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.

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