor here is inexpensive. But every once in awhile you want to give something a good disinfecting wipe down. American product innovations in the wipes category hasn’t seemed to hit this country.
Things they sell here, but are crap quality:
Party supplies: Sure, you can pick up some Mickey Mouse paper plates for your child’s birthday party, but they have the durability of copy paper. And are more expensive.
Arts & crafts: You will find Brazilian products in the crayon and paint category, but it’s just not the same as classic Crayola. And forget about buying Crayola products here even if you can find them. Right now, Toys-R-Us is having a Crayola sale and you can buy a pack of 18-ct twistable colored pencils for $4. Here the same pack will cost you R$61.00 – as of Friday’s exchange that is the equivalent of about U.S. $39.00. There are also many, many things you’ll just never find here.
Wine: I remember going to the local wine seller in Tribeca and being able to pick up an excellent bottle of white for about U.S. $12. Here, that will only get you a wine that will burn the lining of your stomach.
Things you can get here, but are ridiculously expensive:
Children’s toys: Expect to pay at least three times more for kids toys in Brazil. I stocked up before we came, but my supply has run out and now I cringe every time we receive a birthday party invitation. Especially Barbies. People (must) love to get and give Barbies, so if you don’t plan ahead, you can plan on spending at least U.S. $75 a pop. My daughter got a pile of Barbies with various accessories for her birthday, and I wound up giving most away to maids and nannies I knew. From their reaction, you would have thought I’d given them an extra week’s pay (oh wait, I did).
Clothing: The great thing about the American shopping system is that if you are willing to wait, you can get excellent deals on clothes and shoes, especially children’s items. You’ll will pay about U.S. $40 here for a child’s shirt that you can pick up for less than $10 in the U.S.
Character based essentials for kids: Items like a Tinkerbell toothbrush or a pack of Hello Kitty band-aids are premium purchases here. On the right day, you can get a box of fun kid band-aids at Walmart for about $2 or less. Here, the equivalent of $10.
Sunscreen: I paid about U.S. $40 for a bottle of Coppertone kids spray sunscreen. Walmart has it for under $8. Regular sunscreen has the same price disparity.
Wine: Falls into this category as well.
Thank You cards: Sending thank-you cards is not a common practice here in Brazil, but I do it anyway (I can’t help myself). Nice ones are hard to find, and if you do, you might as well send someone over to the house of the person you are thanking to juggle and do cartwheels. It will cost the same.
Now of course, there are going to be a number of things I miss from Brazil while I’m sitting around my parents house eating mac & cheese. Like a good plate of black beans and real pão de queijo. And kilo restaurants – this is a concept I think would do extremely well in the U.S. – pay by the kilo for food – freedom of food choice without the pressure to eat as much as you can for one price.
I’m sure every expat’s suitcase has a unique selection of items on the return trip. Would love to hear what that is (in case I’m missing anything from my own list…)