Monday, February 4, 2008

Brazilians are like Chinese

Shawn and family stand in the shadow of the 130 foot O Cristo Redentor statue on Corcovado mountain.

Today we leave Rio to return to the United States. I'd like to conclude my four part series of Observations of the Brazilian People and Culture with this final conclusion: The Brazilian people are like the Chinese.

This may sound surprising, or even blaringly incorrect as it follows the other observations I have made, but they are like the Chinese insomuch as their culture exhibits the behaviors of a highly collectivist society. Brazil has one of the highest international rankings for Long Term Time Orientation, scoring 6th out of the 23 countries tested. Compare this to the number 15 rank of the United States' culture of independent living and short-term thinking. Interestingly, Brazil is the first of the non-asian countries to appear on the list.

Having a long term time orientation means that Brazilians value things like persistence, relationship orders determined by status, thriftiness, and having a sense of shame. These contrast starkly with the time-constrained structures of Americans. During my time here, I recognize that Brazilian collectivism and time perspective, although similar in their symptoms, differ greatly in their motivation from that of Asian collectivism.

Whereas Asian cultures seem to pursue collectivist behaviors in order to not stand out, to not draw attention to themselves or to engender unwanted notice, Brazilians observe collectivist behavior in search of a sense of unity. If one Brazilian is uniting with fellow Brazilians, it is not to escape notice or blend together. It is the stemming forth of a shared sense of brotherhood and patrimonio, the recognizing of a kindred spirit, and it is not quiet or subdued. Brazil's version of collectivist behavior is chanting at a fútbol game, loudly sharing a few drinks, or dancing samba with a very large group of friends.

In many regards, Brazil is exactly what others told me to expect. Brazil is the country described by paradoxes in many of the tour guidebooks. It is busy without seeming fast-paced. There is everything to do here, and plenty of nothing to do here. The beaches are covered with people, and the people are not covered with anything. The locals love the tourism and tolerate the tourists. But in so many more ways, the people, culture, and experience of Brazil defied or redefined the expectations that I had arrived with last month when I stepped off the plane at Galeão International Airport. I am thankful to the thousands of people that I have met here, that have offered me help, told me hello, or pinched my baby girl's thighs. I am thankful that they let me share a few moments of their time and see them as they experience life, their own daily lives, without any effort to be more like the Brazil defined by Frommer's Guidebook. --Shawn Butler

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