Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Little About Brazilians

Shawn and Charlotte experience Futbol the Brazilian way at Maracanã Stadium

First of all, the country of Brazil is about the same size as the continental U.S. They are the largest country in South America and walk a fine line of being very typical of and also very distinct from the rest of the continent. They have the Latin American sense of time and relaxed schedules, being Polychronic in their sense of time stresses involvement with people and completion of transactions rather than adherence to a preset schedule. For the people of this continent, the future is not firm and therefore cannot be planned. Appointments can be broken and plans may be changed right up to their execution. They are interested in nature and clapping at the sunset. These are commonalities they share with other Latin American countries. At the same time, they seem intent on remaining unique and apart from the Spanish-speaking world. Brazilians are very proud of their country and find unity in their common patriotism.

A man we encountered in Jardím Botánico, Manoel Amorím, who spent 10 years in the U.S. where he attended Harvard Business School and then became Country Manager for Proctor & Gamble Venezuela, and is the current CEO of Ponte Frio, told us that Brazil was too big and Brazilians were too diverse to try and label them all. He said that there are 3 things all Brazilians everywhere have in common.

Number one was soccer. “If there is a World Cup or National Team game playing,” he promised us, “You can go to the busiest street in town and lay down in the road without any fear.” Unfortunately, club teams are just beginning their regular playing seasons right now, so we will be unable to test his assertion during our stay in Rio.

Number two was national pride. He said that all Brazilians agree that they are part of a great country with an exciting culture. Just don’t force them to define which culture that is.

Number three was not given to me by sr. Amorím during our discussion, but I have used my intuition to deduce what it could be: Brazilians love babies.

At the end of my first week in Rio de Janeiro, my wife and our 8-month-old baby girl flew down and to join me for the rest of our residency. During my first week here, I had only limited interactions with the local residents. By “limited” I mean they spoke to me when they were spoken to. The Brazilian people never initiated conversation with me and seemed content to let me wander their country in my own Gringo universe.

This all changed when I was carrying my chubby-thighed, blonde-haired and blue-eyed little girl. People came from half a block away sometimes, children dropped what they were doing, old women crossed the street, and parents of other babies were drawn to us as if by a magnet. We had no lack of attention when we had our baby with us. On more than a few occasions, as I waited to cross the street, I found the person next to me holding onto the hand of or squeezing the little thighs of my daughter while she hung against me in my arms.

I embarrassed myself several times by attempting to respond to an enthusiastic “Oi!” from a local, only to realize that the greeting was not directed at all to me, but to the baby in my arms who is yet to say her first word in English, let alone make any reply in Portuguese. A favorite episode of our experience here in Brazil will be the lady in the Hippy Fair that labored to find a translator when we were unable to understand time and time again the words that she was saying to us about our baby. An exhaustive and stressful search finally yielded an individual capable of translating her missive. And what was this all important, cross-cultural communique? “Your daughter should be on the cover of a magazine." --Shawn Butler
This is Tiny Baby Charlotte in Rio saying, "Well, Of Course I Should."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Clapping At the Sun

I believe that the Cariocas (what the people here in Rio de Janeiro call themselves) epitomize the Hispanic idea of polychronic time. Hoffstede’s cultural dimensions study places Brazilians on a par with the Asian cultures for long-term time orientation. It can be commonly observed that these people take the long-view time perspective rather than allowing themselves to be confined by things like schedules and apparently clocks.

The people of Rio de Janeiro have a custom which perfectly illustrates this distinction. Each evening, be it a work day or weekend, thousands gather on the beach and the small stone hill in Parque Garota de Ipanema and stand in silence to watch the sunset. At the completion of this event, the audience erupts in applause. It is a sign of appreciation, like the close of an opera or the finale of a symphony performance, where the people express gratitude for the talents of great artists through collective applause. Standing together in their timeless and clockless ritual, the people collectively take in the splendor of nature’s artistry and together celebrate the end of another day.

Hearing of this quaint and poetic ritual, we made our way down the beach as the sun fell into the ocean. We climbed to a nice point on the short hill to watch the setting sun. There was a considerable mass of people already gathered, so I assumed that the moment of “spontaneous” applause at nature’s wonder was near at hand, but as any of you who have taken the time to watch a sunset already know, a sunset will be held to no one’s schedule. We shifted restlessly on the hillside, moving locations three different times to get a better view. I didn’t like the man in the meditative stance, his feet interlaced lotus-style, ahead of me blocking my view of the horizon. I didn’t like being so close to the straight-haired girl and bandana-ed boy playing a recorder and dancing. After a few minutes, maybe twenty in all, I was pretty bored with the sun and the big rock. I admitted to myself that the clouds and the colors were nice. The whole scene was admittedly nice. I looked around at my business school friends and said, “Alright, let’s go. We’d better leave now so we can beat the crowds.” I lead us back down the hill, cutting across the entranced gazes of the rapt nature-viewers and onto the road up towards the hotel. Behind us I heard a bunch of people clapping. One of the students walking behind me commented, “That was nice, somebody ought to video tape that. Then we could watch it all in fast forward.” --Shawn Butler

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Uma Ausência de Relógios

Rio de Janeiro is everything I was told to expect. There is, however, one factor in the everyday life of Rio that bothers me. Everywhere I go, stores, bus stations, sporting events, places that one would expect might benefit from keeping track of the time, I find the exact same thing: An Absence of Clocks.

Time-tellers of any sort are no where to be found. Many South American countries, and most of the Spanish-speaking world, are pretty relaxed on time. But they at least seem to consider it important enough to merit placing a clock in the bedroom of their hotel guests. In 2006, California-based Hilton Hotels Corporation believed that their innovative new guestroom alarm clock would have such an impact on customer preference, it was made the focus of a year-long multi-channel media campaign.

The five room suite I’m in at the Ipanema Tower in Rio has not even one clock anywhere in it. Correction, there is apparently a clock on the microwave, but it is flashing 12:00 and I can only see it if I am directly in front of the cupboards against the kitchen wall. Neither is there a clock in the gym, the lobby, or the dining area. There are actually three (3) clocks at the reception desk; however, being that they give the hour in Rio de Janeiro, New York, and Rome, I have determined they are more for decoration than actual time-telling.

My own cultural distinction becomes very apparent to me in that I feel completely lost without knowing what time it is. I find myself constantly reaching for the cell phone that has doubled as a watch for me since its inception in 1999. Imagine my frustration now that, since my cell phone can neither send or receive calls, I have ceased carrying it with me to serve in its time-keeper capacity, but have now, instead, left it on the hotel nightstand by our bed. Where the clock should be. --Shawn Butler

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