I’ve been asked some crazy questions in Brazil, like how long does it take to get to London (my hometown) by bus? Err, do I really have to answer that?
Brazilians have an excuse for their ignorance concerning world matters, with public education ranking one of the worst in the world and their general disdain for reading. The so-called developed world, however, does not. So, I thought I’d turn the tables for a second and give them some credit by airing my experiences here in the good old US of A.
I live in Brazil but travel to Phili almost every year so I have found myself comparing the two worlds almost daily.
The question, Are you from Brazil or Rio?” was asked to me in Philadelphia, USA in the year 2006! For those who want to know, I simply answered Brazil. Didn’t bother to shed some light on this poor ignorant soul for I was too much in shock to really say anything.
Instead I just took a minute to reflect on some of the things I had started to realize in American society and about Americans in general, compared to that of Brazilians.
We all know that most people from the developing countries would die, sell their mothers or generally commit crimes to get a US passport (let alone a green card). I say, American, because of the strength of that culture in Brazil (and the world) and the general ignorance concerning other “developed” countries. For people from developing countries, Americans are seen as privileged beings in this cruel, cruel world. They can travel to any country in the world without a visa, or with very easy and convenient access to a visa if needed and their embassy actually does help them if they are in need. Moreover, in the Brazilian consulate in New York, the Americans get attended quicker and better than Brazilians. Sadly, Brazilians do seem to have an inferiority complex when it comes to the USA and seem to stand in awe when the mere word “Americano” is mentioned.
Brazilians have another excuse for their ignorance; most don’t have the money or means to travel. North Americans, on the other hand, do. Regardless of your financial situation, as long as you have no criminal record and are not on parole or probation, have ID or a birth certificate, any American citizen can go to a passport agency and apply for their passport in 24hrs. In case of emergencies, in as little as 2 hours! It only costs about US$60 and would rarely exceed US$200. Anyone can get one. Although amazingly, only 2 out of 10 Americans have a passport.
Let’s assume you are an American Citizen and you don’t have the money to travel. Considering you are from the First World, you can very well decide to inform yourself of how things are in other countries around the world, including Brazil. There is certainly no lack of means; all Americans have the Internet at home, PCs, excellent libraries.. things that the average Brazilian has to give a left kidney for. There is simply no excuse for such ignorance and misinformation. Perhaps the reason behind this problem is that the USA shows and tells Americans that there is really no other civilization other than the USA. They live as if the USA was the world and the rest is a big, black void.
When Brazil is shown in the media, they show the poverty, the dirt roads and the Amazon. North American people of all classes and races believe what they see and are being told. I have been asked if there is electricity in Brazil, banks, cable TV, McDonald’s, cars, and clubs.
When ‘Cidade de Deus’, came out, people in America thought that Brazil was presently as portrayed in the movie, set in the 1970s. I repeat: they think that we, in Brazil, are still in the 70s!
When North Americans do decide to take the dive, I think 99.9% of them go to Rio. Why? Probably because Snoop Doggy Dogg did his video there and said it was cool, or maybe after they watched Michael Jackson’s video or that Pepsi ad. Whatever. Basically, Brazil does not exist to most Americans, only Rio, which to them is a world apart from Brazil.
Some Americans decide for a package tour to resorts in the Islands, that they can visit without a passport. All included. They don’t even have to exchange their money and rarely leave the resort to mingle with the natives and really get to see what the country has to offer.
After asking around, I found out that the vast majority are scared of being kidnapped, especially after seeing so much of it on the international news channels across America.
So, what do some Americans (and other foreigners) come to Brazil for? Sex!
What with the videos, child porn sites, real life stories from Americans which have been to Rio and have had wild sexual encounters to pass along to tell their friends back home about, to many Americans Brazil is just a place to lie in the sun, get drunk and have cheap or free sex with Brazilian women that are either hookers, desperate to leave Brazil, marry a gringo and come to America. In some cases, maybe true love occurs. Keep in mind that the amount of men that marry and claim to have fallen in love with a woman that they cannot even speak to because they don’t know the language is more than a handful. Maybe it is simply refreshing to them. Most American women want a man to pay their mortgage, car, and to get their hair done. A Brazilian woman is happy just to be with you. In the worst case, she may just want some money to go out to dinner with her friends, although she may not even ask.
Americans go to Rio in the same way they go to Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic or the Virgin Islands. They don’t see Brazil as a country but as an ISLAND!!! I have even been asked how far Rio is from Jamaica, as if they are in the same vicinity.
For those courageous Americans that wander off the resort America has been kind enough to supply you with, with the worldwide chains of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Taco Bells, Wendy’s, Outback Steak Houses, etc., I am sure that in some Brazilian supermarkets you will find plenty of things that you are used to eating in America. You can even change your money, if you must… ANYWHERE. You will even find that in a country where few people speak English, the names of shops, supermarkets, dishes, drinks, phrases on T-shirts and a million other things, are in English. Once I went to a McDonald’s in São Paulo. They had maracuja, orange and grape juice. On the machine it was written in English so I assumed they understood so I asked for grape and the poor attendant had no idea what I was talking about! I then asked for ‘uva’ and she smiled, as Brazilians do. What were the words ‘grape’ and ‘orange’ doing on the machine when they could have changed them to ‘uva’ and ‘laranja’? It’s the general worship-like feeling Brazilians have of the USA and everything related to it.
What they don’t know is that the USA wants to keep Americans in America. That is undeniable. The USA refers to the World Cup and the World Series when the only ones actually playing American football are Americans. The rest of the world hasn’t an inkling it is being mentioned.
I am a court TV fanatic and watch loads of trials. Many times they say, the ‘world’ is waiting for the verdict when referring to national and state cases.
One could list a million ways of how Americans are brain washed into believing that there is nothing out there worth seeing.
Let me address those few people out there that put on their backpack and head for the remote mountains, towns and villages across the world to explore all the wonders out there, all that the world has to offer, all that Brazil has to offer. I bow to you and hope that you are also frustrated at how little Americans know and even think of exploring concerning other countries, cultures and traditions, specifically in the country which I love and want to grow old in, Brazil. I say this to you, so that you too can try in your own way educate those people and give them the chance to see what the world has to offer and see Brazil for what it really is.
Let them know that they need not be scared that they will be kidnapped, that they will die of food poisoning in some deserted hospital (that is free!) if they eat the native food, which is probably better that American food anyway. Shout out that São Paulo city alone has over 18 MILLION PEOPLE! That America is a peanut compared to Brazil and that if they believe that it is all barren land, thick forest, dirt roads and weird dark-skinned people carrying spears, they are so far from the truth it is not even funny.
I believe all countries have a good and bad side, including the USA and Brazil. I guess it is just a question of what one wants for oneself and ones likes and dislikes. Personally, I prefer Brazil as my country of residence. We all know what America has to offer; even people that have never been to America know this more than Americans living in America. But Americans don’t know what Brazil has to offer. They don’t know the good side, the side that travelers have seen for themselves.
My word of advice to Americans is that when you come to Brazil check out São Paulo, Bahia, Florianopolis in Santa Catarina state, Brasilia, Fortaleza in Ceara state, the Pantanal, and all the in-betweens. Don’t just focus on Rio and the so-called “vacation cities”. Brazilians are ready for tourists and in places where there is no tourist infrastructure, they improvise, which is what Brazilians do best. Try the food, it’s excellent. Don’t be scared. You have a greater chance of getting hit by a bus crossing the street in America or getting hit by a stray bullet than you do of being kidnapped and killed while on vacation in Brazil.
Unlike most people in developing countries, take advantage of the fact that you are lucky enough to have the means, the opportunity and support you need to be able to see the world… and Brazil.
Max was born in Philadelphia, raised in London, then back and forth to Brazil and the USA. His father was from São Paulo. He was a musician and singer, as is Max. Max lives in Florianopolis now and goes to the USA twice a year. In Brazil he has a band by the name of Miss Max and D-Black. He has traveled to many countries in his life with his father, and alone, and gets frustrated by how people from the USA never really mingle with the natives.
I couldn’t agree more. Brazil is a place of breathtaking beauty and the charm of its people is out of this world. I have been there twice – once for work (with the UN) on a 6-week stint in Brasilia, Niteroi, São Goncalo and, yes, Rio de Janeiro; the second trip was to go see about a girl. During my first trip I was particularly impressed by the positive attitude of folks in Rocinha and Cantagalho-Pavao-Pavazinho, two favelas that stand out like a sore thumb in Rio’s breath-taking landscape. Not that they had much going for them, but just being there shows you a whole new perspective of how others live and dream.
Brasilia was my home for many weeks, and despite the bad reputation it has for being a dismal place where the average Joe feels as lonely as a man on the moon, I found people’s friendliness to be the best antidote to what would otherwise amount to life in any other large city in the USA.
Brazil pra voce!
In reply to your newspiece; I found it very interesting; estou Carioca!
I once lived in Rio; in the great 70’s; married a Brazilian and worked for a Brazilian company! Led the life of a gringa in rio!
The only difference being that I married a very well educated but financially poor medico! The marriage didn’t last long but I learned the language; had an interesting life and still keep in contact with friends and family in Brazil!
I’m glad that I got to live there in the 70’s; not today, obrigada!
Excellent article! I am a Brazilian-born US Citizen who currently lives in Edmonton, Canada, but looking forward to going back to Brazil within the next 3 years.
I couldn’t agree more with Max.
I didn’t especially care for the author’s snotty tone, (and by the way it’s called the “Superbowl”, not the “World Cup”) but unfortunately, his portrayal of American society is mostly correct.
The thing is, as a Portuguese speaking American (not fluently, mind you) who’s spent almost 2 years off and on in Brazil, I don’t WANT all of the fat, pasty, ignorant, McDonald’s eating Americans (and most especially the hip-hop crowd) invading this country. I’ve already seen how they are transforming Costa Rica.
Keep up the good work, gringoes!
I’ve been a www.gringoes.com reader (and even contributor) for years. I was drawn to Max’s recent article on American ignorance regarding Brazil for a number of reasons, not least of which because: i) I’m American; ii) I lived in Brazil for ten years, teaching economics at a university in São Paulo; and iii) I’m well aware of the shortcomings of many of my fellow citizens when it comes to international affairs.
That said, I was truly dismayed that this article was nearly as ignorant and stereotypical as the author claimed that Americans are about Brazil, and the rest of the world in general. Generalizations are dumb no matter to whom they refer; and they demonstrate a lack of nuance and deeper understanding on a subject. In short, they reveal a person’s intellectual laziness to research a subject in more detail.
Why do I take such issue with this article? Let me enumerate:
1) Blatantly incorrect information
2) Promoting ignorant stereotypes
3) Its failed attempt to be tongue-in-cheek
For instance, let’s begin with some blatantly incorrect information. “.only 2 out of 10 Americans have a passport.” Actually, it’s 1 in 4 and will be 1 in 3 shortly, now that the US is requiring Americans to get a passport in order to reenter the country from many places that they do travel to, such as Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and parts of Central America. I’ve heard this claim before that Americans don’t travel internationally, but like most people around the globe, they tend to travel to nearby destinations, in part because, unlike many other countries, most Americans only have 2 to 3 weeks of vacation a year, and often can’t use it all at once.
Another false claim: “all Americans have the Internet at home.”. While undoubtedly there is much better access to the Internet in the United States than Brazil, it’s only in around 75% of homes and, as one would expect, tends to be used by family members under the age of 40. In a country of 300 million people, that leaves at least 75 million without Internet access, which is nearly half of Brazil’s population, and more people than the entire population of Great Britain.
Here’s a good example of promoting ignorant stereotypes: “I repeat: they [Americans] think that we, in Brazil, are still in the 70s!” This is just wishful thinking. First of all, perhaps 10% of Americans even saw “Cidade de Deus”, and most who did, saw it because they had been to Brazil, knew a Brazilian or were interested in Latin America in general. In short, this claim may apply to 0.0001% of the American population.
More misinformation: “When North Americans do decide to take the dive, I think 99.9% of them go to Rio”. Based on what? The last time that I looked at tourism statistics regarding Brazil, most Americans were actually going to São Paulo for business tourism more than anything else. In fact, the largest American expatriate population is (not unsurprisingly) in São Paulo, which leads to more Americans visiting there, if for no other reason than they have some connection and place to start their trip.
These are probably the two most idiotic phrases in this entire article (and that’s saying something!): “Most American women want a man to pay their mortgage, car, and to get their hair done. A Brazilian woman is happy just to be with you.” Can anyone say “misogynistic, misinformed, stereotypical and rude”? Enough said.
Here’s the author demonstrating his own ignorance about what the “World Series” is: “The USA refers to the World Cup and the World Series when the only ones actually playing American football are Americans.” Here’s a hint, Max – you play the World Series with a ball and bat (and it’s not cricket).
Another odd turn of phrase: “.That America is a peanut compared to Brazil.”. I’m not even sure what this means, but I can’t really think of any way in which it might be possibly true.
Here’s a statement that I really wish were true: “Brazilians are ready for tourists”. Unfortunately, having traveled extensively in Brazil, from Porto Alegre to Belem, and having brought my entire family to travel with me throughout the country over the years, I can categorically say that most of Brazil is not ready for any type of foreign tourists. That’s actually part of the reason why the country’s tourism industry suffers so much. Just ask Embratur, which is constantly lamenting the lack of investment in the sector.
And the kicker, to close things out: “You have a greater chance of getting hit by a bus crossing the street in America or getting hit by a stray bullet than you do of being kidnapped and killed while on vacation in Brazil.” What?????? Max, do you even live in Brazil? Because, having grown up in America, then spending ten years living in Brazil, I’m 100% sure that this is patently false. You unfortunately have a better chance of getting hit by a bus, a stray bullet, kidnapped and killed in Brazil than in most countries. It’s a shame, but true. Compare international statistics if you don’t believe me.
Oh yeah, and by the way, I’m from Pennsylvania, and we refer to our largest city as “Philly” not “Phili”. I’d assume that someone as worldly as Max would know that.
I truly hope that this type of journalistic refuse doesn’t make the editorial cut in the future.
Surprisingly there are some real truths in this article. I have friends and family that are in shock when I tell them how modern Brazil is. We have medical care here that rivals any medical center I have ever been to in the USA,
WE have decent roads, they’re not all dirt, there are taxi’s, subways, and buses, not everyone is poor. We have
airconditioning, there are even modern shopping centers, gasoline, alchohol, diesel, natural gas, way ahead of the USA in transportation. There are modern facilities everywhere most Americans I know are very ignorant about Brazil and this article was dead on. I enjoyed it very much.
I would like to say how much I enjoyed reading this article. Nothing in it I already didn’t know of course having been here in Rio for 6 years but it was nicely packaged. The notion of Rio as an island made me smile, I suppose she is almost one as Zona Sul is surrounded by water on 3 sides. Being a Scot living in Rio I am often called upon to clarify similar misconceptions, like the distinction between the English and British, and the Scottish and Irish. Incidentally I get the same questions from some educated US people as I do from your average Brazilian. Having come here to work originally, I am not one of those who married the beautiful mulatto, she herself seduced by the prospect of escape to a better life, however I have seen a number of my ex colleagues go down that path with mixed results. Despite the problems Brazil is still wondeful, exciting, frustrating, and puzzling. Most of my expat friends after weighing the pros and cons of residing here can think of no better place.