Oh, the joys of being Brazilian – we are all so warm, vibrant and easy (in every sense of the word)!
As positive and well-intentioned as these views may sound, they are also deeply condescending and patronising. The majority of us Brazilians want to shed the exotic layer and show our true colours to the UK and the world, devoid of old clichés.
So read on and find out more about the myths, the fallacies and the most irritating untruths that Brazilians living abroad have to fend off every day, and what it actually means to be Brazilian in the 21st century.
1) Life is a beach
We Brazilians wake up every morning, promptly wear our havaianas flip-flops and head to the beach, where scantly-clad, jolly and young females dance samba. Meanwhile, the males exercise their artistic skills by playing football. The sun shines, the waves break and the tropical birds sing incessantly, reminding us of our unrelenting energy and eternal joviality – this is more or less what life in Brazil is like.
The most shallow, short-sighted and vexing question that a foreigner can ask a Brazilian living abroad is: “oh my God, what are you doing here?” (with a stress on “what” and “here”), as if Brazil was an exquisite and unblemished paradise, entirely devoid of problems and afflictions, and which should never be abandoned. This question is normally combined with a raised eyebrow, a look of perplexity and a desire to show their (extremely scarce) knowledge of Brazil, and thereby to strike an instant friendship.
Dear foreigner, you are not displaying your interest and admiration for Brazil by asking such stupid and tiresome question. Instead, you are demonstrating your ignorance and lack of discernment.
Brazil is a developing nation with profound social, economic and politic wounds. Lower and middle-class Brazilians have to work very long hours and often take up multiple jobs in order to secure a remotely decent standard of living. There is hardly time to go to the beach and play football. Havaianas are now so expensive in Brazil that most people have to buy them in installments. And it rains there, too – heavy tropical torments!
Some foreigners still view Brazil through thick colonial glasses. They indulge in the escapist fantasies portrayed in films like Hitchcock’s Notorious (where the criminals escape to Brazil in search of an idyllic life), or lived out by Ronnie Biggs (the great train robber fled to Brazil after running away from prison). The result is a bizarrely twisted and preposterous image of Brazil, if positive and celebratory in intention.
2) Brazilians are sluts
Brazilian women are floozies, while men are vigorous stallions. Our females are readily available, even if they in a committed relationship. Sex in Brazil (or with Brazilians abroad) is as certain as dawn. A lot of Europeans view Brazil as a hedonistic paradise, and thence sex tourism is widespread in many parts of the country.
In reality, Brazilians are more prudish and sexually conservative than most Europeans. In Brazil, it is acceptable to be sensual but not to be sexual, particularly for women. Female promiscuity is invariably frowned upon.
I have written more extensively about the misconceptions surrounding Brazilian sexuality in my piece entitled “The Wild and rapturous Sex Life of Brazilians – or Not” (click here in order to read it).
3) Football is mandatory
A few months ago, a friendly and chatty Jamaican cab driver tried to engage in a conversation about football upon finding out that I was from Brazil. He exposed his views on the most famous players, their salaries and clubs in minute detail – despite my complete failure to interact. He was indifferent to my non-intelligible, hardly audible utterances of disinterest and carried on undaunted. I even put my earphones on, to no avail. He continued to show off his knowledge, convinced that I shared his devotion and excitement. After all, I am Brazilian.
I have never kicked a football, not even when the small kids from next door accidentally shot it my way. I don’t support any teams, neither in Brazil nor in Europe. And I think that the World Cup is a waste of time and money, in a country that has its priorities all wrong.
I am not alone in my thinking. In June this year, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in order to protest against our failed education, healthcare, justice and police systems. They expressed their indignation at the billions squandered on capricious whims like the World Cup and the Olympics. The nation slammed Pelé and Fat Ronaldo for suggesting that we should stop protesting and unite behind our football team instead.
4) Brazil is synonymous with Rio
While most people recognise that Brazil is a very big country, they do not distinguish between the 1,260km2 comprising the city of Rio de Janeiro and remaining 8,514,507km2 forming the rest of Brazil, in all of its richness and diversity.
Rio de Janeiro is neither the largest nor the richest city of Brazil. It is not the capital, either. It does not even host the largest street party in the country (and the world) – the Guinness Book bestowed the accolade on Salvador’s Carnival instead.
Yet most foreigners are unable to place Salvador on the map, or they mix it up with the Central American country (El Salvador). Few realise that Salvador (and the state of Bahia as a whole) has been the breeding ground for Brazilian music for at least 100 years. It was home to the likes of Dorival Caymmi, João Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa.
A few years ago Naomi Campbell attended Salvador’s Carnival. Nearly every newspaper in the UK published pictures with captions saying “Naomi goes to Salvador’s Carnival in Rio” or something to that effect, as if the old capital of Brazil was a district or a building complex in city of Rio de Janeiro. It’s more or less the equivalent to describing Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival as a Soho event.
São Paulo – the largest city of Brazil, the financial heart and probably the most cosmopolitan metropolis of South America – suffers a similar fate. Most people can’t even spell it. Nevermind the tilde (the funny accent on top of the first “a”). I have lost count of the number of times I have come across “Sao Paolo” and “San Paulo” in the British media, even in the more serious newspapers such as the Guardian and the Times.
Brazilians also have to put up with the power of Rio de Janeiro, as the largest TV network Globo and most of the soap operas are made in the “marvellous city” (Rio’s self-proclaimed title). They are forced to endure the sleazy, highly nasalised, meowy accent and the hedonistic, showy and celebrity ways of Cariocas (people from Rio) every day on national television.
5) We are bloodsuckers
“Foreigners are parasites sucking off the rich victuals and shaking off the firm virtues and foundations of British society. They’ve come here to spread prostitution, crime and disease, as well as to take away our invaluable jobs and to milk the benefit system. In short, they are the cause of all of our woes” – this is more or less the image that the Sun and the Daily Mail openly paint of immigrants in the UK.
The ultra-xenophobic vitriol distilled by the scum media has a very powerful grip on the British. While not specifically aimed at Brazilians, their unrelenting tirade against foreign workers has an impact on our reputation and morale.
There is a widespread belief that most Brazilians are illegal aliens, reinforcing the already prejudiced views against us. We are all lazy, opportunistic and underqualified workers, or gold diggers who aptly use our seduction skills in order to swoop down on the right prey (grab a rich spouse with a British passport).
The reality is quite different. The number of Brazilians in the UK has declined in the past five years or so (since the British economy crashed and Brazil began to take off). Most illegal immigrants have now returned to Brazil. Those left here are mostly qualified workers with a EU passport and the right to abide in the UK. Plus, the illegal immigrants tend to be very hard-working people performing tasks rejected by the British – they are your cleaners and couriers.
Brazil is neither hell nor paradise, and Brazilians are neither devils nor saints. We are a people rich with culture and resolute spirit, but also bogged down in profound socio-economic woes and individual conflicts.
Can you now separate the wheat from the chaff, and avoid the sycophantic “WHAT are you doing HERE?” and other exhausting clichés? We want to be seen as a multi-faceted nation in all of its complexity – not a one-dimensional stereotype.