Tuesday, January 11, 2011
What does a Brazilian look like?
Yesterday I had a meeting with another professor and a Norwegian Master's student who wants to write her dissertation on Brazil. When I arrive in his office they are already there and he (professor) introduces me to the girl (student): "This is Samba, she's from Brazil."
The girl's eyes pop, she stares at me and then lets out: "But you don't look Brazilian!"
Me: "It's hard to define what a Brazilian looks like..."
The professor chuckles, and says: "You mean that Pelé looks different?!"
Student: "Yeah, he does..."
Professor: "Samba, what's the proportion of European descendants in the Brazilian population?"
Professor, clearly enjoying himself: "And what is the percentage of Afro-Brazilians?"
Me (thankfully, by coincidence I had just looked up some other info in Wikipedia recently and remembered the numbers): "About 7%."
Professor: "And native Americans?"
Me: "Less than 1%."
Professor: "So what is the rest?"
Me: "About 1% is of Asian origin and the rest is mixed race (44%)".
Professor, turning to girl: "See, Brazil is a big mix".
Student: "I guess so..."
Yes, Brazil is a huge mix! And race does not come into the equation as often as in other countries. I am proud to say that walking down the streets in Brazil is the place A. and I feel most inconspicuous: no one even notices us! But this was not the first time I've had such a conversation. Shortly after I got to the US for my Masters I was told by a professor that I was "too white to be Brazilian". Obviously my opinion of him dropped a few points...
And then there are other seemingly unknown facts about Brazil:
- Language: we're the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese. And yes, the only official language is Portuguese. You can go from one end of the country to the other and all that will change is the slang and some accents. People that get this wrong usually assume we speak Spanish (even though we're surrounded by Spanish speakers VERY few Brazilians speak it)... but once a friend was asked if we spoke Russian!!!
- Location: South America. On the Atlantic Ocean. Once in Florida (3 hours flight to the North of Brazil) a guy asked me where I was from and after the answer he replied: "Wow, I've never traveled that far, the furthest I've been was China...". Maybe he thought I meant Mars...
- Size: Brazil is big. It is larger than the continental US, which means it is approximately 3 times the size of India. It occupies 47% of South America and is as wide as it is long (could be made into a square :P ). No one believes this one...
- São Paulo is twice the size of New York. And Rio de Janeiro is the same size as the Big Apple.
- The national capital is Brasília (not Rio) and was built where before 1950 there was absolutely nothing, right in the middle of the country.
So maybe before the student decides to write a dissertation about Brazil she could start with the wikipedia page...
In her defense the dissertation will not be about Brazilian society.
Posted by Samba at 10:54 AM