Last week a friend here in Rio send me an long email in response to one of my blog posts, which I found very funny. With his permission, I am including a large chunk of it (minus some discussion of the book the two of us want to write on this topic), fixing a few simple typos, but largely leaving it as is.
[…] about your subtle experiences and very sharp contrasts with our culture.
specially because there are things you might understand, but still prefer to keep a joke, but there are others that are more… subtle. and I know local readers do enjoy when those things are pointed out for them (us), so… […]
for example… the passage above, quoted from your blog-site, is quite funny as is. but then I looked at the pictures and it’s pretty clear why we don’t go to the beach — as you might know, the water is, in many cases, WARMER in winter than during summer. I don’t know the exact causes of this — oceanic currents, thermo reversal, I can find out, but I don’t know right now — but, anyway, the water is sometimes freezing to the bones during the summer.
but the sun is there. and look at the (really nice) grim pictures you took: WHO, being sane, would stay in a beach that looks like that? I mean, I can understand where you're coming from, having spent almost two years living in Paris when I was a child (around 12 ~ 14, I think) and we went North, to Normandy, and the “beach” was a bunch of pebbles/boulders (seixo rolado), the wind was chilling, the weather was what you see in WW2 movies… and people were doing windsurf or laying around reading, eating something, talking… not a crowd, to be sure, but here no one in their right mind would THINK about doing that.
and this is because the sun shines so much for the rest of the year… it’s a common complaint for foreign-based Brazilians to say they are “sad” or “depressed” because “there is no sun”. we heard that from my father’s friend, at the time we were in Europe — there was a big research interchange going on, he’s an immunologist working on tropical diseases, there were people in Germany and also Bruxelles, I think — … so they would call us and say “hey, I saw on TV there are women sun bathing doing topless on the (river) Seine, I wanna go there, all I get here is rain, that’s not fair!”.
and I can tell you stories from the Northeast, where, in Fortaleza, they say it only rains about 15 days or so every YEAR. of course when I did go there after 38 years for my cousin’s wedding it rained A LOT, even by Rio’s flooding standards, but I remember that, for us, it was just “bummer, it’s raining, let’s go check out the historical center of the town” — for them it was the Big Newspaper Headline next day: “It Never Rained so Much in Fortaleza – Tourism jeopardized” or something to that effect.
so it’s a “cultural mark”, I guess, this shinning sun, and that’s a cool topic because I hadn’t really put together all those things I'm telling you in this mail before I saw your posting.
of course I can write it in a much more “vivid” way, but I like the contrast, I like thinking that I don’t even know how it is in Vladivostok (that’s the town everyone know here because it’s main “purpose” in the planet is to be used as an attacking point to Alaska in “War”, the game, and I think that’s another joke, as I remember André telling me that there’s NO WAY Vladivostok can actually “attack” Alaska, it seems you showed it to him on Google Earth…).
anyway, I guess you can see what I'm talking about. AND your obsession with.. fruits. I mean, they are fruits, right? like… there are clouds, there is fish in the water and then there’s fruit, and we mostly don’t care because they are always there, such as the sun.
and then I go to France or I get to do some stupid computational linguistics semester at Illinois and I find out that “the Barbarians” (you might / might not now that “barbarian”, in Greek, Bárbaros, just meant “non Greek”, nothing more. or maybe that was already bad enough… anyway, barbarians eat their bananas while they are GREEN!! that’s kind of a “sin” here and I keep making fun of S. because she eats banana’s much sooner then when it’s “proper” to do so.
and then I know the Japanese pay a lot for them because they have these kind of hysterical cultural problem with “flaws” (or maybe worse, “difference”) and they don’t like “flawed fruits”, so NO bananas get to be sold there unless they are perfect. which means “uneatable” for us.
and then I know the Japanese are only know discovering coffee, which seems to be new to their culture and it also seems to take the same slot as tea, which is “sacred ground” for them.