Gringoes is a website which provides a space for foreigners to comment on life in Brazil. Whilst many go there with honest intentions – certainly more so on the Facebook page – I think it’s fair to say that the site has developed somewhat of a reputation for providing foreigners with a forum in which to projectile-vomit expat bile.
Hyperbole perhaps? Maybe, although I suggest you view a forum posting from February in which someone catalogued 66 reasons why they hate living in Brazil. Fair enough, it was posted in the section called ‘Vent your frustrations’. However, its ferocity (and banality) prompted many impassioned responses (both for and against) and the thread currently stands at a length of 44 pages.
Mark Hillary, a British writer and blogger based in Brazil, responded by writing an article for the Huffington Post (and a few months later self-published a book with the same theme), in which he provided a more-balanced account of what it’s like to be a foreigner in Brazil. In it he also pondered why expats, particularly those who espouse a ‘hatred bordering on obsession’, continue to put themselves through the apparent misery of living abroad.
A few weeks ago, as the sun dipped beyond Embankment and shadows crept across the Thames, my wife and I strolled down the South Bank and across Waterloo Bridge, as we had done almost exactly five years before on her first ever day in London.
Back in 2008 the walk was part of a cunning plan I had devised, a plan whose primary objective was that she’d be seduced by London – the clincher being the views from the bridge of Westminster to the south and St Paul’s to the east. Seemingly, said plan worked because within a year she had moved there permanently.
Yet, skip forward five years and it was I who was now the besotted, gawking tourist – not with my wife, mind, but the views of London (it’s ok she probably isn’t reading). Initially I was taken aback by the sight, somewhere in the distance over by London Bridge, of the latest phallic addition to the city’s skyline – a now fully erect Shard. But, it was also as if, having spent 18 months away from home, that I was seeing the beauty of London afresh with new eyes – just as my wife had five years earlier.
At that moment, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be on such a beautiful, (mildly) warm summer’s evening than London. It was good to be home.
Mine is bigger than yours.
São Paulo’s diverse demographic means that it is relatively easy for an estrangeiro (foreigner) to go about their day without anyone noticing their non-Brazilianness (until they open their mouths that is). In fact, I’d say it would almost be impossible for anyone to stand on Avenida Paulista and consistently be able to spot gringos or other estrangeiros without being very quickly mistaken.
Perhaps, to my eyes at least, the only distinguishable ‘outsiders’ are those from the city’s growing Bolivian community, whom are recognisable by their distinctive indigenous features. Maybe this is because I became familiar (not in that way) with Bolivia’s largely indigenous (55%) and mestiço (30%) population when I travelled there in 2007, although for the unknowing I’m guessing you could probably mistake them for belonging to Brazil’s own indigenous population.
Indigenous Bolivians on one of Lake Titicaca’s Floating Villages (Photo by my good friend Maarten Smit).
Nevertheless, as a relatively unremarkable looking guy in the UK (pasty white, short, weedy, etc), the novelty of being ‘found out’ in Brazil still retains its charm – even after almost a year of living here.
One of my favourite things is when I speak English in public, especially when I’m in a crowded place or answering the phone. However, it’s not the speaking bit I enjoy (especially on the phone, which as a very self-conscious Brit I actually despise), but the reaction of people around me when I do.
Two things happened on Tuesday (18th) that made me think a bit about my status here in Brazil. Firstly, it was International Migrants Day, a UN ‘celebration’ which member states and NGOs are encouraged to observe through:
…the dissemination of information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, and through the sharing of experiences and the design of actions to ensure their protection.
Secondly, with a grand total of four votes (including one each from my wife and sister-in-law), my blog was deemed worthy of an “honourable mention” on an expat blog website.
What interests me are the different connotations the words ‘(im)migrant’ and ‘expat’ have in terms of immigration. This has been something that has bothered me for a while, not only because I’m living outside the UK, but also because the issue of migration has dominated most of my adult life – both professionally and personally. For example, apart from seeing my wife be subjected to ridiculously strict immigration controls in the UK, you may also be aware that prior to moving to Brazil I worked with asylum-seekers and refugees as a social worker. Continue Reading
How could one not miss this?
At the beginning of August, as I wallowed in a pitiful state of homesickness during the Olympics, I reached a significant milestone in Brazil – that of having lived in São Paulo for 6 months.
It was, of course, purely coincidental that the passing of this historic landmark occurred at the same time that I had my first serious longings for home. It also came as something of a surprise as the six months had seemingly flown by, although I can only take that as being a good thing.
At the same time though, it also had the effect of making me reflect upon all the the things I’ve learnt about São Paulo, Brazil and myself.
Some of which are…. Continue Reading