The warm welcome of Brazil
Many people mention how incredibly open and welcoming Brazilians usually are towards foreigners. At least if they are not paralyzed by their fear reflex. That is also my experience: Brazilians generally like to talk to foreigners, they are honestly interested in who you are and where you are from and what you do and what you think. And Brazil is a country where being a “gringo” is said without judgment but with some admiration. And when you talk to Brazilians you will soon be asked “How do you like Brazil?” Thiss is, when you should be careful and you are best advised to say something moderately positive. Don’t be too enthusiastic, because this will only show that you have no idea of what you are talking about, because many Brazilians like to hear that Brazil is a nice country, but they know about the big problems it has. Also don’t be critical, since you are a foreigner you are not seen as a person who has the right to criticize. This is especially hard, because you will hear Brazilians themselves complain all the time and talk bad about their country. But don’t do the same. It’s a complex issue and I will try to explain a little bit, where this comes from.
The Brazilian minority complex
I am not afraid to answer the question, how I like Brazil, because in general I think a lot more positive about Brazil than many Brazilians. Many Brazilians share a minority complex and usually claim that Brazil might be a beautiful country, but it is full of problems (health and education system, crime, corruption etc.) that nobody cares about. The missing infrastructure in the city? That’s Brazil. Did you hear all the critique before the World Cup, that Brazil is a country which simply can’t manage a big event like this? Yes there was a despicable amount of corruption involved but the World Cup turned out wonderful and many foreigners even thought it was one if the best organized events in the last years. But not many people in Brazil seemed to hear that. Often people describe the problems of this country and end with a disappointed sigh: “That’s Brazil”. You’ve just met a moderate Brazilian.
The Brazilian self loathing
One day I was having an individual class at my English school with an upper middle-class woman in her late forties. She didn’t work because her husband has a very good income, she could easily afford to travel abroad several times a year. She lived on the sunny side of Brazil, a country in which many people live in poverty and suffer from hunger. And where the lower middle-class generally struggles to make ends meet. But this woman was not happy about her life, on the contrary. “I really, really, really hate this country”, she told me forcefully and she added: “I hate it, I hate it. If I had the chance, I would leave it immediately.”
I was shocked, but I tried to understand. What made her hate her country? It turned out that it was mainly the criminality, because her family had been subject to multiple robberies, theft and in the end they had to move out of the town they loved and to the rather boring Santos. Because of safety reasons. She hated her country because she can’t live the way she wanted, even though she had the financial means to do it. And she is not alone with this, I talk to many people who think similar, maybe not quite that extreme, but similar. The person at the Ministry of Labour just looked at me in disbelief when I went there to pick up my work permit, and he said: “everybody is trying to get out of this country, and you want to get in. Are you crazy?”
The soundtrack of Brazil – Things to hate about Brazil
Of course even these “hateful” Brazilians don’t hate everything about Brazil. The country is ridiculously beautiful, people can be overwhelmingly open and friendly (but also the contrary, very selfish and cold), there are more beautiful beaches than tourist destinations in Germany (just kidding, but close), there is the important and strong bond inside a Brazilian family, there are soap opera and football and many more things to like and to be proud of. But many important things are bad and most Brazilians will agree with you in a heartbeat: infrastructure is bad, public health services is for free but often in disastrous condition. There is crime, a constant annoyance and a real everyday threat. Police on the other hand is regarded unreliable, justice biased or favoring the rich and politicians either corrupt or incompetent. An incredible amount of conversations in the real life or in Facebook or other social is in this tone with little hope for change. This is not what I think, but what I’ve heard many people say, over and over and over again. It is one of the soundtracks, when living with Brazilians.
The strangest part of this “hate talk” for me is the feeling of detachment that many of these people show. They talk about Brazil and Brazilians, about the world they live in and that they are surrounded by as if they were not part of it. And maybe that is even true and there is a great gap between the political and the economical parts of the country, and the people who life in it. Because for me it makes absolutely no sense to complain about political corruption and then vote these corrupt politicians into parliament again. Two other students of mine have offered explanations for this: “Brazilians are egoistic, they always think in themselves (and maybe their family) first.”
Stay positive a sa foreigner
Things are difficult in Brazil. Many Brazilians are capable of being incredibly proud of their country and talk very bad about it in the next moment. As a foreigner it is tempting to fall into this trap and talk the same way. Because the social injustice in this incredibly rich country is humiliating, the crime a constant and annoying threat, the corruption a disgrace. But even when you hear many stories about how bad Brazil is and if some Brazilians ask you to agree with them about their country, when they want to reinforce their negative image of Brazil, my advice is: don’t start to talk bad about Brazil the way many Brazilians do it. Because as a foreigner you are not entitled to do so. Period. You don’t understand everything. And you might offend someone without knowing it. So say something nice, focus on the good aspects, don’t agree with the Brazil-bashing, it shouldn’t be hard, because this country has a lot to offer. Only sometimes you might get tempted to forget that.