Prepare for a pretty negative entry. If you read this blog for the funny stories or the linguistic observations, you can go ahead and skip this one.
A few months ago, I wrote about how I was having a hard time making friends.
I have lived here for 16 months now. This situation has not improved.
Do you know how long 16 months is? I am a social person. But first and foremost, I'm a human who needs a social group, who needs to be included and understood and needed.
Never in my life did I have a hard time making friends before I moved to Brazil. When I was a kid, we switched elementary schools. No bigs. Switched middle schools. Allright. I moved to the OC for college. Doable. Transferred universities. Even better. Went to Spain for a few weeks to visit some friends, and made friends with their friends, some of whom I still talk to today. Moved again for grad school. Got that friend stuff taken care of.
And now I'm here.
The first few months, I was patient. I didn't speak any Portuguese and I was too overwhelmed and busy to worry about making new friends, anyway. People kind of ignored me at social gatherings, but I chaulked it up to the language barrier.
I think I can safely say that my Portuguese is good enough for friendships now. I still have a hard time in a group discussion (do you know how impossible turn taking is in your non-native langauge? If you've spent a considerable amount of time living in a country that doesn't speak your language, you probably do). But I think that language is less of the problem today. The underlying problem is cultural.
What I want to dispel here is the myth that I hear seriously at least once a week, either in other blogs or from students asking me if it's true: "Brazilians are more open, warm, and welcoming than Americans! Americans are so cold and closed-off!"
People from both countries make this assumption because Brazilians kiss their friends to say hello and automatically turn your name into a nickname (after an hour with me, people start calling me Da or Dani) or call you "querido/querida" (like sweety, honey) all the time.
For me, this is not the defintion of a warm, open culture. A warm, open culture includes people that makes sure that no one is left out, especially in small, social settings. In a warm, open culture, if one girl goes out with another girl to hang out at least 5 or 6 times, the girls will eventually start talking about personal information and the conversation will not stick to superficial nonsense that is only good for the first couple of nights out.
But I'm not here to knock Brazilians or Brazilian girls. I mean, they make friends with each other, somehow. There is just some secret handshake that NO one has taught me yet.
In both countries, of course it's easier to make friends if you're a student, and in both countries, many friendships that people enjoy as adults are friendships that were formed in childhood or in college. But I don't think it's enough to say "oh, well you didn't grow up in Brazil, and Brazilians only have friendships from their childhood." That goes against human nature and can't possibly be true.
I've met some nice girls here. A fellow teacher, a few students that I've done social things with. Even my boss. But the biggest issue I have is with these girls opening up. I can only talk about how I'm different for so long. I can only answer the same questions so many times. These are the questions I am asked the most:
1. Why are you here?
2. 'Are you liking' Brazil? [translation from Portuguese grammar]
3. Do you miss your family?
4. What is the typical food in America? Hamburgers, right? What? Americans don't eat hamburgers every day? Then what do they eat? What do mothers cook? Why can't you tell me one easy thing like "rice, beans and feijoada"?
5. Why are all Americans fat?
These are nice, logical (albeit a bit naive) questions for someone to ask when they meet me. The problem is that it rarely gets past this. I am very happy when people ask me what I think about Obama or anything more specific than those questions above.
I spend most of my time in conversations trying to focus on things that I have in common with the girls. I try to get them to talk about what they do in their free time. I try to ask questions about their friends and family (who they're close to, etc). I try to ask questions about their jobs and/or classes and what their peers/coworkers/clients are like, and if they have any funny/interesting stories. But 9 times out of 10, the other girl offers up a short answer and brings the topic back to comparing things like food and the price of electronics between Brazil and the US. Yes, ok. Let me tell what I know about that for the 1,000th time. Because you're the first person to ever ask me if it's true that there are no churrascarias in the US because beef is more expensive and can't be sold in an all-you-can-eat style.
It's not completey the other person's fault. They're sincerely interested in getting the truth behind the various rumors they've heard about the US. But it just shows that that's all they see me as: The American. A nativa. A branquinha. A gringa. I'm not like, a person with the same problems that they have. It seems like they don't see me as someone with the potiental to be a close friend because they don't offer up anything about themselves and don't ask me anything of substance about myself.
I would say that there are 5 girls that I could call "friends," and out of those 5, I would say that 2 are just now starting to see me as, ya know, a human.
I spend way too much time at home, bored and depressed and playing Farm Town on Facebook. The boyfriend's getting tired of me. I'm getting tired of me. I know that I need to just initiate more girl time with the 5 girls mentioned above, particulary the 2 that I connect with a bit more.
But I also need something else, and I'm honestly out of ideas. Brazil lacks the cultural gem that is the community college. If I were in Sao Paulo, maybe I would've figured something out a long time ago, but living in Countrytown Interior, my options are a bit more limited. I would LOVE to take Portuguese classes with other foreigners, but there aren't any. We called the schools. One school had an Iraqi businessman taking private classes for a while (not sure what he'd think of me...). I would even consider joining a gym (sigh), but we looked into the one here within walking distance and I couldn't join because I didn't have a Brazilian ID or any utility bills in my name. I would really enjoy some kind of volunteering group, and I've made a point to ask my students if there's anything like that in our city, like an Americorps or Habitat for Humanity kind of thing. Exercising just for the sake of exercising? Not really my thing. But getting up on Saturday morning to feed peeps or paint houses? I'm all over that. But... nothing so far. One thing I have been recommended is to start taking dance classes. I'm totally willing to try new things, but ME joining a dance class with beautiful, skinny, tan, coordinated Brazilian women is where I draw the line. I know that the negative effects on my self-esteem will outweigh any potiential benefit to my self-esteem as a result of more friends.
So someone. Please. Tell me. What.do.Brazilian.adults.do. It can't be true that EVERYONE just sits in their houses all night and watches a novela dàs oito e o campeonato brasileiro. People have to have hobbies. People have to have the drive to be social and involved in their community. I can't be the only one.
I need to be part of a society again.