Friday, July 13, 2012

Brazilian sensitivity to criticism

I was reading this post from our dear British friend living in Rio, Tom, who writes an amazing informative and fun blog about his discoveries and experiences of a London Expat living in Rio after marring his lovely Brazilian wife.
You can find Tom's Blog HERE, his blog is amazingly positive, with funny twists on the daily life of a British getting adapted to an exotic and challenging life of an expat adapting to Rio de Janeiro.
I happen to come across an absurdly unfair comment from a Brazilian called Julio on Tom's recent post about the Brazilian Sushi Experience, and in Tom's case, the Rio Sushi Experience ;)
Many of Tom's posts is about FOOD, and the exotic food discoveries he experiences in tropical Rio de Janeiro.
Many of the blogs we read on a daily basis have complains about Brazil that in many cases are not really about Brazil at all, they are often unfair and nonsensical comparisons, and the issues arise more because of the expat's complete lack of knowledge about the specific situation, and inexperience with Brazil as a new country, or whatever the situation might be, we just roll our eyes and move on, mostly because the complain often says more about the person than about Brazil.
But Tom's "innocent" remark was more than an honest criticism with no intention to belittle Brazil's Sushi culture, or anything about Brazil for that matter. It's just an expression of personal taste, he doesn't like Mango's in a Sushi for example (and neither do I for that matter), but please, come ON Julio, this is in no way an insult to the Brazilian identity, to Brazilian Sushi, or anything Brazilian.
It's like Gil saying he hates mixed juices (which he really does) Strawberries and kiwi will make him throw up right after throwing the bottle at my head (if I am the one who got him the disgusting invention) and some random American reader of our blog writes an aggressive comment of how insulted they are because Gil hates the American invention of Strawberries and Kiwi juice!!
After a brief discussion Gil and I have agreed to the conclusion that Brazilians have a inferiority complex, maybe because we are very close to being a developed country but are not recognized yet as one. We are always looking for a confirmation of our achievements and progress and principally when a foreigner complains, the reaction is not pretty.
Take notice that we Brazilians LOVE to complain about everything in our country, but don't you DARE say you don't like our avocados and you prefer the stinking little California avocados and you instantly have hit our hit list, I mean, you go into our little black book of Brazilian things hater!! :)
However, we also discussed the fact that many folks from developed nations will lash out at Brazil for other reasons, maybe they feel belittled because they sound stupid when trying to speak the ubber difficult Brazilian Portuguese, or they get lost in the new city. So, very aware of the fact that Brazilians are easily offended with criticism, it's their golden chance, and their blogs are their little corner of the world to pay back by bashing Brazilians things as a way to feel better about themselves. We also noted that many foreigners will attack Brazil in a very unfair way while rejecting any criticism towards their own country. Maybe it's the fear to feel inferior to Brazilians, we could say, many of these folks have a "superiority complex".

DEFINITION: popularly a feeling of superiority or exaggerated self-importance, often accompanied by excessive aggressiveness, arrogance, etc. which are compensation for feelings of inferiority

So when someone complains about the smallest Brazilian thing, many Brazilians will jump on your jugular with a machete and stab you to death, ok, maybe that is a little exaggeration, and perhaps is indeed what many of us wish we could do if there was no penalty for murder, so as the only alternative left, we will very often protest furiously   :)
Tom, just to make things crystal clear, we don't think you have a "superiority complex" at all, please complain away about all the awful things you find in Rio ( we have noticed you rarely find awful things about Rio and if you do you don't share ;), we love your blog and enjoy your posts very much.
Plus, Gil and I are over this "inferiority complex" enjoyed by many Brazilians, maybe it's our 15 years away, who knows.
The super creative video below illustrates well the fact that Brazilians will bitch about everything Brazil but foreiners are not accepted into the "Brazil" complainers club,  enjoy :)


Shelley said...

What a perfect video! I've always been surprised by how some of my Brazilian friends will complain about certain things. I know I've done my fair share of complaining, but I'd like to think that I'm an equal opportunity complainer (i.e. I can bitch about my experiences in the US or in Brazil)

Tom Le Mesurier said...

Awww, thanks Ray! It's true that no one likes to hear complaints/criticism from 'outside the family' and that's pretty much everywhere. And as we discussed separately, I think Julio maybe missed my tone which was meant to be jokey/friendly. Maybe another reason I should improve my Portuguese and start writing in the language of my adopted country! :)

p.s. that video is great - so funny and so true :)

Alex said...

I can understand the sensitivity, but this guy probably did miss the jovial tone of the post Tom made. And obviously, just because you don't like a certain Brazilian food doesn't mean that you are a Brazil hater! =)

A few more years of nice growth, and maybe some of the inferiority complex will go away! =D

And yes, the video was great!

American Heart Brazilian Soul said...


I am with you, I rarely complain, either about the US or Brazil, but I reserve myself the right to do it whenever I think it's justifiable.
And I do have a thick skin when it comes to hearing criticism, but I do see a few Brazilians in the blogsphere throwing a fit for the smallest things, not our case at all.

Thanks for your comment


American Heart Brazilian Soul said...


Yes, I agree, you can complain about your momma, but if someone does happen to agree with you, you will slit his throat... :)
You are a brave man, I will never write in Portuguese, at this point, English does flow easier for me. :)


American Heart Brazilian Soul said...


The guy totally "mijou fora do pinico" how we would say it in Brazilian Portuguese ;)
Yeap, just a few more years of growth and Brazil will be Golden.
If you ask me, they have discovered enough OIL to keep the growth going for a few years.


Nina said...

My only thing is, that blogs could be used as a channel to make complaints. But in a way, making the complaints a positive discourse. Of course I am never for slander and negative criticism. But again, I'm not perfect. And sometimes my blog will get it instead of my husband. Is that wrong of me? I mean he already supports almost my every need. I think crying about problems to him about Brazil, hurts him for one but it's just too much strain on our relationship.

However, It is hard to be an immigrant in any country. Maybe people don't talk about this enough. But I am married to Brazil, I didn't come here through a company. My husband family is very poor and culturally so far from me. This is something honestly I wanted. I just thought it was all going to be easier. I had the idea we make things work one or another. A lot in Brazil I feel like I am failing, and Brazil is also failing me. With regards to job options, income, cost of living and education opportunities. But Brazil is failing a lot of good Brazilian people.

The US is similar in this too, The American dream is merely an empty promise for most immigrants and upward mobility can only be gained across many generations. But even this doesn't really highlight the situation, it's really complicated. Immigrants are the ones opening small businesses in the US, the country is built on the back of them. And we are seeing this in Brazil right now. So many illegals are now found in Sao Paulo, flooding in from poor countries because of the economy.

With all this said, it's getting better. I saw today in fact, a complaint hotline and office especially addressing public medical care in Paulinia. Which we need. I have called some doctors and administrators on abuse before, they always claim since I'm American I am over sensitive and expect the best. So not true, this is not my personality at all. I am a sensitive person, but in the sense that I have compassion and feelings. I never felt I had a channel to make proper complaints. Now, I find in an area that needs a lot of correction Paulinia has set up specific recourse. Nice.

I think maybe, some people may think that Brazil is hard to live in with the cultural differences. And Americans really are not known for the patience, one of our culture weakness. And Brazilians are very patient with a lot this stuff.

Overall, I have very happy with the situation with my son. I have thought a lot about going back to the US, to get my masters and be closer to family. The number one issue holding me back is our healthcare plan. We have one of the best neonatal units on our healthcare. Super awesome doctors treating my son and really great early intervention. Yesterday, a team of two therapists and counselor met with us for our monthly review on my son's development. He's doing great thank god and is actually showing signs of now early development. This has happened because of the teams, neonatal, the doctors, him and me. If I go to the US, I am afraid not only will we not be able to afford treatment/medication but he won't even qualify for for early intervention. I can't take that risk. I can't afford to leave such good medical care in a very important time of my son's development. And trade it for god know's what. I mean, I just don't trust the health system in the US.

I think we just don't communicate well either. People are not taught position, identity, cross cultural issues, power, and respect well or at all. It's sad how uneducated Americans are with how much tax money floating around. I think also, a lot of Americans are taught a superiority complex culturally. We need a little more humble pie. Definitely something that comes from environment, my family was pretty strict. I was taught that I was important to my family but not better than others.

American Heart Brazilian Soul said...


Wow! Great points!!
We all have one thing in common, we have loved ones split in two different continents, so we pretty much understand the difficulties faced by the expat community in general.
Just to leave it crystal clear, the blogs I read and the blogs on my blog roll are not the "negative complainers" I was referring to, with a very rare exception here and there. I mostly stay away from those blogs.

Thanks for your great comment


Jennifer Souza said...

Ray! It is so true...Brazilians LOVE to complain, but usually to the people who can do nothing about it. When it comes to actually resolving a complaint, they often get shy or minimize the problem! But this is not true with everyone.

IME, Americans feel more entitled to get results.

And you are sooooooo right. When I read (false) complaints or blanket (often untrue) statements about Brazil, I am incensed. (They don't have dryers, there are special bacteria here, everyone wears a small swimsuit, etc.)

Plus, a blog is a public space. Gotta be respectful. I think Danielle does a particularly good job of commenting/noticing/complaining w/o being disrespectful.

American Heart Brazilian Soul said...

Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for sharing your point of view, and I agree with you 100 per cent, a Blog is a public space and we have to keep a decent level of respect.
I also agree with you about Danielle's blog, she does a great job and it's one of my favorites.
Just to leave it crystal clear, I really do enjoy all the blogs on my blog roll and think they all do a great job with balancing the level of complaints while keeping a good level of respect for Brazil and Brazilians.



Tom Le Mesurier said...

Great comments everyone. Makes for really interesting reading. One thing that I meant to say is that blogs would be rather boring and meaningless if we all tip-toed around in fear of saying *anything* negative.

Of course no one wants to read a continuous flow of negativity or (even worse) prejudice, but if people only mentioned the good stuff then wouldn't that only tell part of the story? I don't work for the Rio tourist board! I want to give a fair, honest account of the city and country that I have grown to love. I want to tell people what it's really like here, beyond the clichés of beach and football and occasionally that will mean saying something like "I don't like how they put mango in sushi!" ;)

Maybe this will sound patronising and apologies if it offends anyone, but I think the sensitivity is actually insecurity and given Brazil's history it is understandable. I also agree with Alex - Brazil is really going places and I believe that as the nation grows, Brazilians will grow in confidence and learn to take a little friendly criticism in their stride.

Danielle said...

Aw, thanks to Jennifer and Ray about the nice comments. I'm just going to be the egotistical American I am and repaste the comment I just wrote on Alex's blog:

I think it's kind of ironic that many of the commenters complained about generalizations using generalizations. I think people are people, and neither Brazilians nor Americans can/should say that ALL Brazilians act one way or another. There are pessoas fechadas e pessoas aberas and people who are more honest about their opinions and people who keep their opinions to themselves in both countries.

But I have to say (as a complainer who Alex/Ray might be referring to), Brazil has a lot of great things that I try to focus on in my blog, but it gets really, really tiring to feel like you need to question and re-evaluate the values/social rules/ways of doing things that you grew up with. It happens to me every day here. Someone does something that makes me think, "woah, I've always been taught that was wrong." Then, to be "positive" and "optimistic" and all that, I have to think, "OK, Brazil is a different country, remember relativity" etc etc. But that gets old. Learning about Brazil in the US and being friends with Brazilians in the US will not expose you to those daily inconsistencies. It really can be exhausting. (To be specific, I'm talking about instances of people drinking and driving, treating maids like second-class citizens, rampant corruption on every level of business and government, a lack of customer service, people cutting in line, etc. These were all things that I was raised to believe were wrong, and that few people around me did in the US. My specific examples may differ form other people's, but I think the sentiment will be the same for anyone living in a foreign country.)

Then, of course, as we've seen in the comments, most people will get deeply offended if you say anything bad about their country (Americans and Brazilians alike -- that Havaianas video sums it up!). So we bloggers can't exactly call up our Brazilian friends or invite them over for coffee so we can rant about how frustrating something is. (Even for those of us with Brazilian partners, complaining to our spouses needs to be limited.) Even if they, too, have had that experience, they will often denounce our criticisms because we're "outsiders" (even though we live in the country). I know, for myself, my blog is a sort of sanctuary where I can rant about annoying stuff and receive what is largely empathetic feedback from people.

So I think you need to take the complaints on a case-by-case basis, but only to an extent. People are allowed to feel what they feel and to express it in their blogs. If you think someone complains too much, just don't read their blog! I don't think your telling them "stop complaining!" is going to change their minds/personalities/perspectives.

Renato S. Alves said...

I never read something so good in your blog. You really are right on what you say and I can easily visualize the situations that you described. But let me tell you, I lived in other countries beside US and people are just the same. French people for example will literally take you out of their houses if you complain about their country. Italy the same thing. In every country around my year in Europe I've heard from every single citizen "this is the best country in the world". That's when I started to question my thoughts about Brazil being the "best country in the world". At the of the day I think we see what we want to see and proud sometimes will take a very important toll on the outcome comments (I don't know if I am expressing right in English). Somethings are small for some, not for others. Somethings we wont considerate complaining about our own country or family, but outsiders won't live with that. I think our opinions as bloggers have to be respected. It's our impressions and this has to do with our backgrounds, education and way of life. I have 2 posts in 150 that I complain about Brazil. 32 posts where I complain about US and the rest I don't have any opinion expressed, just show things and leave for the reader to judge. But people still call me "deslumbrado" and a lot of other things based in one post that they read. I don't give a dam. The blog is mine and I write whatever I want. I have to be honest with my impressions and humble to recognize that there are people here that know better than me and not everything is what appears to be.
With that in mind we keep writing and maybe in the future we will be proved right or wrong about everything and if we were smart enough we won't loose the lesson.
Take care friend!