Over Half a Year Away


Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 11.10.27 AMI’ve been away from Brazilian life for over half a year now. Every time I have been away from Brazil for a short period, it seems like my last trip was a hundred years ago. I think this is because Brazil is a place that has to be lived and felt in order to be understood. Once you’re away from it, it’s like having woken up from a dream and only remembering bits and pieces.

One thing that’s pretty constant is what happens when I hear Brazilian Portuguese or encounter Brazilians in my day-to-day. There’s that instant familiarity and a strange sense that they’re somehow “my people”. As I’ve related here several times before, I grew up in many cities across the US and so I never saw myself as having a particular “people”, at least locally-speaking. That’s what’s weird, I suppose. Having lived all over Brazil, it usually doesn’t matter where a Brazilian is from because I can safely say, “oh, I’ve lived there (or near there),” and we can start talking. And because I’ve intentionally studied Brazil’s regional cultures, while never having really studied the intricacies of my own country’s culture, there’s that familiarity with Brazil that I kind of lack with the US. I’ve spent over half my life entrenched in the study of foreign cultures, and thus I’ve experienced the US from a mental distance.

Now that I’m back in a country where everyone speaks Portuguese, it’s pretty clear to everyone when I speak their language that I’m most likely a Brazilian. Before I’ve spoken, however, there’s the assumption that I’m an English-speaker because, with a neverending number of tourists here in Lisbon, most shop employees start off with English (this happens to my Brazilian girlfriend, too). That’s one of the other major differences between Brazil and Portugal, by the way, as here it seems most Portuguese people speak fluent English…and they have no problem with speaking it. In Brazil, I knew lots of people that even knew English but were too ashamed to speak it. I don’t know where that stems from. Danielle in Brazil touched upon this on her blog.

I’ve mentioned this talk before on my blog, but as the famous Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta once said (although, he was responding to an audience member’s question on the subject of patriotism), there are basically two Brazils, that of the State and that of Society [1]. Like in a Venn diagram, the two must overlap a little, rather than be separate, in order to have patriotism. Their actual separation parallels my feelings about Brazil having been more than six months away from it. Because of the State (ie, bureaucracy, politics and the effects of both), I’m totally fine being away from Brazil now. Because of the Society (culture, rhythm of life, way of living, etc), I long to embrace it once more. After all, underneath it all, I’m basically Brazilian.

[1] – video (for the anthropologists out there, in PT)

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