The Foreign Mystique

/*Editor’s Note: This is an undated, loose-leaf entry stuffed into the journal itself. The handwriting is Trevor’s, obviously.*/

I love being foreign.

Straight up shamelessly 100% booya foreign. Foreigners… foreigners have it easy.

To begin, the language barrier is a double-edged sword. It takes a few tries to order food, I can’t talk to maids, and phones are out of the question. But being bilingual, or at least mono-and-a-half lingual, gives one a tremendous advantage. First, to be an American and speak Portuguese, for Brazilians, is flattering. American culture saturates Brazil, at least in its warped, exported form, and for better or worse Americans hold a powerful fame/infamy everywhere we go in Brazil. An American who speaks Portuguese is like an albino tiger that plays trumpet, a rare, probably mythical animal, certainly one never encountered in day-to-day life. To be American and speak with a Brazilian on their own terms is to instantly ingratiate one’s self. This advantage extends even further.

Somewhere, in my warped, mosaic Portuguese “education”, I picked up an Italian accent. I’ve never met an Italian who spoke Portuguese, but apparently many Brazilians have and I sound just like the dude. That’s two nationalities for the price of one, kids. That’s advantage.

Also, to be foreign is to be interesting.

Without any hoops to jump through or obstacles to vault, people genuinely want to talk to you. Even the most menial thing becomes interesting to them, and thus interesting to you, in a whole new light. You’re an alien, a stranger from another world, a world many Brazilians know only from TV, film, and other highly inaccurate sources.

It also works to one’s advantage, I’m ashamed to say, that almost all other Americans are selfish swine. The snobbish, loud, uncouth American abroad is not simply a prejudice, but a living, breathing archetype encountered regularly in one’s travels. That makes us what in comparison? Shining god damn gold stars. Honest and humble, yet unwilling to get shafted or yield to inflated tourist prices. We are a breed apart.

Behold, the miracle of lowered expectations.

I talk about all these things as “advantages”, putting me ahead in some sort of contest. How very American of me. And yet it’s the best way I can think to describe it…

In actuality, however, the enjoyment of the role goes much deeper. Being foreign, being American, might make you exotic, interesting, sexy, or strange… but it’s more powerful than that.

Effectively, I’ve got a foot in both camps. Capoeira, forró, all the classic Brazilian stuff contrasted with an American education, a seriously American sense of absurdity, and a wholly modernistic world view.

It’s hard to describe, I guess, without sounding predatory or competitive.

In Brazil, my culture, my language is my home. The deference, the interest, all that is pleasant, but really the eternal option of self-imposed isolation is what makes it worth it for me. At home, I’m one among many, inescapably. It’s the nature of the beast. In Brazil, I’m one among many or, should I so choose, one among very very few. Honestly, it’s the only way to be.

Some parts of me are simply too alien for Brazilian consciousness, if I may generalize broadly. Atheism, atheism is unspeakable here. That’s the big one. Dark humor is a close second… I’ve never met a Brazilian with the appropriate sense of doom or despair to understand a really good joke, and that’s not because of the language involved.

Being Alien creates opportunities as well. Whatever you are eager to learn, people are eager to share, so long as you are respectful. Innately, people love to share and explain and teach; the effect is simply magnified when the learner is strange.

I could see myself building a life abroad, in a place like Brazil. Easily. It’s a kind of very social, very open-minded hermitude that appeals to me greatly.

That’s certainly something worth considering.

-T.

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