Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Does "what if . . ." have any merit?

(I hate to generalize in reference to an entire population, but I'm going to have to today to avoid the use of "not all, but the majority or at least a large majority of" three million times in order to make my point here. I am entirely aware of the fact that generalizations breed stereotypes and there is no way to make broad, sweeping statements and have them true for every person. So please begin reading with this in mind, okay? It's just my experience. I know there are plenty of exceptions!)

The Brasilians are going to cause me to have a heart attack at the tender age of 26. I kid you not. The laid back, mellow, don't-worry-too-much Brasilians are taking years off my life. And it's not because I am an obsessive over-planner either. (I've actually been doing pretty good backing off my always-gotta-have-a-plan way of life.) The lack of "what if" question analyzation on the part of the Brasilians is causing me to play out all the "what ifs" for each and every person around me. And it is starting to stress me out! And beyond that, some of the consequences from the lack of forethought have really been wearing on me.

I'm not naturally a worrier. But the lack of worry on everyone else's part has made me feel the need to worry for them. And in a city of dang near 5 million people, that's a heck of a lot of worry to take on!

Here are some common examples of why I may need to hefty supply of Xanax before it is all said and done:

-I am on the city bus. A bunch of young school kids (8-12 years old maybe) get on the bus. Despite there being seats available, they all stand on the steps of the bus and lean against the doors. The bus is flying through town zipping around curves, and the kids are leaning on the doors. In my mind, I'm playing out the what if those doors swing open? scenario and have an overwhelming desire to order the kids away from (or at least off of) the doors. No one else seems concerned; I sit at the very edge of my seat ready to jump and grab the youngins if any of them start to tumble out of the speeding bus.

- Eric and I are driving through Belo Horizonte with moderate traffic in our three westbound lanes. We are in the second lane from the right. A car comes up beside us on our left, passes us, and then proceeds to make a hard right turn across two lanes of traffic to take the road perpendicular to ours. We slam on brakes to avoid hitting the driver, who never evens looks our way. The motorcycle in the far right (turning) lane makes his right turn and is tagged by the car making the turn from the left lane. The motorcyclist somehow manages to keep his bike upright; my heart misses a few beats.

- We are at softball practice. There is a guy at home plate getting some batting practice while the rest of us field the hit balls. A couple people are standing on the field having a conversation with their backs towards the batter. A line drive comes flying towards their heads and I yell "BOLA!" hoping to get their attention and keep them from getting knocked out. The ball barely misses them, they look at me, give me a thumbs up, and then calmly return to their conversation with backs still turned to the batter; it takes me several seconds longer before I start breathing again.

- I am walking to class. A car parallel parks on the right side of a narrow street. The driver swings open his door to get out, never even looking to see if there is traffic coming behind him. Just behind him, a motorcycle is passing a car on the right side, even though there is only one lane of traffic on the narrow one way street. The motorcycle nearly slams into the open car door and the guy getting out of his car. No one looks even slightly phased by the almost really bad situation; I gasp as my eyes bug out of my head.

And then there are the pedestrians who casually cross the street in front of cars, assuming the drivers see them and are going to slow down. Or the red lights people run, never even slowing down to look for oncoming traffic that might be oh, you know, driving through the green light. And then there was the time I watched as another American frantically grabbed a little kid who was trying to shove a fork into an electrical outlet and the parents of the kid (who had been sitting back and watching the whole thing) were like, "what?" Then there are things like the construction worker I once saw using a tall ladder on a steep hillside by himself: he had the downhill side of the ladder propped up on an upside down bucket made level with a cinderblock.

But it all came to a head yesterday as I witnessed a bright yellow motorcycle come flying down the hill next to my apartment and pick up speed when we saw the light at the bottom turn red. Just as he was almost to the bottom of the hill, a car on the other side of the intersection decided to use the red light as an opportunity to back out into the street from a driveway. The motorcyclist came cruising really fast through the red light, the oncoming traffic sat at their green light and waited for him to pass, but he couldn't stop in time for the car that was backing out. He laid down his bike, which ended up underneath the car; he was extremely lucky and only ended up with a bad case of road rash. Meanwhile, I am pretty sure I suffered some serious damage to my cardiovascular system.

Accidents happen everywhere, I'm not about to say that they are limited to here. But holy cow! I witness so many more potentially dangerous situations on a daily basis that never seem to occur to those around me. I am really starting to wonder if those I live among ever, ever think through a situation and say to themselves, "hmmm, what if . . ." Or maybe they do and they are just such optimist that they only play out the positive outcomes and ignore the negative ones. I don't know really. But I do know that my little heart can't hardly take anymore of this! Not to mention I'm really starting to feel like a worry wart and pessimist of the strongest variety! It’s just not my style at all really.


Justin said...

For some reason, every time I rode in a car with a brasileiro, they would always turn to me after a few minutes of driving and, with a quizzical expression, say something like "Está com medo?" (for the non-Portuguese speakers, this means, "Are you afraid?") Usually this occurred right after passing someone on a blind curve or speeding through a red light. My white knuckles and wide eyes must have given it away.

Rachel said...

I always feel this way with kids. Sometimes I can't believe that parents would let their kids do certain things, or just let their kids go out and do stuff on their own. Luckily I haven't seen as many near accidents as you have, but I still get very nervous!

bruno said...

The softball one was hilarious LOL

Ray Adkins said...


I can asure you, what you are experiencing sounds more related to a 5 million people city chaotic coexistence than a Brazilian thing.
I work in Manhattan and witness several of your examples on a daily basis, I also went to school in San Francisco in the 90s and it was the same thing there...
I use to be as panicked as you in the beginning...
You will never get used to the craziness of big cities, but it will most definitely get better over the years...


Elaine Myers said...

Emily, it's normal, I mean, it shoul not be normal, but it is a normal thing for us brazilians to do... now that I live in the USA and learned how to be more careful, when I go back to Brazil to visit my family I just go nuts. It's motorcycle guys driving like crazy between cars, through red lights... people don't seem to care. In my family me and my brother were always taught to "predict" something. And always be careful. DOn't think you are crazy, they (we, brazilians) are.
Its better for you to keep worrying, this way you will avoind lots of bad things by predicting them.

Elaine Myers said...

oops, I meant AVOID and not avoind...

Corinne said...

The traffic is a big city AND Brazilian thing (and my husband would contend MINEIRO thing), you just can´t get used to it (or at least I have stopped trying). I´ll never forget an American professor who visited the university a couple years ago asking while driving with a colleague of mine "doesn´t PARE (on the sign) mean stop?" When the Brazilian prof said "yes", the American said "well, why don´t you ever stop?". The Brazilian just laughed (and continued to run the stop signs).

I am always amazed at the lack of planning in general by Brazilians. When I talk about my 10 year professional goals with colleagues they look at me like I just smoked a lot of crack!! But, when you are dealing with a legacy of dictatorship and hyperinflation of 40% a month, I can see why Brazilians are not used to planning. It is only since 1994 that Brazilians have really been able to buy on credit for decades and you never know when the government is going to renig on agreements or opportunities, even now with the relative economic security. As an example, a few years ago the National Defense Secretary cancelled a call for grants the day before the deadline. Could you imagine NIJ or NFS doing something like that?

My advice is to worry about what you have control over and just take a deep breath for the rest...

Lori - Blondie in Brazil said...

We experience the same things here and Maringa is only at 300K. :) The door thing gets me the most. People don't squeeze out of the door when they are parked on the street, they swing it wide open, traffic or not - every time!

I would have freaked out seeing the accident though. We live on an intersection and have heard that nauseating crunch one too many times.

Stopmeans honk here. Apparently if you honk and keep going it is the other persons responsibility to hear the honk and stop for you even though you have an actual stop sign and they don't.

Very interesting stuff corinne. It is good to get explanations about things. Most people I talk to around here can't explain the why, but you know there has to be a reason for most things.

Crystal said...

I've had the same white-knuckle syndrome since I got here. My husband (who I always thought was a little bit of an aggressive driver) is so tame compared to everyone here. And even worse, his cousin is staying with us to help me out by driving for me and helping me buy things if I get stuck. I love him, but he is BAD, even by Brazillian standards. He doesn't know tons of English, but he learned how to say, "Calm down Crystal" about every other block when I cover my eyes or check with my kids that they have their seatbelts on.

Xanax Side Effects said...

My name is Wendy Angus and i would like to show you my personal experience with Xanax.

I am 45 years old. Have been on Xanax for 2 years now. In working with a wonderful doctor and therapist, I have learned Meniere's Disease is an anxiety=provoked condition, and is the worst thing I have ever suffered in my life. To manage this, I take a low dose of Wellbutrin everyday and have a 1mg Rx for Xanax, which I am supposed to take 3x-a-day, but to be honest, I usually only take about 3-1mg a week, so only taking it when I honestly feel "too anxious". I also take Meclizine for the Meniere's attacks and those are only as needed as well. I feel the Xanax is better to have around than not, for my personal conditions. It took me a long time to balance out my meds, and taking too much xanax feels as horrible as the withdrawl can be, as I've experienced both. Now, after much time in getting to know what my body needs and how I am feeling (like with anxiety), and removing the 'stigma' of having to take a drug to manage my conditions is now over, taking just a few pills a week seems to work beautifully.

I have experienced some of these side effects -
It makes me very thirsty (dry mouth) but seems to work well in combination with other drugs for my conditions with no ill effects.

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Wendy Angus