Up and At ‘Em
Jet set with an 88-keyboard set and a small suitcase strewn of clothes and various books, I made my way to Brazil with the speaking proficiency of a 6 year old. My psyche oscillating between sheer terror of “wtf did you just do” to raw rigor from the adventures unfolding into the uncharted abyss.
Fast forward 2 months, and now I find myself integrating all aspects of culture adaption and hangout with virtually all Brazilians (writing has been a much needed retreat to get back to the roots). I spent the past weekend attending a churrasco (like a BBQ) where I was the only non-Brazilian among 30+ natives. As I made my around from table to table introducing myself, hearing their stories, laughing loudly over poorly told jokes, and discussing life and our journeys through it, it began to dawn on me the cultural differences that I’ve been slowly articulating here.
I’ve made it my prerogative to appreciate a balance spectrum of living by hang out with various social circles and friends. From fancy dinners with the rich and boat excursions in the Atlantic to staying in the favela, witnessing police raids, and adjusting to the plumbing, I’ve empirically gained an appreciation from a variety of sorts. This is just one chapter in my story, though.
Over the past year I’ve lived in Barcelona, Madrid, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and now here in Rio. And do you want to know the main difference between all those cities? The thing that distinguishes one set of people from the next? *Drumroll please*
Nothing, really. People are people, and you start to recognize that more with every new travel experience. We often say things like “cultural differences” to describe small habitual differences, but those aren’t the things that interest me. What I find more so interesting are the things that make us the same. When it boils down to it, people all have pretty simple wants and needs.
The aesthetic appreciations for–listening to music, enjoying a good meal, looking at nature, dancing, and having a hearty laugh are ubiquitous. Our desire for developing human relations, bonding, and feeling a part of something–whether that be a group of friends, a tribe, a church, a state, or nation–are universals. The disposition for self-actualization, improvement, and serving a bigger purpose, and making sense of life is a longing we all share. The so-called differences that we often artificially inseminate suddenly become less intrusive. The propensities to create an us vs them mentality melts away. Those guys are different.
A Diamond in the Hillside
As far as the city goes, Rio must take its pride and place as one of the most beautiful cities I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Between the tropical climate, the cascading hills that roll into the sea side, the pristine beaches, and the beautiful women, there certainly is a lot to like here–but not necessarily in the way you might think.
Before leaving, I ingrained the mentality that I could inject happiness into my life by surrounding myself with those aforementioned things. But they’re just a small sketching of life’s mosaic. Relating back to the commonalities we share discussed above, I’ve slowly been becoming to prioritize what’s important to me.
Happiness, and what it means to be happy, is one of the various topics that has puzzled me my entire life. I set out to discover life and the things that would bring me there only to realize that I was looking externally for something that I held all along. A beach, warm weather, or a pretty girl can’t bring you that. A new city full of new faces simply just doesn’t cut it.
I hope this post doesn’t come off as sounding like depression, because I’m certainly not. I’m having an amazing time, and chances are whatever your last memory is of me or my propensity for happiness and having a good time, I can assure, is essentially the same. What has changed is my recognition for the driving forces in my life. My intention is to convey that you already are in whatever paradise you’re willing to create for yourself. You don’t need a beach or an exotic location to do that. It’s so cliché and over used, I know, but the best things in life are the little things. Don’t let it take you 40 years to realize that.
Language in the Making
As far as the language goes, Portuguese has been loads of fun to learn. The Cariocan accent has a very beautiful rhythmic tune to it; fluctuations that sound like you’re singing. It is similar enough to Spanish that I had a strong base to get me started, but the flow requires a real shifting in gears.
Two weeks ago, I had a blast switching between my Spanish and Portuguese at a Spanish party. Pol, one of my longtime friends from Spain, introduced me to one of his buddies studying abroad in Rio. We met up, and he promptly invited me to attend what was a Spanish birthday party here for Spaniards studying abroad. It was awesome to rekindle those fond memories from Madrid/Barcelona glory days and hearing that Spanish accent once more dialected the words and slang I came to love, once again. Language wise, my goal here is improve my fluidity between the two so that I can switch dialects interchangeably at will and translate what is being said for a Brazilian to Spaniard, and vice versa.
My mom stressed the importance of learning another language my entire life. We have bookshelves at home lined with methods and manuals for how to get there, but I didn’t really appreciate it or take it seriously until I got to empirically experience it first-hand for myself. Thanks mom, it only took 22 years for your message to settle in.
Now I can’t imagine traveling to a country, even for vacation purposes, without learning some of the basics of the language. You would be surprised with how far a simple “Hello, how is your day going” will get you. When someone sees you going out of your way to learn their language, it opens up doors of opportunities.
I once asked a lady standing by the elevator what type of pie she was carrying in Portuguese, and she promptly invited me into her home, sat we down at the table, served me a piece, and introduced me to all her family. A simple hello can lead to a million different things. Here are some photos for your enjoyment. You can catch more from my photo album on Facebook.
If you took the time to read this and catch up on what’s going on in my life, I’d love to hear about what’s going on in yours as well. Even if you’re someone I haven’t talked since high school or earlier, drop me a message on Facebook or email (neyer.jay at gmail.com) to catch up. That’s all for now, tchau tchau.