Monday, April 28, 2008

Never Read Your Own Press!

Never read your own press. I've heard celebrities claim that this is the best advice they were ever given. Despite not being at all famous or an important person whatsoever, I am still starting to think that maybe that is good advice for me too!

When I first started my blog, I decided right away not to tell any of our friends down here in Brasil about it. First off, because it is a journal of my experiences, I wanted to be able to write freely about the things I see and do and my reactions to them. Secondly, while I may try to be funny and my target audience (family and friends back home) will get it, sometimes my sense of humor is strange, my sarcasm is sometimes hard to pick up (especially in written form and when it isn't in your first language - speaking from my own experience here!), and if you know me well, then you know I write like I talk and it all makes more sense. Anyway, it just seemed better if I knew my Brasilian friends weren't reading my blog!

Since I started this thing, it has picked up a lot more readers than I ever imagined would be interested in reading about what I have to say. And there have been a good number of Brasilians living both here and abroad that started to follow my posts. At first, I was really concerned that I would be offensive with my "gringa" observations, but I have received some really helpful advice and insight from my Brasilian readers. And while they don't always share my same sentiments on all issues, I feel like most of them are at least respectful of the fact that this is my personal journal of my personal experiences! (You know, that I happen to publish openly and freely on the world wide web . . . but that's really beside the point!)

I noticed on my stat counter this weekend that I was getting more traffic from Brasilian IP addresses in the last few days. I found out that one website was linking over to my site, and I was curious how my blog address ended up there. I clicked the link and realized my thoughts and blog were a topic of controversy on a Latin American forum. (I also was slightly freaked out to see pictures of my apartment pasted up there, but I've since pretty much gotten over that part.) As I read what people were saying, I started feeling a little bit like a middle school girl who overhears her friends discussing what they love/what they hate about her. While the whole thing started off very positive by someone simply sharing something they had read about an American's first impression of apartments here, there was an equal amount of annoyance with a foreigner's criticism. Sort of a "hey if you don't like it, go home!" attitude.

I have never been too much of one to worry about what people think. Besides the basics of abiding by proper etiquette and good southern-belle protocol, I have always sort of enjoyed just doing my thing and not worrying about whether or not everyone likes it. But as I started reading (first off I was amazed at how literate I became in Portuguese when I really wanted to read it), I have to admit that my little feelings were a smidgen hurt. Comments like (just roughly translated here, not word-for-word) "they should leave and stop taking advantage of our country" and "if they want an American lifestyle, why are living in Brasil?" and "they need to learn to adapt to the culture they are living in" and "all she does is highlight and pick on our poor roads and favelas" and "why is it that she can't see that there are advantages to living here too" sort of stung a little to someone who thinks she is appreciative of the local culture, the chance to learn a new language, and the welcoming arms of the Brasilian people who have embraced her and her husband from the first day they stepped on Brasilian soil! Granted, the people who seemed to have taken the time to read through more than just one entry on my blog really stepped up in my defense, but it is always the negative stuff that sticks with you, right?

I felt like some of my comments were taken out of context, like when I talked about how tiny the apartments in our price range were in the Belvedere neighborhood (didn't they see where I was so excited to find Lourdes, the older part of town where we ended up living that had lovely spacious apartments?) Or when I wrote about how expensive some things quite common to American lifestyle were here in Belo Horizonte (didn't they see that was for comparison's sake only and didn't they notice the numerous times I've bragged about the super inexpensive manicures and fresh fruits?) I really like living here . . . don't I convey that in my writing even when I am frustrated with the police or saddened by the poverty or shocked at the cost of cars? Wouldn't a Brasilian have some culture shock moments the first time they went to the grocery store in the US and realized that 1 single lime would cost more than entire pound of limes here in Brasil!?!

And then I got over myself and said (just in my head, not out loud, I don't talk to myself normally), "Hey, they are entitled to their opinion! Just put on your big girl panties and get over it!" But then I had one of the thoughts that I have so very often as a foreigner living in a new country: if the situation were reversed and I was reading the comments a foreigner made about living in the United States, what would my reaction be? Isn't the usual American attitude something along the lines of: What, you don't like our country? Well, please don't let us stop you from going on back home! I like to think that I would have read a foreigner's account of adjusting to the US and been able to understand their frustrations and appreciate the differences they point out. But I can't really be sure of what my thoughts would have been before living in this current situation.

Living abroad changes you, changes your perspectives, and changes the way you think. (I mean, already I am thinking it is perfectly acceptable to wear bikinis in public that are better suited for a twelve year old. HA!) But seriously, I don't think there is any other experience that opens your mind more than this. Really, coming here was the best decision of my life (besides marrying my hubby, maybe!)

If you read Portuguese and you want to read what others had to say (because there is nothing wrong with reading someone else's press, right?) check it out by clicking here. I am first eluded to in post #10.

13 comments:

Julie said...

Hi Emily! I stumbled across your blog one day, and I really enjoy reading about your experiences in Brasil. I visited Rio de Janeiro for 10 days last June, and I am returning for 6 weeks this summer. Definitely looking forward to that!! :) I read some of the comments on the forum, and I particulary liked the one that said, "they thought the apartments are so small, because they didn't find a California mansion in Belvedere?" hahaha I had to laugh at that...simply because of the ignorance. I was glad to see that some people on the forum were defending you though. You are adjusting to a totally different culture, and it is just natural that you will come across things that are strange and different. When I went into a grocery store in Rio last summer, I was craving "Cheez-Its" like crazy! So, I finally found some, and I got super excited. Then I realized they were R$19,99!! At the time, that would have been around 10 U.S. dollars, which is way more than you would normally pay here. Sometimes it's the small things like this that catch you off-guard.
beijos,
Julie

AcesHigh said...

Thats very sad Emily and I feel very sorry for it.

I was the one that posted the link on that site. Actually, its an international forum about architecture and urbanism, but the link was posted on the brazilian section of that forum.

I assure you that it was my best intention when I posted the link, because I REALLY LIKE YOUR BLOG. Its very insightul about many things. I thought people would think it quite interesting and discuss it in a lighthearted tone, about how foreigners see some things we take for granted. Like the toilet paper in the trash can issue, lol.

I never thought some of those jingoist nationalist kids would react in such stupid manner. When I posted the link it was in fact for the request of another person that liked to read expat blogs.


As soon as we noticed the way people were BASHING YOUR blog, most of them without even READING IT (!!) we deleted the link to your blog from that site.

I am TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY sorry by the nasty comments you got there. Unfortunately, this kinda of stupíd nationalism that cant accept criticism or even honest opinions and impressions (that they dont share) about their country isnt restricted to brazilians. Have seem it among americans, chinese, british, mexicans, etc.

PLEASE, DO NOT stop your blog because of a handful of hateful teens that have non-solved issues and need a shrimp.

I will ask a moderator to delete ALL POSTS related to your blog on that particular thread, as well as to lock the thread.


Again, all I can say is I am very sorry. I love your sense of humor and your sarcasm is quite funny and lighthearted. Dont let a few badmouthed people stop your excellent writing.


And again... SORRY :(

Emily said...

aceshigh, Thank you for your concern and the nice compliments. Seriously, it didn't bother me one bit that you referenced my blog or the comments you made. At first some of the other commenters upset me, but, like I said, I got over that. I really don't mind people disagreeing with me, it mostly just upset me initially that I wasn't being understood. There were some very good points on that thread and several people had kind comments after reading my blog too. I didn't post this because I was mad or anything; it really just made me think, once I reflected on it a little, about how people (my old self included maybe) view foreigners in their country. If anything, I think it just brought to light a closed-mindedness that some people all over the globe can sometimes posses! It's always good to try and see someone else's perspective, you know? And anyway, after the inital shock factor wore off, I did find a lot of the comments entertaining in their ignorance! ;)

No apologies needed, really!!!

Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments you have left on our blog! Abraços! :)

Aline said...

Hi Emily,
Don't feel discouraged. Sometimes people will make negative comments without knowing the real meaning of being a foreign. I did and still have some cultural shock here in U.S...even though I have been living here the past four years.
PLEASE, keep posting I really love reading your blog and see that I am not alone in this whole cultural thing.
Have a great and fun week!

Thelma said...

Emily, we can find close minded people everywhere. Your experience is being written in this blog and it's YOURS! If people don't agree with it, just ignore it.

Keep the good work! Your blog is awesome and very entertaining. :-)

Bruno said...

Well... That all sucks...

I´m also from that forum (Bruno BHZ, the one asking people to "LEIA O BLOG!" before).

Bem... agora em português hehe Acho que o ponto principal é esse mesmo: as pessoas estavam reclamando sem ao menos ler o blog! Então, 90% do que você viu ali, desconsidere! O mais "reclamão" já retrocedeu, depois de ler um pouco! E, mesmo assim, como bati na tecla algumas vezes lá, você tem o direito de falar o que quiser. Suas experiências e sua vida, qual o direito de alguém de fora tentar limitar o que você escreve em seu blog pessoal?

Nacionalismo existe em qualquer país, mas acho que duas coisas deixam os brasileiros muito "na defensiva" em relação a críticas de estrangeiros. Primeiro, a falta de convívio com estrangeiros, em boa parte do país. BH é o caso clássico: uma cidade com 5 mihões de pessoas onde dificilmente se vê um, é algo que não faz parte do dia-a-dia. Não há imigrantes ou qualquer grande colônia. Isso nos deixa desacostumados, despreparados para essa situação de ver alguém de fora comentando sobre nosso país. E, para complementar, um certo complexo de inferioridade. O brasileiro sempre acha que o Brasil não é levado a sério lá fora, não é respeitado pelos estrangeiros, e todo "gringo" só sabe os clichés. Você pode falar 100 coisas boas, diferentes e interessantes, mas ao comentar da coisa "ruim", o brasileiro enfurece porque você está "reforçando preconceitos". Daí reclamações do tipo "Ela não tirou fotos de prédios modernos!" LOL. Veja o quão nonsense é reclamar uma coisa dessas!! LOL

Teste: Demonstre espanto com uma favela na frente de um amigo brasileiro e veja o desconforto e a "raiva" da pessoa hehe

Anyway, that´s how internet is... ;-)
Não temos controle de quem nos lê. Bem, deve ser meio "annoying" essa aparição repentina de um monte de gente de outro site...

Ps: Just one thing: the "Californian mansion" thing is an internal joke in that forum, so at least some of the comments talking about "Californian mansions" weren´t really made to you.

Good luck, and keep writing! The best parts are exactly the ones where you talk about what you like, what you miss, what you find strange or different!

Bru said...

The best thing you have to do is really ignore these people. They probably never got their a$$€s out of Brazil, they don't understand what is culture shock and how amazing and interesting it is to discover another country. Close minded people. They are the ones who have to get over themselves.

DRL said...

Hi Emily, I can relate a little bit (although my blog is somewohat anonymous so it is not as scary) as I have received a bit of backlash from a few Brazilians lately but I think you have the right attitude!

Still it stings when people don't realize what you are trying to do is point out the differences because they are fascinating, a study in sociology, logistics, human nature... and documenting these differences in a blog is incredibly helpful for other expats considering coming to Brazil to understand what it's like here. Not to hurt anyone's feelings or pride. Obviously we are all here by choice and we love it here but there are struggles, and they make for great stories.

I read part of the comments on the blog and found some of the comments of your defenders to be heartwarming, particularly those about your husband's contributions to the Brazilian economy, bringing his expertise here. It is refreshing to see such a positive attitude towards what foreigners can bring to Brazil rather than the assumption that we are all just here to "take"... All we can do is hope we can all leave this counry a little bit better than the way we found it, as we would hope to in any community we were part of.

I love your blog as well!

Laural said...

People wouldn't travel the world if it was all the same. It's the differences that delight us. And it’s the differences that we are inclined to write about.

Never once have I read anything on your blog that has even hinted at criticism. In fact, I've been so impressed with your ability to write about all the new, different things you've encountered (because, hello, you're in a totally different culture!) with such respect and neutrality, and often with the excitement of discovery.

It's unfair to expect someone to go to a new culture, especially to live, and not only love every single thing about it, but to not notice that there are any differences. Writing that there isn’t any maple syrup in BH is in no way implying that you hate Brasil. My goodness. Every country is different, and every country will have pros and cons based on where a person comes from. It’s human nature to compare experiences. And it’s fascinating to read about.

You have done an amazing job of showing the cultural differences between the States and Brasil, and your related experiences, without appearing critical or ethnocentric. Kudos to you for that!

rmello said...

Hi Emily! I am here to say SORRY about the terible things I said about you without even having read your blog. I am the one who said the bad things you mentioned. I am so sorry about how pre-judiced I was.

My mistake was to make these comments without readind your blog. I just saw a small part of the pictures posted(the ones that show our bad condition highways) and didnt read almost nothing. I imagined that u were only one more american that uses to say ONLY bad things about Brasil. It´s common to watch in international news, only Brazilian favelas, drugs traffic, etc.I thougth u were one more pre-judiced "tourist". Acting like this, the pre-judiced was me.

Reading carefully your blog, I realised that your aim is just to show the DIFFERENCES between Brasil and USA. You showed Brasil like it really is, not only the bad things, but also the good ones.

Please, don't stop posting news just because of my comments, OK? And one more time, I am TERIBLY sorry about the damage I made. Unfortunately, all I can do as man is coming here say SORRY.
Best wishes

Emily said...

rmello, I appreciate your honesty and you coming over here to apologize. That is very noble of you! No worries, okay? I agree the international publicity Brasil gets isn't always real flattering! I mean, some bad stuff exists here (as it does in all parts of the world!), but the good certainly out weighs the bad, and that is never portrayed in the media (anywhere?) Thanks for giving me another read and taking the time to understand my position!

To EVERYONE, thank you so much for all the support and positive comments! I really have fun blogging my thoughts and experiences, and it is a pleasure to hear from those of you who enjoy reading from time to time as well! (And btw, I'm not such a pansy that I can't handle criticism! This particular instance just really got to me the other day!) Abraços e beijos! :)

wondering ego said...

After reading all these comments and apologies I came to a conclusion! There is HOPE for humanity!

(From wOndering Ego, one of your first brazilian readers who deleted like 3 of his own comments when he came to the conclusion that he was being too much defensive in relation to his beloved country-Patria Amada Brasil!)

Ray Adkins said...

Emily,


I am a Brazilian living in the US, and I totally understand what you and Eric are going throught.
You are a great couple, you are beatiful, not just physically, but you two are ultra smart, super positive and I believe with that attitude towards life you will only keep atracting great positive things towards you.
I am totally hooked on your blog, I can't wait to hear more of your adventures in Brazil.
I love you writing style, you enable the reader to relive the experience with you.
Just an example: I had visited the "cidades historicas" before, it was one of my all time favorite trips, and I didn't know about the gold mine, I am going back now to visit the mine and would love to catch the "organ concert", please let us know if you ever make it to the "organ concert" in Mariana.
Back to the post, you have nothing to worry about when you write frustating things or bad things here, because this blog is about you! not about the universal truth regarding this or that...
Your writting style allows you to describe the "bumps on the road", the negative stuff as a detail and you don't allow that to take over your story and that is great.
To give you an example, there is a Blog at Gringoes.com that is the exact opposite from your writting style, it is called "adventures of Greg and Cath", please don't get me wrong, I have nothing against them...they appear to be a lovely couple from New Zealand and Australia, but honestly by reading their blog entries you end up taking out of it only a negative feeling, a derogatory attitude towards Brazilian, they mention third world country every chance they get and can't stop mentioning how clean and civilized New Zealand and England are and how poor and dirty and uncivilized Brazil is...maybe is not the intention, but Greg's writing style leaves that bad impression after reading it...
Totally the opposite from you, you are "de bem com a vida", in other words, "at peace with life" not bitter at all, the negative comments don't take over the description of your adventures, they remain what they were supposed to be, just details of your experiences...
Palmas para voce e para o Eric.
We did the same thing in the states as you did in Brazil, we dove head first into the culture, and we LOOOOVE your country, we are enjoying every minute in the beautiful US Of A, we are in Rhode Island but have been transfered around quite a bit, to be more specific: Dallas,TX, Boston,MA, Providence,RI, Miami,FL, Tampa,FL and now back in beautiful Rhode Island.


Keep up the great writing


Ray Adkins