Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Wow... almost another year has gone by. Seems like years are going by like days now.

Let's do another round of updates:
- Marriage is going very well, thank you. Despite knowing all the difficulties that come from intercultural relationships we are both happy to be able to learn so much from each other.Why take the easy path when you can have much more fun the other way?
- A. and I are working in the same city now!! This has been a great improvement in quality of life, since we both have jobs we really like and can finally come back to the same place at the end of the day. So no more weekend flights and different realities during the week.
- There is a little one on the way! This is a big change in the making, so far all is well and nothing much has changed (except an annoying heartburn that sticks around most of the days), but things are about to become more interesting. Like choosing a name...   

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hello hello!
Long time no see! Almost a year after the last post I decided to update everyone. Where are we now?

Well, we are still in Brazil and still happily married. Is life simple? Well, I guess the answer is a simple "no".

I am still at the same job, which I love and gives me the flexibility I like. It has gotten more intense over the year and travel more frequent. Suffice to say that I am reaching the 40% travel time as was in the job description.

A. has had it much tougher though. After finishing his exchange program and his MBA he then looked for jobs. And let me tell you, even though Brazilians are socially friendly, the job market here is definitely not open to foreigners. People place a huge value on personal references and on knowing candidates personally, which makes life easier once you are in the industry, but makes it 100 times harder when you are from outside looking for a job in the country. So after a few months trying A. got a job in Manaus. Now, where is that?? Well, literally in the middle of nowhere. Think Anaconda, think dense forests, think big rivers and no roads... and then place a 1.5 million people city in the middle. Yup, Manaus is located in the Amazon, right on the banks of the Amazon River. And surprisingly it does have 1.5 million people living in it. And a free trade zone where tech companies pay no taxes to setup. Even most Brazilians would not consider moving there for a job. And that is how an Indian ends up in the Amazon.

White is city, black and brown are rivers and green is forest... (white is cloud cover)

Manaus has barely any other food besides the local fare. Which is fish heavy and, according to A., too bland (no surprise here, huh?). No concept of being vegetarian ("he is very radical, since he could just scoop the fish out and eat the sauce...") and no idea about the rest of the world. You see, most people there come from the small towns and communities scattered in the forest in the region and have arrived in "the big city". So they see Manaus as a very cosmopolitan place. But if you've been anywhere else you can see that this is just a big "small town", very isolated and set in its ways. Foreigners are to be seen... they use it as a launching pad for short 4 day expeditions to the jungle and then get the hell out. Which means A. has been in a Portuguese only environment. 

In the middle of nowhere, on the Amazon River.

And how far is Manaus from Brasília? A whopping 3.5 hours flight! Very far... further even than Paris-Oslo, our previous commute. And much more expensive than the cheap flights in Europe too! So we have been seeing each other 2 or 3 weekends a month. But all of this is about to change...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Would you marry again?

Last weekend we had an Indian visitor, a graduate student in a different state that came to Brasília to play cricket (not many teams here, as you might expect given the rareness of South Asians...). After practice he came over to our place for lunch and while I was finishing up the cooking I heard the guys talking outside. Since another friend (a Brit, also married to a Brazilian girl) was also there they were conversing in English. The Indian guy (let's call him R.) has been living in Brazil for almost 3 years and has been dating a Brazilian girl for two and a half of those years. And he was very interested to know what A. thought about marrying a Brazilian.

A.'s gut response was immediate: "Don't do it!" Then he went on to try to qualify his answer:
"It is difficult, there are lot's of different expectations and lot's of things you have to give up to make it work. Has your gf lived abroad?"
R.'s reply:
"No... she went to Peru once but has otherwise never left Brazil."
"Then this is definitely dangerous. Or do you expect to spend the rest of your life in Brazil?"
"Well, I intend to spend some more years here, but not sure for how long..."
A. was adamant: "Don't do it! What it you want to go back to India, would she adapt?"
R. started wavering: "Well, she says she would and she says she wants to go to India."
"Listen, Samba is different, we met in a third country, she traveled by herself before we met, even to Asia, she  speaks other languages and we did go to India before any decision was made." (I thought it was cute how he defended me there :P )
In the mean time the Brit tried to intervene, saying that love should be enough to get married... but he got little attention... The rest of us agreed that Brazil and India are much more of a challenge than England and Brazil relationships!

A very winding road indeed.

They continued the discussion and when lunch was ready R. asked me what I thought. I said that I agreed that adaptability to different cultures was needed in an intercultural relationship, especially when there are chances of moving to different countries. I didn't tell him not to get married, but I did tell him to make an informed decision.

I thought A.'s reaction was quite interesting... and I wonder whether he would do this whole relationship+marriage deal again (he says he would, but he definitely agrees that things would be easier if he had just married a nice Indian girl). And I cannot blame him, I feel the same. I would do it all over, but I agree that the path we chose is not the easiest, and sometimes even seems too difficult, but it is definitely more interesting...

This weekend we will meet R. again and his gf... it seems like she is the one interested in talking to us now :P

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Communicating with prospective employers

A very important and indispensable part in any job search is communicating with prospective employers. This includes writing emails introducing yourself, cover pages, cvs, replying to any emails and then speaking on the phone and finally an interview. This is considerable work for anyone looking for a job, and even more so for someone searching for a job in a foreign language.

While A.'s Portuguese is good and everyone is astonished when he says he's only been here for 3 months (although that is cheating a bit... since he started learning a long time back) it is by no means fluent. He's done a couple of placement tests for classes and they considered him advanced, but that means he can get by, not that he can write cover letters by himself. So he's been asking me for help. Which is fine. But then I get requests like:   "Samba, I need a letter for company X, please". I understand that this is the easiest way to ask for help, but hey, I am not the one looking for a job! Early on we got into a heated argument because I was not 100% focused on his emails and letter, while for me the help I was asked was supposedly in translation, not in that and composition. It would be much easier if he had a draft in English and I translated, at least I would not have to guess what he wants written. The worst is when I get a reply: "Samba, I need revisions". Like, huh, which ones??

Another issue is timing... I must say that when A. pings me on skype mid afternoon I already get a bit apprehensive... what e-mail is it this time? I get it that emails are supposed to be answered fast, but mid afternoon, when I'm at work, is usually not good timing for me.

But then yesterday when A. pinged me he said: "Hey, I need an email for company Y. I will write a draft and then you just correct it, ok?". WOW! This was great!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What it means to be a minority

A. had lived abroad, so why is Brazil more complicated than other places he's lived? I think it is because here in Brazil he is a minor minority. Let me explain... in the US there are Indians, many of them! In the Triangle area in NC where we lived there were 35 thousand of them! Which means there were Indian restaurants, Indian grocery stores, Indian movie theaters, Indian almost-anything. And A. even chose his apartment by location: the closest complex to the "Little India" block.

He then moved to France. Not as many Indians, but still quite a few. Rendering trips to Gare du Nord to eat at Saravana Bhavan a requirement after weeks of bland food. And there were also Indian grocery stores, Indian movie rentals, Indian hair dressers, etc. And, also VERY important, fellow Indian students to commiserate with. In both these places, because there is immigration from India and other South Asian countries, there is also a general knowledge about these countries, cultures, etc.

And then Brazil... there are 200 Indian families living in the whole (gasp!) country. Many of them came in the 70s and 80s, when Brazil was building it's IT labs and they don't care much about newcomers. Which means that in Brasília there are 8 Indian families (all linked to the Embassy) and in São Paulo another 15 Indian families. As a consequence there are no Indian grocery stores, no Indian movies, and the few Indian restaurants are actually very bland for any Indian to recognize. This makes A's life tough...

Add to it that we had a soap opera a couple of years back that was about a love triangle between a Brazilian girl, her Indian boyfriend and the girl his parents chose him to marry. Let's just say that in many many ways the soap opera did not depict an urban India, but rather small village customs that are fading out in larger cities. This is the only reference point Brazilians have for India. Which is sad, as usually the 3rd questions that A. gets is "What caste are you?", something anyone remotely linked to Indians knows not to ask. Or when he explains something about India and the person responds "but it was not like that in the soap opera...".

I get it, it is frustrating, but how much to Indians know about Brazil? Maybe football? Maybe carnival? I do remember a long time back, when A. and I said Brazil was a Western country. A. was shocked! How could I accept the influence of colonizers to that extent? He then asked what we wear on a daily basis. My reply: jeans and t-shirts. He was even more shocked. I guess this shows that we overemphasize when people assume something wrong about our country compared to our own biases... or maybe that having no support of a local community to laugh at other's expense makes the whole situation weigh down on you...

Finding a job in Brazil

Brazil is booming! There is a lack of skilled labor! Jobs abound!

Yes, that is true and these remarks were enough to convince A. to move to Brazil. He talked to several companies before moving and they all corroborated his views, said that fluent Portuguese was not a requirement, and that they would be happy to hire foreigners. But let me tell you a little secret: Brazilians are over optimistic. As a Brazilian I would know to discount what they were saying by at least 50%, and the Portuguese not being a requirement should be taken with a pound of salt. Not that there are no job opportunities for non-fluent Portuguese speakers, but in the area A. wants to work in, which demands exchanges with clients, it is a must-have. I tried to tell him that, but I ended up being the annoying wife that does not believe everyone wants to hire her husband.

Fast forward a few months... here we are in Brazil and A. is looking for a job. Since he has a permanent visa (equivalent to a green card) he does not need a work permit, which is a big plus. He's sent emails to all the contacts with the companies he met back in Paris... 2 straight forward "no"s come first... big hit. Then comes 1 interview: all in Portuguese! The whole damn thing, including calculations out loud! At this point he is cursing, but the search goes on. A few weeks later, another interview. Also in Portuguese, also no follow up. Tough... the situation gets tenser. It also does not help that he is not getting replies to many of the emails he sends. No big deal in Brazil, where people will rather not respond that say "no" up front, but it is very frustrating for A. There are also the nice replies that don't mean anything, like "we will get in touch next week".  It is a vague email, and as such, without a specific time set or a specific date, it means nothing. But Monday morning A. is cursing they have not gotten in touch... and nothing by Friday either, and nothing by the next week.

A. feels like Brazilians are deceitful, liars, and have misguided him on purpose. I've tried to explain that he is reading the culture wrong, that he needs to adjust the optimism, read in between the lines and don't expect a straight forward answer. Last week he asked a Brazilian friend from the school in Europe why had he been so enthusiastic when the reality is so different. His reply: "I thought you knew to discount what I was saying".

So where are we now? Job search continues, expanded beyond the dream list companies to others. Brazilians are still liars, deceitful and misguiding...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Long time no see

Yes, I know... it has been almost 2 months since I posted. And I think I need to explain what is going on. As you all know, A. and I moved to Brazil in July, bought a house, etc. As time goes by my life has becomes more ordinary (in terms of living, working, etc) while his seems to be a lot more interesting from an intercultural point of view. And then I stopped writing, not finding anything interesting to write about.

Sort of like heavy clouds with some rays of sun trying to break through.

As time went on I realized that there is some sort of (inverse? attached?) culture shock going on with me. It is the additional work and frustrations that come with having a partner suffering from classical culture shock. What seems so simple to me grows to huge, insurmountable problems for A. and I need to be there to help him climb the mountain. I searched online and there is not as much written about this since either couples are both foreigners wherever they are living or they meet after moving to each other's countries. There is also a lot of complaints and comments about what it feels like moving to a new place, but there is very little about seeing your own country through foreigners' eyes.

Let me tell you, it is not rosy. Not even pale pink. More like grey... on some days dark grey even. I am not trying to sweep away or even minimize all the issues and complications and frustrations A. has had to deal with, but for now I wish to write about the unsung complications of the culture shock spouse .