Saturday, May 23, 2009

How Brazilians see the British. It so happens that we've been talking about national stereotypes in some of my English classes. How do Brazilians see themselves? How do they see other nations? Interesting questions. Brazilians perceive themselves as happy, fun, relaxed but students quickly cited laziness and dishonesty as being typically Brazilian traits. I actually think those last two have more in common with a trait I've noticed in Brazilians - paranoia and a general feeling that the world is against them. Firstly, Brazilians are not lazy. They know how to relax and celebrate but they work long days and they seem to me to be generally conscientious and hard-working. Nonetheless, Brazilians perceive North Americans, Europeans and especially the Portugese as looking down on them as inferiors. They imagine themselves as a third world country and while that's true for much of the interior of the country, Brazil is definitely "second" world when it comes to its megacities and in recent years proving to be a 21st Century economic power house. "You think you're third world?" I sometimes provokingly ask my students. "You haven't been to Chad".

But, I'd suggest that Brazil has in recent years been a very popular place - both in the imagination and in reality - for us Brits back in the UK. From the football shirts to the carnival holidays to the music and the film, Brits have generally received with open arms anything coming out of this giant-sized country. The exotic, the bright colours, the tropical beaches, the uninhibited desire to wiggle one's hips - all of this is very un-British and so we envy it and secretly want to be it.

And the Brazilians? How do they see us Brits? My students often shirk back from coming out with anything too stinging against their British teacher, but over the last couple of years I think I've got the general idea. Brits are polite, educated, cultured have a dry sense of humour but are a bit cold and reserved. Maybe, though, the best expression of how a Brazilian feels about us Brits should come from the mouth of one of their finest poets and musicians Caetano Veloso. During the 1960s, Caetano fled the dictatorship here and passed some years in 1960s London. And during that time he wrote this song, in English, about the nation's capital:

Here are the lyrics to London London. You can see the tune right here being performed recently by another Brazilian artist, Paulo Ricardo.

Im wandering round and round nowhere to go
Im lonely in London
London is lovely so I cross the streets without fear
Everybody keeps the way clear
I know, I know no one here to say hello
I know they keep the way clear
I am lonely in London without fear
Im wandering round and round here nowhere to go
While my eyes Go looking for flying saucers in the sky

Oh Sunday, Monday, Autumm pass by me
And people hurry on so peacefully
A group approaches a policeman
He seems so pleased to please them
Its good at least to live and I agree
He seems so pleased at least
And its so good to live in peace and
Sunday, Monday, years and I agree
While my eyes Go looking for flying saucers in the sky

I choose no face to look at
Choose no way I just happen to be here
And its ok Green grass, blue eyes, gray sky, God bless
Silent pain and happiness I came around to say yes, and I say
But my eyes Go looking for flying saucers in the sky

Nevermind the bits about the flying saucers (whatever that might mean - but this was the 1960s, you know) and putting aside the rather on-the-nose rhyming in places, we can see that Caetano is expressing a sense of dislocation from his native land while at the same time highlighting elements in his new city of residence which he warms to and likes.

Security, quiet efficiency and order seem to be some of his themes. When I saw the lyrics I chuckled at the lines about the police. To a man in exile from the murdering special forces of his own nation, polite bobbies on street corners were obviously a strange enough sight to comment on. The British police - the best in the world. That may have been one stereotype that Brazilians signed up to for a few years. And yet, after the death of one of their own - Jean Charles de Menezes - at the hands of a British agent, you can't help but imagine that this positive reputation and stereotype of the British force by Brazilians may have died alongside the young man shot in the head on that London underground train in July 2005.

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