Saturday, November 27, 2010

Let's clarify

Happy Thanksgiving!

The 25th was doubly significant since it also marks the four month mark of my trip, meaning I have a little over two weeks left in Brazil before I leave for Panama. It's been a very positive experience, and I'm going to miss it a lot.

This last week was my finals week, I only have a three-page poetic analysis left to do for Portuguese before I'm done with classes, and I think everything worked out fine in terms of school. I'll spend the rest of my time hanging out with people and finishing up the presentation I'll give on the sixth of December showing what I've found for my project in the economics lab. I will also being trying to figure out what exactly I did find during this period.

One of the difficult things about being abroad is knowing that there is a part of your personality that gets trapped in the cultural/language barrier present in the relationships between people of different countries. Learning to express oneself better and becoming more familiar with the foreigner's culture do a lot to diminish this effect; improved speaking abilities allow those who like to entertain to tell jokes and stories, or strange aspects that people just assumed to be individual peculiarities are discovered to be larger cultural characteristics. Nearing the end of my time here, the process of learning how to show people who I am has been one of the best, though challenging, parts of my experience. Yet despite the progress that has been made in this department, there are still some things that are stuck in that cultural "filter." The following are three points of confusion about me I think could use some explanation.

Point of Confusion: You were told that I was told that you live in the jungle.

Background: I mentioned a couple of months ago the rumor that Americans are taught that Brazil doesn't actually include the Amazon territory. Apparently, many people here have been told that we are taught that Brazilians literally live in the jungle, play with monkeys, and swing from vines. As a result, the American students are frequently asked if this is what we thought before coming here. I can understand the worry if this is what you've been told people from the United States think, though it does get a little tiresome on my end being asked a question that presupposes I didn't know anything about the country where I decided to spend a semester. Assuming that it were true, it would have been quite the surprise when I thought I was going to be going to school in a treehouse and live with rainforest animals but ended up living in a city with half a million people.

Clarification: I can't remember ever thinking that all Brazilians lived in the jungle.

Point of Confusion: You find my underwear flamboyant.

Background: Clothes dryers are a very American thing; and though I do miss the convenience of our appliances, airing drying clothes really isn't a big deal. One aspect of this system, however, is that you are frequently put up your entire wardrobe for everyone to appreciate. While this isn't weird for all the clothes that people see anyways, it can be a little awkward for the items people don't usually get to examine. I was never self conscious about my underwear until coming here, when my roommate's friend came over to the house and commented that my brightly colored collection of patterned boxers looked like "clown underwear." I had never thought about it before, but in the US men's underwear usually also has at least some sort of colorful pattern if not some other loud assortment of pictures or words. From what I can tell, I haven't asked to see my male friends' underwear while here, "clown underwear" is not as big of a deal here as it is in the States.

Clarification: My underwear is weird, but so is my compatriots'.

Point of Confusion: You think I look like Macaulay Culkin.

Background: This unfortunate association has been going on since my first night in Brazil. While crossing a street in Rio, we passed a group of about ten police men just hanging out and talking. After saying, "good evening" as we passed, one of the men pointed at my face and yelled "Macaulay Culkin!" We all then had a "conversation," which basically involved me standing there and a group of cops laughing and saying "Macaulay Culkin" over and over again. Another time, I was talking to some friends outside of the university restaurant, when someone said, "You really look like the guy from 'They Forgot Me.'" I had no idea what that meant, so then everyone clapped their hands to their face repeating, "They forgot me! They forgot me! They forgot me!"

Side note: "Esqueceram de mim" (They forgot me), is the Brazilian title for "Home Alone." When they translate movie titles here, they just end up coming up with a whole new title. I just looked up "Home Alone" on wikipedia in Portuguese, and in Portugal they say "Sozinho em casa" (Alone in home), so it's just a really weird Brazilian thing. Other weird examples of them doing this is for "The Hangover," which, despite having a word for hangover in Portuguese is called, "Se você beber, não case" (If you drink, don't get married) which just sounds like weird relationship advice. Even weirder, "Charlie's Angels" is called "As panteras" (the panthers), which makes literally no sense. It becomes really annoying when someone asks you if you've seen some movie, and despite understanding the title, you have no idea what they're referring to.

Anyway, I ended up finding out what "they forgot me" meant, and have been told this same thing since on several occasions since.

Clarification: You are mistaken.

Hope everyone had a great Turkey Day. We're having a dinner for our close Brazilian friends and relatives tonight to thank them for making our experience so great.

Feliz dia de ação de graças,


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