I don't know about other ex-pats (word cringe), but one of my biggest challenges of living in a foreign country is blending in. Some people living abroad are comfortable with being different and standing out and doing their own thing, but I am not one of them. I've gotten tired of being asked where I'm from and having to tell my life story, so my ultimate goal is to avoid giving people reason to ask me in the first place. My motto is "don't mind me!". I try not to wear too many American-bought pieces of clothing at once. I don't talk on the phone in public unless absolutely necessary, to hide the accent. Alexandre and I speak English in public only when we need to talk crap about someone, and even then, we mumble. If I'm somewhere where I have to show ID (my passport), I avoid pulling it out or showing the front side. I make just enough small talk to seem polite without giving away grammar mistakes.
So when my bestest friend Michelle gave me my bestest present during my trip -- a Kindle -- one of the first things I said was, "this is going to be so great because now I can read in public in Brazil and people won't notice that it's in English and they'll leave me alone." It never fails that, when I open an English book to read in public -- usually on a bus -- the person next to me starts jabbering away. "You'reNotBrazilian,AreYou?WhyAreYouReadinginEnglish?DoYouUnderstandThatBook??" blahblabhalh. I know it's going to happen, but what am I going to do? Not read?? Psh. I usually just try to fold over the cover and be inconspicuous.
Anyway, short story that I'll now make long, I was wrong. I should have known from my days on the playground that the only sure-fire way NOT to blend in is to whip out a shiny new toy. So far, the Kindle is drawing considerably more attention than books.
I was reading it on my (LAST!) bus ride from the in-laws' house to Caipirópolis. For the first leg of the trip, I was graced with the luck that only frequent bus riders can appreciate: an empty seat next to mine. I basked in my two-seats-for-the-price-of-one and spread out and pulled out the Kindle to read.
It took the woman across the aisle about 15 minutes to work up the courage to say, "mas menina, o que que é isso? Que curiosidade!" (Young lady, what is that? How strange!") (And am I correct in hearing people say que twice??)
I said, "Oh, it's to read books."
"Was it expensive?" (Oh, fellow interior bus riders. Always classy.)
"Well, I don't know your definition of expensive, but it's cheaper than buying the books."
"Where do you get the books from?"
"You can buy them or download them online. Or you can put PDFs."
"Ah, PDFs!" She recognized that term. Then she jumped right in. "Are you a foreigner?"
"From where?" (Thought I'd get away with just the "yes", didn't you?)
"The United States."
"Wow! Que chique! How fancy! Ya know, I've been to New York...."
etc etc etc, you guys know the rest.
When we stopped about halfway along to pick up other passengers, someone sat in the seat next to mine. It was another young-ish girl. (The first woman had to be in her mid-30s, and this girl was closer to my age.) I waited for her to get comfortable and lose the passing interest that everyone initially has in the person sitting next to them on a bus. She had her own book-- the title was something like "Everything with God's Help." Once she got settled into reading that, I tried to discreetly pull out the Kindle to continue reading this book, which was free last week because of Amazon's promotional new author thing. I tried to turn a bit in the chair so that I was facing the aforementioned lady across the aisle. I peeked over my shoulder a bit to see if I'd been successful in not distracting the girl. I hadn't. I was trying to focus on my book, but out of the corner of my eye, I kept catching her stealing glances at me and The Curious Machine.
At one point, my cell phone beeped from my backpack: a text from Alexandre. I guess the girl saw my distraction from The Curious Machine as a chance to butt in. As I was putting my phone back in my bag, she asked, "Is that one of those electronic book readers?"
"Oh, yes," I tried to say as nonchalantly and non-accented-ly as possible.
"Cool! Can I see it?"
I turned it toward her without actually putting it in her hands.
"Are you reading in English?" she asked.
"You're not Brazilian, are you?"
etc &c &c
So a fancy technologically-advanced-looking object is clearly NOT the answer to trying to draw less attention to yourself as a foreigner. I'd like to say that the Kindle will take off in Brazil in the next 6 months or so, the way the iPod did, and then I'll just be seen as rich, as opposed to foreign AND rich. But I don't think eBook readers are really anywhere in Brazil's near future. The Brazilian masses aren't big on books and reading as a hobby. Chalk it up to a weak public education system, expensive books, and vicious cycles.
So I'd love to have a day where I can just do normal Brazilian life things and interact with people in normal Brazilian life ways, but for now, I guess I'm resigned to just standing out indefinitely. The alternatives are to (a) continue buying overpriced English books or (b) not read in public, and neither of those will do, especially now that I'll be living 3 blocks from the beach!
This will be me, in about 6 days (thanks, Kindle website!):
And thanks, Michelle. The Kindle is awesome, and totally worth sticking out for.
*This is NOT some kind of paid blog entry for Kindle. Do you think Amazon really cares about me and my blog? I mostly just wanted another excuse to bag on small-towners.