Newfound reader Eric left a very interesting comment on a blog entry that I wrote about having a hard time making friends.
I'd like to repost his comment here for everyone to discuss. Eric's general idea (and he can correct me if my paraphrasing is wrong) is that the definitions of friendship and respect within Brazil and the US are just different. (Neither one is wrong; just different.) Americans show respect and care for their friends and family by asking a lot of personal questions and providing a space for their loved ones to share their secrets and open up. Brazilians, however, show respect and care for their friends by NOT asking a lot of personal questions and keeping things light, therefore providing a space for their loved one to feel relaxed and free to be whoever they want without feeling judged.
I talked about it with Alexandre, and he said it was a very good insight into the two cultures and something he hadn't previously been able to articulate. We agreed that, especially in the family relationships, a bad consequence of the American type of relationship is fighting and criticizing. And a bad consequence of the Brazilian type of relationship is that it's possible for some people to become isolated.
Here is Eric's comment. I'm looking forward to your thoughts!
After 14 years with a Brazilian partner and time to think/read/reflect, i've come to the realization that perhaps it is as simple as the idea that "friendship" and "intimacy" are cultural constructs like many other things that seem more obvious. it feels like those words should describe very universal emotional experiences, but perhaps they don't. those emotional experiences we (meaning here you as i read you and I) associate with those words are certainly human and universal experiences, but they may come about in completely different culturally defined situations and be connected to other words and norms.
my idea of friendship and intimacy is that with friends who i like and trust (and its mutual), i feel safe, i'm open with the good and bad, there is a sense of spontaneity and honesty and un-selfconsciousness that is truly wonderful and valuable. it is what makes life in the outside world of work, negotiation, conflict (and its avoidance) bearable. there isn't a sense of needing to perform, not as much anyway. there is a sense of being able to really let it all hang out, tell it like it is, have a sounding board for ideas and thoughts and feelings, to get advice, to confess sins and hope for forgiveness.
i don't think this is the expectation in general in Brazil. i've read so many blogs lately i can't remember where i read it (embarrassing if it is you!), but the blogger wrote that there seemed to be an inverse relationship between intimacy and friendship in Brazil. the more you know someone, the less intimate and more casual it gets. this really describes what i've observed myself.
i know that my partner's relationships with his friends and family looks utterly barren and bizarre to me. they don't talk about ANYTHING i would consider important, emotional, risky, vulnerable, doubtful, joyful, deep, profound, etc. my partner, the youngest child, left the home he was born in to move with a foreigner to another country (a man no less!), left his friends, his job, his family. and his parents never asked him ONCE, who is this person you are moving away with? where will you live? what will you do? what on earth are you thinking? they called him every week to talk about the price of electronics and popular brazilian cultural gossip. it absolutely floored me. my parents and i mostly fight, about politics, religion, the world, everything, but they would never ever have let me emigrate without knowing (and truly worrying) about every single detail. our struggle is part of the way we show our love to each other despite the insurmountable differences between us.
as i understand it now, brazilians provide their friends and often even their family members with a huge amount of space to hide their flaws, weaknesses, failures, etc. that is the way to show love and respect. there is an endless willingness to overlook even the unforgiveable, without even having to discuss or acknowledge it. that is extremely foreign to my way of thinking, but i now see how it might appear to have its own set of benefits. in my partner's family and set of friends, there is an endless easy flow of fofoca, the comfort of nothing being heated, no conflict, no discussions for more than a moment about anything serious, just a pleasant passing of the time. perhaps in a culture as unequal, as competitive, as violent and stressful, as unjust as brazil can be for many of its people, this is the safe space people want, not some hothouse of intimacy and drama, highs and lows, the stuff of novelas and movies (just the made-up self absorbed drama of the rich and spoiled you already wrote about so well!).
Agree? Disagree? Anecdotes? Discuss.