Friday, 5 April 2013

Brazilian behavioural observations #1: The Gringo Ass-Kisser

I'm now at the point where I can no longer make cultural/physical observations any more, because I'm now almost completely integrated into the way of life here that I've forgotten about the differences.  I can, however, make behavioural observations - hence the title of this new and exciting series of blogs!

After nearly a year and a half of living in Brazil, I have learnt to live with a healthy level of constant skepticism.  There are many reasons for this, but in today’s blog I’m going to talk about the most common one, namely, Gringo Ass-Kissers.

When people come on holiday to Brazil one of the things they often report back upon their return is that Brazilians are extremely friendly.  In comparison to most nationalities, they are.  However, the reason they are being so friendly to you may not just be because they’re friendly, it may also be because you’re a foreigner.

In the UK, we often have this exotic view of Brazilians as beautiful, sensual, passionate, fiery people who know how to have a good time.  There’s something of the exotic about dating a Brazilian: "your girlfriend is Brazilian? Nice one, mate!"

Here in Brazil, it’s the other way around.  We are exotic to them.  I have fortunately been blessed with dark hair and eyes, so most Brazilians aren’t aware I’m a foreigner until I open my mouth.  Even then sometimes they don’t pick it up, with a few just putting down my odd accent to being from a different state or having a speech impediment (true story). 

However, it is fascinating to see their reaction when they find out I’m English “REALLY? How nice! Where in England are you from? Oh, I love London! I really want to go there! Do you like it here? How long have you been here?” etc etc.

That’s the standard response and there’s nothing wrong with that: Brazilians tend to be naturally inquisitive and slightly enthusiastic about someone/something new/different.  However, there’s a certain social group – the Gringo Ass-Kissers in question – that go a few steps further.

The first thing the gringo ass-kisser will do is immediately switch the conversation language to English, irrespective of whether everyone in the group is able to understand English or not.  They will then eulogize on the wonders of London/England/Europe in general for a while, and then switch to verbally bashing São Paulo/Brazil.  They will compare the organization of London with the chaos of São Paulo, put down their country and fellow citizens and expect you to join in.

They always forget to consider why I have chosen to live in São Paulo.  Maybe I don’t actually think organization is the end-all and be-all.  Maybe I favour warm interpersonal relationships over my bus arriving on time.

The other feature of the Gringo Ass-Kisser is forgetting that there is anyone else around to talk to besides you.  They usually start a private little chat with you in English away from everyone else, separating both of you off from the group dynamic.  My Portuguese isn’t fluent but I can follow what’s going on in a group conversation and I’d rather be part of it than cornered by someone with whom I would never choose to spend any extended amount of time.  I also think it’s incredibly rude towards the other people in the group.

The Gringo Ass-Kisser also likes to name-drop people they know/met that one time with money/popularity/fame, like you actually care about that stuff.  The gringo ass-kisser assumes that since you are foreign (and probably rich, right?), you care about status as much as they do.  Actually, Europeans tend to care a lot less about status than most Brazilians.  I care even less.  The more you name-drop, the more I switch off.

They use phrases such as “people like us” in conversation, meaning the two of you to the exclusion of everyone else (which I can only assume to mean anyone who doesn’t speak English or hasn’t travelled abroad).

Apart from assuming that I’m rich (couldn’t BE more wrong) they are also making the unfortunate mistake of thinking I’m stupid.  Yes, despite the fact that they’re kissing my ass, they think I am incapable of working out that the only reason they’re being so nice to me is because of where I’m from.

The fact is, I do know.  I’ve learned to see these people coming from a mile away.  Although I may be polite, I do not cultivate friendships with assholes and kissing mine is a sure-fire way of putting me off you completely.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Bikinis: I give in

Praia do Curral, Ilhabela

I'm English, ok.  As a result, I don't feel comfortable wearing a bikini unless I have what is known as a 'bikini body'.  I don't have a bikini body.  Far from it.  Actually, before I went to Ilhabela the other week, I didn't even own a bathing costume because I'm that insecure about showing skin.

Anyhoo, my girlfriend managed to convince me before hitting the beach to at least buy a sports bra, a vest and a pair of bicycle shorts.  One trip to C&A later and I was sorted.

We spent the entire day on the beach on the first day and that experience brought me to the following conclusion: a bikini is the only way to go in Brazil.  I was very hot the whole day and Kelly spent the whole time pointing out women the size of whales wearing bikinis.  "See? She's wearing a bikini... so is she... and her.... I'm fat, I'm wearing a bikini," she said.

It was about 28 degrees and I was uncomfortably hot, god help me in the summer when it hits 40 on a hot day and I'm wearing bloody bicycle shorts.

Cachoeira da Toca, Ilhabela
P.S. DO NOT GO TO CACHOEIRA DA TOCA.  The mosquitos are total bastard and the citronella oil makes no difference whatsoever. And the waterfall isn't particularly impressive.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Brazilians speak PORTUGUESE

N.B. This blog isn’t directed at anyone in particular.

English people like to talk about Americans like they’re idiots.  They’re not idiots, they wouldn’t be so successful at so many different things if that were the case.  What they do have a tendency towards is ignorance. 

This is because of the way the majority of them are educated (and I’m not necessarily talking about schooling) – they are not encouraged to show much interest in anything outside of their borders.  They also tend to put different types of people into stereotype boxes in their minds.  This often means that when they travel outside of their own country, they suffer from a terrible case of foot-in-mouth disease.  They make horrific generalisations about various different nationalities, races and countries, e.g. everyone in Africa is starving or has AIDs (your eyes may have widened there – I’m not kidding, I’ve heard this before), all South Americans are poor/criminals/drug-smugglers, all Arabs are terrorists, and Canadians are boring (OK, I’ll give them that one – I lived there for 18 months).

Again, this is not idiocy it’s ignorance.  If you’re ignorant, you can learn.  Not all Americans are this way, just a significant majority.  I’m half-American myself, and I have plenty of American friends who are not in any way ignorant.

Now I’m going to get to my point: Americans are not the only nationality prone to ignorance.  Everyone is.  I have recently experienced jaw-dropping ignorance from Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and various Europeans.

When I think about it, I learnt absolutely nothing about South America in school. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.  It wasn’t a British colony at some point, so it wasn’t of interest to the British educational system.  So, I came here only knowing what I’d read in the news or what my Brazilian friends in London had told me, which is not the best way to educate yourself about a country.  I have learnt a lot since then but I am definitely no expert.

However, I’m going to clear up a few questions so you don’t embarrass yourself or seriously offend a Brazilian next time you speak to one/visit the country:

Brazilians speak Spanish, right?
NO THEY DON’T.  The national language is Portuguese.  Although the languages are similar in a lot of respects, they sound totally different.  You might run into the odd Brazilian in Brazil who speaks Spanish, but only in the same way you might run into the odd Brazilian who can speak English.  They generally just speak Portuguese.  If you come here, bring a goddamn phrasebook for chrissakes.

I didn’t know there were blonde Brazilians…
* facepalms *  Never ever EVER say that to a Brazilian!  Brazilians come in all different shapes, colours, and sizes.  There is no particular ‘Brazilian’ identifying physical feature.  Everyone can look like a Brazilian – and I mean everyone: there is a sizeable Brazilian-Asian community, for instance.  I’ve met Brazilians of various different descents: Japanese, Korean, Bangladeshi, Indian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian…the list is endless.

Is it safe?
Do you walk down dark, unlit streets in bad neighbourhoods on a regular basis?  No, neither do I.  So, don’t do it here either and you won’t have a problem.  Don’t flash your iPhone 4S and your Prada sunglasses around in public and probably no one will take any interest in you, criminally speaking.  Show off the fact you’re a gringo (talking English at the top of your voice) and that you’re on holiday, at your peril be it.  Basically, don’t be a dick.

I’ve heard they’re really lazy and just party all the time…
It’s true, Brazilians know how to enjoy themselves, but not at the expense of making a living.  Hardworking Brazilians work a hell of a lot harder than hardworking Europeans.  At the top of the scale, it is pretty common for professionals (accountants, lawyers etc.) to work 10/12-hour days in São Paulo as a matter of course – not just under special circumstances.  I have students who frequently work longer hours a couple of times a week (and manage to fit in study time for English and MBAs).  At the bottom of the scale, people in what we would consider the working class often hold down more than one job or business to make ends meet.

Is there malaria?
No, this isn’t Africa.  Read the FCO website you lazy git.  No malaria, small risk of Yellow Fever – but only in the north of the country.  Get a jab and do your bloody homework.

It’s amazing how much they travel, considering…
Considering what, exactly?  That they’re poor?  They have rich people here too, y’know.  And they have a rapidly expanding middle class.  They can probably afford to travel more than you can, because your economy is crap and theirs isn’t.

Do they have cars?
Fuck.  Off.

Helpful tip:
Don’t put down Brazil as a country in conversation with a Brazilian.  Don’t bitch about their education system, don’t criticize their government, and don’t tell them how corrupt their politicians are.  Brazilians are not in the habit of putting other people down (unless they’re talking about Argentina or Paraguay), so be polite and don’t do it to them.  Brazilians are generally inquisitive in a positive way and will avoid offence.  If you’re British and you have a tendency towards criticism (which we do), bite your tongue.  You inevitably know less about their country than they do.  Don’t be so arrogant and condescending as to tell them what’s wrong with their country.  They are fully aware of their country’s defects, they don’t need you listing them out.  If they offer up a conversation with national comparisons, it is not an invitation to be negative.  If you're going to ask a question/make a statement, ask yourself "would I be offended if someone from another country asked/said this to me about my country?" before you open your mouth.  If the answer is "yes", shut up.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Parada Gay São Paulo

Avenida Paulista at the beginning of the Parade

Ok, so this happened last month but it's still worth blogging about.

The São Paulo gay parade is the largest gay pride event in terms of attendance in the world.  If you've ever experienced Carnaval in the streets (not the Sambadrome), it's basically that but with gay people and very loud house music.

This year on Sunday the 10th of June there were roughly 3 million attendees, which is less than last year's 3.5 million.  Apparently there were security issues last year (petty theft, homophobic violence).  I think there was a death one year.  Brazil is a traditionally Catholic country and, despite heavy support from the government, Parada Gay still touches a nerve with a lot of people.  However, this year's event went off without a hitch.

In typical Brazilian style, it started late.

Despite the huge amount of people on Avenida Paulista, there weren't any actual crowding issues.  If you wanted to, you could get into the mosh pit following each one of the 12 trio elétricos (giant floats).  Or, like me, you could calmly stand on the pavement bopping your head to the music.

The weather was sunny, the temperature was mild, the atmosphere was joyful.  It was a lot of fun.

Afterwards, we walked down Frei Caneca (Gayville, SP) and stopped outside a lesbian bar that was blaring out house music and took part in a popular Brazilian pastime: drinking beer outdoors.

We went home about 6pm because I had been partying nonstop since Wednesday evening and I desperately needed to sleep.

The VIP area.  Politicians, mostly.
Me and Kelly (my girlfriend)

Me and a famous SP drag queen called Kchaka (I think) 

Giant floating condoms: "Protect your pride, wear a condom"

The theme of the Parade was "Homophobia has a cure: Education and Criminalisation"

Gay bar on Frei Caneca, later on in the evening.

Been a while!

Right, I haven't posted for ages because I've been busy with a new relationship and being all lovey-dovey and all that boring romantic stuff that gets in the way of writing blogs.

I have done a few things that warrant blogging, but they're ages ago now and I like to write about things when they're fresh in my mind, so I'll file them away for another time.  Probably worth blogging on Parada Gay, though.

I'm very happy and settled.  I've moved in with my girlfriend to Gayville, SP.  It's like Clapham Common without all the green stuff.  My Portuguese is coming along slowly.  According to my girlfriend (Brazilian, also an English teacher) I'm a Basic 2.  This means I make horrific mistakes when I speak but I can communicate and make myself understood.  I understand most things said to me.

I have been slacking off, so I'm trying to start a '1 hour a day minimum' for speaking Portuguese with my girlfriend and I've got a book that I intend to start studying soon to help with the grammar and vocabulary, etc.  I watch some Brazilian TV programmes (I still don't get and can't stand Brazilian soaps) and if there's a film on that I've seen before, I watch it in Portuguese with Portuguese subtitles incase I miss something.  I watched the whole of Pan's Labyrinth that way and I understood everything.

Business is a bit slow because of the school holidays, but it's starting to pick up.  I need to push for more private students so I can save for the next holiday period in December/January/February which will be completely dead.

Anyhoo, normal service shall resume in the next few days.  Future posts will probably lean more on the observational side because I'm not a tourist anymore and I'm now more ensconced in Brazilian culture than I was before.