17 October 2011

Aging in Brazil

I buy my first senior ticket!

I was a whippersnapper when I moved to Brazil, a mere 51 years old. I’m now 60. In a normal world, 60 is nothing. I certainly don’t feel old, and I’m told I don’t look old. I’m in good health, I have no major complaints. As far as I’m concerned I’m not 60 at all. I’m eighteen, with 42 years’ experience.

So then why have I lately become obsessed with growing old? Well, one reason could very well be that my health plan catapulted me into the next premium category before I finished blowing out the candles on my birthday cake. And that new 60+ premium represented an increase of 12%! That was an unsolicited reality check. Another reason could be that 60 is a watershed age in Brazil, and I was feeling a little anxious to have crossed over some invisible line, even if seen only by people who need to check my ID card.

I unknowingly chose a terrific country in which to grow old. Brazil has nice names for old age, like "melhor idade" (the best age) and "terceira idade" (the third age, which seems to imply a fourth or fifth). Somehow, to my ear they don’t sound as old, as heavy, as the "Golden Years" does. And Brazil has a 70-page Senior Citizen Statute for persons 60 years or older which is vigorously applied. Seniors get immediate and preferential treatment at banks, post offices, and all places that offer public services; they (I suppose I should bite the bullet and start saying "we") have priority for receiving tax refunds; we enjoy a 50% discount on tickets to all leisure and cultural activities: movies, theaters, sporting events, concerts; we are eligible to participate in the Viaje Mais Melhor Idade program (More Travel for Seniors) which offers 50% off at hotels, as well as various other travel discounts. It is against the law to neglect, disrespect, discriminate, abandon, act cruelly towards, or in any other way compromise the health and security of an elderly person. Period. Penalties range from six months to 12 years in jail, plus heavy fines.

Of course, things don’t always go so smoothly. The 60-and-over preferential line is shared by three other categories: the physically challenged, pregnant women, and adults with babes in arms. This can get somewhat complicated. A few years ago, before joining the geezer line myself, I witnessed a rather nasty fight at my bank between a pregnant woman and an elderly woman. The older woman had arrived in the line first, the pregnant woman second. The pregnant woman pushed in front on the theory that pregnancy trumps age. People got involved, took sides, switched sides, switched back. The armed bank guards began getting nervous. The incident was amusing, pathetic and completely out of character for the normally peaceful, deferential and smiling Brazilians. (Oh, and the pregnant woman won.)

In five years I will reach 65 (okay, get the chorus of God-willings and insha’Allahs and se Deus quisers over with ...). Sixty-five is the next watershed age here. Why? Well, at 60 you get to go to the front of the line, but at 65 you get to travel on all subways and buses, even interstate buses, for free! Mark has been enjoying this privilege for the last three years. And the money we save can be invested in canes and walkers. But I’m not going to think about that right now. Right now it’s time for my nap.

All cities have playgrounds for kids; Rio has playgrounds for grandma ...
... while grandpa waits at the office


  1. There is another advantage to ge older; you get wiser.

  2. Jairo, that is so true! Glad you're enjoying the blog. Feliz Natal e Feliz Ano Novo! Bjs