Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What I've Learned from Carnaval

So as you may know from the last post, my American friend Kristin and I are in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival. The week is going well! We're having a good time, and... gasp! There have not been any threats upon my life.

My important lesson this week is that Carnival is what you make of it! If you want some insane drunken debauchery, you can certainly find some. If you want to make out with strangers, there are strangers who are willing to make out with you. If you want to dance your butt off, that can be arranged. If you want to focus on the religious aspect, with Ash Wednesday, pre-lent ceremonies, they're being held. And if you have a bad arm and just want to enjoy the festivities with friends on the fringes of the parties, that's easy to do and no one is going to give you a hard time about it. I have not been pressured to do anything I didn't want to do (and for the record, I didn't want to kiss strangers, drink until falling down, or shamelessly rebolar). I've treated Carnival as an excuse to be my silly self without worrying  about social rules. So I got dressed up in funny hats and crazy makeup and got a ridiculously colorful manicure. That's all fun in my book!

Speaking of my book, this trip has given me a way to articulate something I've been wanting to write about for a while now. Kristin and I are staying with Nicole, an American friend I made through former-blogger-turned-friend Lindsey. Though Nicole and I grew up in opposite corners of the US (most literally), we're the same age and had relatively similar childhoods. However, here in Brazil, our experiences have been very, very different. She studied abroad here, lives in a huge city, and is now married to a Brazilian cop. She's had very different jobs than I have and has lived in very different communities. So her interpretations of things in Brazil are very different from mine.

While my first instinct was to disagree or question things she said, I realized -- who am I to question her experience? She is clearly very involved in the culture around her. It's just a different culture than what I've been exposed to.

Our conversations have made me think about my frustration with the internet's reaction to my and other blogger's recounts of experiences in Brazil. Both Brazilians and fellow foreigners alike are quick to completely negate our realities. In blog comments and on Facebook, these naysayers often reply with comments like, "you're wrong! That never happened to ME in Brazil!"  or "that only happens in X region, not in the whole country!" or the relatively irrelevant "there is a historical reason for that problem, so stop complaining about it!"  and, even less relevant, "that happens in your home country too, so you can't say anything about it when it happens in Brazil!"

Listen. First argument, for the Brazilian readers who get on foreigners' cases about complaining or having rant-y posts: It is impossible to be an immigrant in your home country, so you will never truly understand what an immigrant in your country is experiencing. My experience growing up in California is completely different from the experience of a diplomat who moves to DC with his family, or a poor farm worker who moves to Kentucky alone. Who am I to say that he's interpreting his experience incorrectly, or that he needs a new perspective? Even if a foreigner lived in my California city and worked at the same place, our day-to-day lives could be totally different. (And I'm going to be frank here that I am not that interested in reading an immigrant's blog long term. How am I going to relate to their experiences as a foreigner in the US? And even if I disagree with the way they view the US, what would I get out of "correcting"  them or trying to prove them wrong?)

Second argument, for the fellow foreigners who are annoyed or just confused by accounts from other foreigners: your life is not my life. We're all doing the best we can to understand things, right? When you are living in a foreign country, there is a LOT of new information to take in every day. We all have to absorb as much as we can, but sometimes we miss stuff, and sometimes we learn different things. For example, the information that Nicole gets from her cop husband from Rio is often slanted very differently from the perspectives I get from my doctor husband from the "interior" of Sao Paulo. In addition, we foreigners are here for different reasons. Some want to be here more than others. Some of us foreigners have more opportunities here than others.

And to my fellow foreigners, sometimes we just get things wrong. Sometimes we think we understand something, but we don't. All humans are guilty of generalizing (see? I just did it). Everyone has moments when they are quick to judge. Starting life over can be really, really tiring. Even those of us who try to be open-minded and optimistic are going to be frustrated sometimes, no matter which country we're from or where we've moved to. But we've all come from different places, and we're seeing both the same things and different things through different, personal lenses. Everyone's viewpoint is still valid.

So I guess I am just asking everyone to stop, take a step back, and see if you can see more of the good in other people. Ask more questions, whenever you can. Give people the benefit of the doubt (that goes for the Brazilians reading the foreigners'  blogs as much as it goes for the foreigners trying to understand life in a new country). Try treating others with patience and empathy rather than judgment and resentment. Instead of trying to "correct" others and force your perspectives on them, see what you can learn from them. When you insist that someone's interpretation of their experience is wrong, it can be very invalidating. That's the last thing someone needs if they're already feeling semi-invisible, out of place, or like they're falling behind in a new culture.

Just do what's good for you and be nice to other people! I think those 2 activities will give you plenty of things to fill your day with.

Happy Carnival, everyone!

PS: I've turned off the comments on this post. If you feel the need to give your opinion, please do it in your own space (like on your own blog).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Carnaval no Rio or Bust!

How dangerous is Carnival in Rio, really? REALLY??

I don't deal with "impending doom" scenarios very well. When people start insisting so much that something is dangerous, I tend to just turn them off. It might be a flawed survival mechanism, but it might also be because a lot of people's fears are unfounded.

I have a theory that a lot of upper-class people in this country (maybe in the US, too) like to believe that things are dangerous in order to feel like they more important, that their stuff is more valued, and that people are jealous of their lifestyles. Fear can be very validating.

Some of you may be able to read what I'm not saying here.

But I think most everyone will have their 2 cents to add to an answer to this question: Are Kristin and I in danger? Some factors:

1. We're not going to the official parade. We plan to visit a bloco party and other (mostly) daytime tourist things.

2. I just got surgery on my arm and it's weak.

3. I have my arm brace that I can wear.

4. We are two Americans, and pretty clearly foreign-looking at that.

5. We're staying with an American friend of mine and her Brazilian husband. My American friend has lived in Rio for 4 years. Her husband is a cop.

6. We are women, and we are both married!  (This factor is tongue in cheek, but perhaps may give you insight into what I'm not saying.) 


I don't want to break my arm again or get mugged either, so I don't plan on doing anything stupid like drink until I can't walk or carry a big purse to the bloco party. But is just BEING in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival a risk in itself?

Can you guys recommend activities (like calmer, friendlier bloco parties) that will give Kristin a taste of Carnival without putting us in any unnecessary situations? My real-life friends and long-time readers know that I'm not some kind of crazy party animal. I fall asleep after 2 glasses of wine.

Do contribute to the comments! Thanks!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Jan 2013 and Books of 2012

Well, it's been a month since my arm surgery. Things are going well, and my life is about 90% back to normal. There are a bunch of random things that I still can't do, and whether or not I will ever be able to do them again is debatable (the debate is actually between my optimistic surgeon and my pessimistic surgeon). The most important of these things is driving -- I don't have the strength to change gears or the dexterity to turn the wheel. (Luckily I love the bus system here in Springfieldee, so this doesn't affect my day-to-day life all that much.) I also can't lift anything that weighs more than 2 pounds, put on eyeliner, use the can opener, or click the computer mouse with my right hand, among other small and not-too-important tasks.

January was a busy month. I started with some new students. I started working at a school that an American friend opened. (It's so refreshing to see an English school run as an honest business, and it's exciting to be a part of it!) I did A LOT of one-handed translation (REGRET).

Oh, and we moved into a new apartment. I'll miss the beautiful old apartment, but not the price of it! I also enjoy the location of the new place, which is much closer to civilization (there are TWO horti frutis within walking distance!). And I think the best part is that my street name is only ONE WORD. Imagine that, a one-word street name in Brazil! This is priceless for a foreigner who has to negotiate all the logistics of a move because her husfriend works during business hours.

But things are finally unpacked and settling down; hence, this blog post!

Do you remember last year when great friend Bianca and I made a goal to read 100 books each in 2012? Well, 2012 came and went. I did pretty well. I didn't get to 100, but I read a total of 34 books. Almost one a week... not bad with a full-time job. I also only counted the books I finished. (Do the hundreds of pages of dense Portuguese that I read for translation work count?)

Instead of my long descriptions from last year, I'm just going to give you a list in order more or less from best to worst of the books I read. Yes, I combined fiction and non-fiction. Here they are. Feel free to add your two cents:

The Tiger's Wife -- Tea Obreht. Yes, the best book I read last year.
War Brides -- Helen Bryan
The Lotus Eaters -- Tatjana Soli
Watership Down -- Richard Adams
The Gift of Fear -- Gavin J. Becker
Fall of Giants -- Ken Follet
Whatever -- Miche Houellebecq
I Love You and I'm Leaving -- Tracy McMillan
A Place Called Freedom -- Ken Follet
The Paris Wife -- Paula McLain
Everything that Rises Must Converge -- Flannery O'Connor
The Little Known -- Janice Daugharty
Foe -- JM Coetzee
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemmingway
Someone Will Be with You Shortly -- Lisa Kogan
The Soldier's Wife -- Margaret Leroy
World Without End -- Ken Follet
The Five Love Languages -- Gary Chapman
Dangerous Instincts -- Mary Ellen O'Toole
What You Can Change...and What You Can't -- Martin E. Seligman
A Dangerous Fortune -- Ken Follet
Sushi for Beginners -- Marian Keyes
Your Money: The Missing Manual -- J.D. Roth 
Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (And Other Concerns) -- Mindy Kaling
Wife 22 -- Melanie Gideon
Last Chance Saloon -- Marian Keyes
Party Animal -- Marian Keyes
A Gate at the Stairs -- Lorrie Moore
The Marriage Plot -- Jeffrey Eugenides
The Sense of an Ending -- Julian Barnes (I read an excellent editorial describing authors like Barnes, Eugenides, and Franzen as male chick lit equivalents, but now I can't find it. Here's an interview about the editorial.)
Mental Traps: The Overthinker's Guide to a Happier Life -- Andre Kukla
My Horizontal Life -- Chelsea Handler
Jailbird -- Heather Huffman
Olive Kitteridge --Elizabeth Strout. (Ya know, I apparently read this because I got to the end of it on my Kindle, and I even highlighted some nice quotes, but I honestly do not remember it! Sorry, Ms. Strout.)

A lot of those were from Amazon's free or promotionally-priced material, which can be hit or miss.

The next post will probably be about Carnaval in Rio, because that's where my friend Kristin and I are going! Wish me luck!
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