Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Culture Clash

When I think of Christmas, I think of carolling, gathering around a tree the family decorated together, an advent calendar, opening presents one by one, each in turn, the special breakfast caserole, rolls, etc. my Mom makes. These are the sights, sounds, and memories I cherish. This year, I face a culture clash. It is my first Christmas with Bianca in Brazil. Last night, I tried to get her to tell me what their traditions are and all I could get was "talk and eat and talk." That doesn't sound like a complete Christmas to me. I hope I discover she's wrong and that there are traditions so common to her family she doesn't recognize the traditions. I hope it is still festive and with a sense of magic, because I have had some Christmases without that, and it is always disappointing.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect it to be the same. And I will be excited by the differences. In case you haven't guessed, I love cross cultural experiences. But I also have a fondness for the sentimentality of the holidays, too. Being with Bianca is indeed the best present of all, after Jesus' birth of course, but still, I will miss my family and our traditions, and hope that whatever happens I can still feel a sense of Christmas. and I am aware that may take years. Because this is my first Brazilian Christmas and I don't understand the culture or her family well enough yet to accept or appreciate it fully from the cultural standpoint. Differences still stand out to me more than they probably should. That is just part of the growth process in learning a culture.

As Bianca said, we will make our own traditions next Christmas as we start our life together as spouses, which can encompass traditions from both cultures. We can decide what we want our Christmases to be like. I look forward to it. In the mean time, my expectations are culture clashing. I know, not right to preconceive or prejudge, but it's hard not to. To be honest, I have not had many Christmases that captured the magic I still remember so fondly from childhood in the past decade or two. Once you go to college and you are not kids anymore, Christmas changes. I had hoped with my nephew's birth, we could recapture a bit of that, and we did. But still, it is never going to be the same. And I guess I have to get over that.

There are rich cultural traditions of Christmas in most cultures. When I was in Juarez a few weeks ago, the decorations at their mall were stunning. In fact, they had actually trees growing through the tile. It was impressive. And the decorations were opulent and well done. In Brazil too, having been there just after Christmas last year, I know there will be decorations and the whole atmosphere. And that is neat to see, especially given that the temperatures lately have been 107 yesterday and 106 the day before. I mean, if it can't feel like Christmas, the least it can do it look it, right? But anyway, it is their summer. And when I am in Arraial Do Cabo the first weekend in January, enjoying crystal clear ocean waters, sand, etc. I will not mind it looking like the tropics in the least.

I guess all I'm really saying is that I hope there will always be magic to Christmas no matter which culture or location I experience it through, because Christmas should be magic. The birth of a Savior for the sinful world is magic, and we should always remember it that way.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Okay, so here is my take on the culture clash of the great US-Mexico border wall. While I disagree with anyone who argues that the risk to our borders of terrorists is not an issue, -- it is whether it has happened in the past or not because of the new climate of the world in which we live -- I agree the wall is a ridiculous proposition, but I am also sure it will never happen. It was political. The Republicans, of whom I am one, wanted to look strong when they were fighting for election victory. It is too impractical to ever actually be built, though there will be postering about it for years to come no doubt.

I also think blaming Congress alone is silly. The American people are as much to blame. I travel in country and out frequently, and I can tell you, I have discussed this issue with lots of people. The American public at large is woefully ignorant. They actually think if immigrants did not come in to take low wage unpleasant jobs, then Americans would have more jobs. But I have seen the jobs they are talking about and no American would take them. They are unpleasant and they require long hours, low pay, and little dignity. At least most of the jobs. American companies are looking to cut wages every way they came. Removing immigrants would just result in them trying to find other ways to meet those needs.

Additionally, the American public seems to be woefully suffering from memory loss. Immigrants founded this country. It used to be everyone could proudly trace their roots back to immigrants. Now people just think of themselves as Americans with some God given right to live here and prosper and they don't remember the circumstances of our nation's founding. Why shouldn't people faced with the level of poverty in Mexico try and seek a better life for themselves and their families? Just across the border in West Juarez last Saturday I saw conditions reminiscent of African villages. And just across a dry river bed were visible signs of a lifestyle that seemed royal by comparison. I would try and cross and so would you. If we really want to change immigration, we need to allow our tax money to be used to help the Mexican government build infrastructure, provide education and training, and get those people jobs, houses, plumbing, clothes, food, etc. to eliminate poverty. Only then will they stop desiring or needing to immigrate. But most Americans would roll over in their graves before they would allow money to be used that way. Because we have no sense of poverty.

There is poverty in the U.S. in places like the mountains of West Virginia and the inner cities of Chicago which people are so far removed from they never think about it. We do nothing about it, and we do nothing about this either. And that is a shame. Because our real problem and cause for concern is our woeful lack of concern for the world. We so often move to better our own interests without concern for others' needs. We are the sole superpower. With that comes great responsibility to fight injustice and police the world. But with it also comes a responsibility to use our wealth to better human kind. And we do not do much of that. You can argue we are one of the largest donor nations on Earth, but we allow those donations so often to sink into miring pits of corruption and bureacracy so that they never have real impact. Get out on the dirt with these people. Go to their homes. See what they deal with. Spend a night as I did in a home with no heat, where the walls are so cold the cold transfers to the pillows and mattress leaving you no escape. Eat table scraps turned to soup. I am not doing enough either. And I know I need to. We all do.

To me, these things are the real heart of the wall issue. And as long as we continue to use stupid diplomatic ideas to try and resolve them (ignore them really), we will continue to be hated and mocked around the world. And nothing will really change. And we will actually have reason to fear people attacking us with hatred. Why shouldn't they when we selfishly sit back and prosper, wasting millions of dollars on ipods and fancy cars and other meaningless things while they are fighting to survive.

Immigrants suffer so many humiliations to be here, even legally. And what they go through from their families who are less fortunate than them is also so much harder than anything most Americans ever face. It is admirable that so many of them do so much for others, when they have so little themselves. We should admire them for it, and we should seek to learn from them. Our culture is richer for all the immigrants. We would not have any Mexican restaurants, Chinese restaurants, Brazilian restaurants, you name it, if it weren't for immigrants. For one thing, even if those restaurants are owned by U.S. citizens (which not all of them are), those who staff them are most often immigrants who work hard at lower pay than any of us care to acknowledge or would be willing to do ourselves. We owe them for so much. Not just food. Clothes, music, sports, etc.

What do they get for it? This giant legislative slap in the face. This giant taken for granted political statement. And are they angry? Yes. And so am I.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

American Bashing

One of the most frustrating and disappointing realities of cross cultural interrelations that is all too common these days is American bashing. Not just bashing the country, bashing anyone who lives there as if they are to blame for anything the countries has done, does, or ever will do that is disagreeable to the basher. While I am conservative and Republican, I don't agree with everything our government does, has done or will do. I don't feel 100% or even 70% represented most of the time by our leaders. Sometimes it is less than 10%. I think our current foreign relations stink. And I think our President, though I personally admire him for many reasons, has a bad habit of expressing himself in ways that make it worse. Either he has bad advisors or he is winging it. But some of the things he says are very insensitive and I can understand people's negative reactions. What I am frustrated and disappointed about is that I am so hated for it.

I frequently contribute to Brazzil magazine for instance. And even when I try to engage people in chatting with their comments, no matter how polite or respectful I try to be I get arrogant condemnation back. They don't try to understand me or give me any credit for trying to understand them. They hate me and they hate America and they lump me in with all of it with no awareness or consideration of who I am as a person. This seems to be particularly true with Brazilians for some reason. I never encountered it in Mexico. I did encounter it on a smaller scale in Ghana. To be honest, I think if you want to call someone else arrogant you need to not be arrogant yourself. Otherwise, it is hypocrisy. And yes, I know this applies to me. I said they are arrogant in their condemnation and I mean it. I feel free to disagree with anybody. I avoid insults and I try to always hear what they are saying and be respectful. I cannot abide people who don't have such common courtesy.

Okay, I do fail sometimes to hear people or be as sensitive as I had hoped. But I am the first to apologize and to try harder. And while my country has made many errors and mistakes and even done wrong at times, that is not my decision or my fault. I don't blame Iraqis in general for Sadaam's crimes or Al Queda in Iraq either. So why should I be blamed? And truthfully I don't know a lot of Americans who read cross cultural websites or go as tourists to places and interact with people who don't try to understand, appreciate and respect the culture. So the types of Americans they are lumping us in with tend to be the kind I don't even know or associate with myself. Have we really broken down that much in this world? If so, it is not a good sign.

I failed to see it and approve it until today, but my friend Chuck wrote in July about the fact that many of our complaints are often the result of our desire for something better. And that is definately where I coming from in this posting. I go to Brazil and Mexico and Ghana and other places with a sincere desire to learn. I eat the food. I try things. I try and learn language. I ask questions. I try and understand why they do what they do and why things are as they are. I make a sincere effort. Of course, I have cultural bias. Cultural bias is what makes the people spewing such hatred at me speak as they do. But the difference is, they deny their bias. I can admit mine. And I am often painfully aware of it. I work hard to overcome it. But as I often tell Bianca, my fiancee, she has to help me. She is Brazilian, she sees the world through different eyes, so she has to help me see and understand with those eyes. It cannot just happen. I need help. And I make the effort. So I sure wish people would make the effort too.

Okay, enough griping. I just wanted to point out this phenomenon and ask you all to pray about it and remember it. It makes things very tough for those of us working as missionaries. And it is making things very difficult for Americans everywhere in the world. And the problem is only going to get worse and become more of an issue in cross cultural inner cities, if we do not do something t0 change it. We at least have to make an effort to talk to each other more and attempt reaching some understanding. We have to set aside hate, prejudice and anger, and try not to react in kind when it is hurled at us. It is very, very hard. But the problem is not getting any easier so neither can be the solution.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Shopping in Mexico: LOVE IT OR HATE IT

Okay, some people love it. They love the bargains! The variety! They love the game! I hate hate hate it. Shopping in Mexico or Brazil or Africa at markets. It is such a hassle. I am learning to be much better at it. But I still hate it. Nonetheless, it is a quintessential cross cultural experience. And there are differences everywhere you go.

In Ghana, they shout obruni obruni everywhere you go. There's no way around it. White people just tend to stand out, and they don't discriminate. They do it to everyone. And so you become a target. To them, all white people are chosen of God and blessed with wealth, because they see rich white people on tv and in movies. Clearly the white people's world is so much different than theirs that God must have ordained it. So when white people come, if they can just get their attention, maybe they can actually make a little extra. You are a target and no amount of silence or even looking away will deter them.

In Mexico, it is similar. But here you are the gringo. And gringo's mean money. They come with cash to spend. So all of a sudden, it's "my friend, I have something for you." They say this in Ghana, too, but it takes on a more annoying spin in Mexico, I think. And in Mexico the prices are much higher. In Africa, even if you don't bargain at all, most of the time you are getting steals. Even though the starting price might be cut down to one-third if you made bargaining attempts. But in Mexico, they know Americans can afford more, and they go for it. The scenario is something like this: you show the slightest interest in an item. Bam. They are all over you. And they always have more beautiful items you just have to see.

In Brazil, skin color is so varied that you only stand out when you speak English. So they only hassle you when they hear you speak or if you look foreign or flash money. But then it is full on. And they have the best deals. Here haggling is not so easy. At least to me. Because the prices are somewhere in between Ghana and Mexico. I don't like to take unfair advantage but at the same time, I want to get a good deal. Most of the things I am buying are hand made and somebody worked hard to make them. I actually feel somewhat guilty taking them for such little prices. But at the same time, why should I pay gtossly inflated prices compared to what they might get from someone else?

So what do you do? First, I am learning to never look too excited about anything. Unless I know it is a good deal. For example, in Mexico I found guayaberas at prices almost better than the prices where they are made way south. My Mexican companion Wilbert even commented on it to others that he was amazed the prices were so good. The most expensive of them was $35 and satin. So comfortable! They were all good quality, he told me. So I did not try and bargain too much, though by buying two, I got $5 off each. I bought the third one by itself later, so I paid more.

Second, I go low. They will not sell if you are too low. So just go for it and work your way back up, but know going in how much you want to pay and stick to it. They will not take a loss. they will not sell it if they cannot make money. So you have nothing to worry about.

Third, be willing to walk away. For example, while looking for a particular chess set, I saw a clay painted sun which intrigued me. It was a unique color scheme from the others I have seen. I asked how much it cost. I did not say it with entusiasm. Just tossed it off: Cuanta cuesta? Of course, any sign of interest and we are off. He said "That is a very nice sun, senor. Very special. I make you a good deal. $18. Very cheap." I looked at him, shook my head and said $10. He said, "oh senor, please, it is very nice. $16." I stayed at $10. He stayed at $16. So I said "Your problem is, I don't want it. I just thought it looked interesting. Have a nice day." As I started to walk away, he said "14, senor." I shook my head and kept walking. I went to look at another vendor. A few minutes later he came running after me. "Please, my friend, ok, good deal. $12." I said $10. Finally, I bought it for $10. It helped that I was the first sale of the day because vendors are superstitious about the first sale and believe it is bad luck to lose that sale.

The point is, shopping in these places is tough. That's why I recommend places in Juarez like JJ's Market and Casa Bonita where the prices are set and the owners have reasonable expectations. Nothing I bought at JJ's was more than one-third of sticker. He knew I would buy a lot and come back so he just hit me with great deals right off the bat and it worked. I spent $100 in his store. At Casa Bonita his prices were a little higher, but still reasonable, and he had a good selection. I will go back to both, get what I can and only go to the market for what is not available there, because I hate the hassling crap. But if you want the real experience, you definately have to experience the market once.

Love it or hate it, it is a way of life there. In Africa, watching the natives bargain was a real education. These people were tough. And if you get lucky, they will remember what you wanted and go back instead another day to buy it for you at African prices. Then you will save amazing amounts because the fact they were seeing a white man just made prices double right off the bat (double is generous, usually it was quadruple). In Brazil and Mexico it is harder, but some enjoy the game. Not me. Still, I am richer culturally for the experience.

I in no way want to leave this post without commenting on the fact that these people are mostly genuinely poor compared to most of us. I don't write this to encourage you to take advantage of them. In most cases, the work is worth more than they make. However, I do feel that there is nothing wrong with desiring fair prices in the process, market value, and trying to not let them make you pay much more than most people who know a little bit more about it would have to. They will not sell if they are losing money. So try and get them to a price that is reasonably fair to them and you, and be happy. Trying to push them to make no profit is completely not at all what I have in mind, and I hope no one who reads this will do that.

US Tribute with Tex-Mex Taste: a Serendipitous Find in Brazil

A brief pause in my musings on Mexico for another Brazil article which was just posted at

US Tribute with Tex-Mex Taste: a Serendipitous Find in Brazil

Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Monday, 11 December 2006

I am a fan of history and modern day living museums are particularly inspiring. I love to walk the streets of Ouro Preto, Mariana, and other Brazilian historical cities, to let my eyes pan the insides of the amazing old churches of Brazil, or even step back in time with a visit to a Fazenda. But imagine my surprise when I found a place in Rio which took me back in time with a glimpse at my own country's history.

It's not a museum but it is clever marketing - an experience restaurant in Botafogo in Cobal do Humaitá, a shopping and dining area with many cross cultural dining experiences.
Restaurante Rota 66 (Route 66) is a theme restaurant founded in 2001 which features great Tex-Mex food and an interior decorated to pay tribute to the United State's first coast-to-coast highway, founded in 1926, Route 66.

Okay, so it actually only stretches from Los Angeles to Chicago (not really coast to coast) but that is how it is recorded in history.

Certainly Route 66 is an indelible part of American cultural history. People make treks to follow its remains, visiting popular sites along the route. Restaurants and stores along its route use it in their marketing. Considering that it passes by blocks from where I live in Saint Louis, finding such a place in Rio intrigued me.

Bianca and I found it when I was looking for a place where she could experience Mexican cuisine - a personal favorite native to the area where we will be living after our marriage next year. Our original destination was another Mexican place at Cobal do Humaitá, which was closed the day we went, so we wandered through and found Rota 66. Being a current resident of the Route, we just had to stop.

The interior of the restaurant, surrounding the large bar, is decorated with Route 66 memorabilia from Road Signs to Lady Biker signs to neon signs and various other items connected to the Route 66 theme. There is seating at the bar or at tables on two levels. Service was fast and efficient and the owner herself stopped by numerous times to be assured we were well taken care of.

Open from 11:30 to 4 daily for lunch and nightly for dinner, the restaurant is located on Rua Voluntários da Pátria, number 448. While it is priced for tourists, rather than Brazilians, the food was worth the price.

Appetizers include nachos with guacamole or various salsas or melted cheese, flautas, quesadillas and batata apimentada. They offer a variety of combinations for main courses ranging from tacos to burritos to enchiladas, to salads and sandwiches. They even have ribs and T-bone steaks as well as Picanha Texana.

Bianca and I went for a combination featuring flautas, tacos, burritos and enchiladas with an appetizer of fried potato balls and quesadillas so she could sample as much food as possible. It was a little more expensive than a simpler combo but perfect for two people and there wasn't a single item that didn't exceed expectations.

Drinks include pretty good margaritas, including strawberry and frozen, as well as soft drinks and a variety of beers and mixed drinks. And the desserts are impressive as well. But then who has any room left for dessert after the delicious food. Certainly this is among the best Tex-Mex available outside of the U.S. Southwest.

Our combination with margaritas, bottled water, sodas, and appetizers ran around US$ 38, which is not bad for two people. Quantities were sizable too and we both left feeling as if we could not eat again for days. In fact, we even took leftovers with us.

I do recommend one caution: for Brazilian palates unused to the spices common to Tex Mex, having plenty of water on hand is a must. Bianca had a few anxious moments waiting for the water to arrive to relieve newly discovered sensations about which she was still forming an opinion.

It was interesting to watch her reaction to the various differences between Brazilian cuisine and Mexican cuisine. It was certainly a surprise for her to note how different it was from her own culture.

Her reaction was favorable for everything but the burrito which I found mild, but she found too spicy. Given that her friend who lives in Mexico City had told her Mexican food was abhorrent, it was a rich experience to see her enjoying it so much.

For an American in the world of Rio, despite having visited Rio three times, it was fun to be in a place that seemed less unfamiliar and more like what I was used to. So often you find foreign cuisines represented differently than we are used to in our own culture when visiting representative restaurants in other countries, but that was definitely not an issue here. Everything tasted the way I expected it to taste and they even got the details right from guacamole to the choice of cheeses to their salsa.

Additionally, I enjoyed discovering Tex Mex cuisine of such quality in place I never expected and sharing it with someone who had never experienced it. So often you find foreign cuisines represented differently than we are used to in our own culture when visiting representative restaurants in other countries, but that was definitely not an issue here. You will too.
Restaurante Rota 66 -

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

Sunday, December 10, 2006

American Musical Invasion???

One concern I have cross culturally from my recent time in Juarez is the proliferation of American music on the market there. I know American music tends to dominate everywhere but the artists I hear, especially in Christian music, are clearly imitating musicians in the country to the north. You don't hear a lot of Christian Norte music, cumbia, or Mariachi, at least that I found or heard about. Even my favorite Mexican rock band, Mana, which is quite popular all over Latin America, is clearly modelling itself after U2 and other groups.

I find this disappointing because Mexico has a rich cultural heritage all its own, musically, artistically, architecturally, etc. So why do they feel like the American sound is the most valid expression? I was similarly shocked in Brazil when I found that most churches there sing American worship songs and hymns translated into Portuguese, with the same arrangements we hear in the U.S. Vineyard even set up Vineyard Brasil music using the background tracks from the U.S. versions with new Portuguese lyrics sung by Brazilian singers. Oh sure, I like some of these songs. But I liked them in English. My like for them says nothing for any appreciation of Brazilian culture. And Brazilian music has influence the world over. Bossa nova, samba, afoxe, etc. all heavy influences on American and other Western artists.

So I am wondering where are the artists who are truly attempting to write indigenous music in Mexico? Emphasized by their cultural heritage? Is the Mexican public truly so out of touch that those artists quickly fall into bankruptcy because none of their work sells? If so, I may have to work hard to teach cultural appreciation to my students there. And, as a foreigner, that will be a real challenge.

I like American music. I am an American musician. I am proud when people enjoy my music, whatever culture they are from. In fact, it works out nicely because I play like an American musician so if they didn't like American music, well, I'd have a hard time finding an overseas audience. But I take great joy in discovering the unique musical traditions of the areas where I travel -- buying and listening to CDs, live music, etc. Reading about it. Studying it. I even love to let it influence my own style and approach as much as I can. I love to learn songs in different languages and have my own translated to sing. So I am not against American music. I just feel that music is a unique language at the heart of any cultural system, and when a people are more focused on another culture's musical language than their own, I think they are missing something.

Maybe you don't agree. But I sure wish I understood why this is happening. Even in a place like Brazil where Americans are so often badmouthed and hated these days. It is amazing how people can pick and choose aspects of a culture while disliking others. The unfairness of their hate because of their dislike of the President aside, isn't there irony or even hipocrasy in despising a people but enjoying the fruits of their culture at the same time? I sure think there is.

Anyway, I hope to discover why this is the case and encourage a reevaluation and renewed appreciate of their own culture with whomever I work because part of what I gain most in going there is the result of appreciating, discovering and studying the cultural richness of their cultural milieu. I would hate to think that I left them appreciating their own culture more than they do.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Toilet Pressure: Africa/US v. Brazil/Mexico

Okay, I have to ask this question because it causes me a culture clash. Why is it that in Africa they have better water pressure for their toilets than they do in Mexico or Brazil? In Africa you can flush the paper. In Mexico and Brazil you have to throw it in a trash can. Yes, this is gross. But this is a huge problem for many westerners who travel there. I, for one, manage to forget at least once every trip and the resulting embarrassment is not fun. (Not to mention the potential overflow). At least this time, I did not do it in a private home, but a hotel. They are probably used to it.

Africa was weird because they did not have running water for our showers but the toilets were superpower flush. I mean, you felt the power. I don't get that either, but it's another issue. Their toilets were at least able to handle things similar to the US.

I realize it should not be a big deal to remember this, but somehow old habits die hard. And I do think that it is something people who visit should be aware of so as not to inconvenience themselves and others. The only explanation I have got is that plumbing systems in Mexico and Brazil outside of fancy tourist hotels are not strong enough to handle the paper.

To be honest, given other factors about Africa, Brazil and Mexico are still often more comfortable places to visit for Westerners because of more modern conveniences and sanitary conditions, at least where I have been. I am sure you can look and find all sorts of things. I did visit an area of Juarez, last Saturday, which looked much like Africa -- dirt streets, cobbled shacks, no plumbing or electric. It is a hard life for those people and I am sure sanitary conditions are not up to Western standards nor ordinary conveniences either.

But in Juarez, at least, I felt while some things seemed less modern at times, it was clean and not startlingly different. Except for food and language and dress perhaps. And don't get me wrong -- I love exotic places with differences abounding. I do. I love the sense of adventure and seeing it for myself. I enjoyed sleeping in the unheated home last Saturday night because I had not done that and I know many Mexicans and others around the world experience that every day. To truly understand them, I need those experiences. It was hard for me, as I wrote, but it was a blessing. And it is also a blessing that I don't have to do it every night, too.

To me, one of the saddest realities is that basic functions like plumbing are just not standard in so many places. And until they are, we will see ongoing crime, starvation, violence, etc. Everyone talks about building a wall between the US and Mexico as a stop to immigration. I say help the Mexican government meet their people's needs better and shore it up for the long haul and immigration will be way less of a problem. After all, people are coming here to escape such conditions. If those conditions were not so common, they would have less reason to go elsewhere. The wall is not a solution, better infrastructure and jobs are. Of course, a lot of Americans, sadly, would roll over in their graves at the thought of using our tax money to do the Mexican government's job. That's because the immigrant connections of most people here are generations past and they have lost their sense of connectedness. That's one reason I love my opportunities to travel -- they connect me with people from other places and remind me why America was founded and what so many people went through to make it what it is.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Clash Of The Linguas

One interesting culture clash I have begin to take more notice of, now that I travel a lot, is how spoiled immigrants here are compared to those in other places. In every country I have visited -- Ghana, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, etc. it is assumed that if you come there, you will make an effort at learning the native language. Schools teach in it, signs are posted in it, everyone speaks it and thus so should you. Sure a few hotels and restaurants and shops which cater to tourists have people who might speak some halting English or even be fluent, but these are the minority. The obligation is on you to make the effort.

It is interesting to me how this contrasts with our own attitude of creating Spanish catering schools, shops, etc. for Hispanic immigrants (just as one group for example). We are too nice to actually require them to learn our language. Instead, we will conform to them. Why should they be penalized for being in one of the largest nations on Earth and not knowing the language. How absurd of anyone to think they should do that!

To me, this is another example of the culture clash of values presently ongoing in our own culture. The Feminist-Homosexual-Political Correctness types who want everyone to feel loved and happy and wholy accepted and never see anyone offended. I say these groups because they are leading voices, not because they alone believe this. It seems to be the opinion of a larger and larger segment of our population every day.

Take it from someone who is very sensitive, loves immigrants, travels a lot, and works hard to understand and empathize with other cultures on a regular basis -- we are not doing them a favor! This idea is actually hurting them. It is helping take away their motivation to participate in a land they are calling home. And in the process we lose -- we lose their voices, we lose their full participation, we lose the opportunity to learn fully from them and allow them to help shape who we are and to know who they are. And that is a big loss. There is a lot to learn from other cultures.

I had never given this policy much thought until missionary friends on the border said they think our country should require people to learn English and stop spoiling them by trying to cater too much to their own lingual needs. It was then that it hit me how right they are. Why should someone who moves to another country be offended that they have to learn the local language? I was not offended when I needed to do this in Brazil or Mexico (as I am now). It makes sense. Interpersonal communication is necessary to everyday life. So of course one has to learn it to function for long periods in such a place. Now that I have thought about it I am actually more offended that some of our fellow countrymen actually want me to believe I should feel sorry for people who just have to make the same effort I or anyone else would to go to their country when they come to ours.

Okay, some people are already offended by this. Que pena! Too bad! God made a multicultural world with many languages to enrich the world. If we stop trying to benefit from learning from each other, we are the losers. And we are going against His will and design. And maybe some people want to live that way, but I don't.

And before you get started whining about how hard it is to learn other languages, don't waste my time. Of course it's hard. But no harder than trying to live in another country without being able to communicate. If it was easy, we would all do it. But that is beside the point. Besides, part of what people in other cultures have told me they like about my efforts to speak their languages is that my efforts shows respect for their culture. So why can't immigrants to America make some effort to respect our culture. Most of them came here because they desired aspects of our culture in their lives anyway, so since language is at the heart of a culture, one should expect an effort to be familiar with language. It's natural.

I am not anti-immigrants. I am not pro-assimilation. They don't have to lose their cultural identity to live here. In fact, I strongly desire that they don't. After all, as I said above, we have so much to learn from them. I am just suggesting that a fundamental requirement of daily life anywhere is knowing the local language enough to communicate basically with natives. And that requires effort anywhere in the world. They expect it of us when we go to their cultures, so we have a right to expect it of them. We deserve the same respect for our culture which they want us to have for theirs.

Something to think about...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', Dang My Behind Is Frozen...In Mexico

Okay, I have not written in a while, but I have not had as much cross cultural travel lately. But I just spent 9 days in the Southwest between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, and I have several things I can think of. First, Saturday night.

Saturday night I went to stay in the home of this wonderful sweet Christian family from one of the churches I visited. The husband is an elder and breaks his back in one of the well know maquiladoras, factories in the borderland. His wife sews and raises their two cute girls. They live in a lower class neighborhood, I am guessing, in a small house with a bathroom, two rooms, and a family room/kitchen. Their house was nice though sparsely decorated. But what got me is they really have no heat. They have one heater in the wall near the bathroom.

Ok, so I have been to Africa. FOUR TIMES, I have been to Africa. I have seen no AC, no heat, no windows, no plumbing, dirt floors, thatch roofs, etc. I have seen toilets that are a trench or even just a hole. But man I can tell you one cold night in Mexico really challenged me. I don't know how they do it. These people are wonderful. Their house is small but they keep it nice, and have some nice things, and they make the most of what they have. This is in NO way a criticism of them. It is a commentary on my needs, mostly. And the culture clash that resulted from being deprived. So even though they don't speak Spanish, if someone reads this who knows them, it is not meant to say anything bad about them, because I have absolutely nothing bad to say.

They took me in after having met me once, maybe twice. They let me stay under their roof even though I arrived at 11:30 and don't speak their language. They made their home my home. They slept in a room with their two daughters so I could have a room. And they fed me well. They were very gracious. The food was good. And they had music on. So we sang. I did puzzles with the girls. I even sang hymns in Spanish with the Mom, though my Spanish is horrifying (I am certain of this). So no issue with them.

But this week there was snow in Juarez. It did not stick. It is rare to see snow there. But what happened is, while the snow did not stick, the temperatures dropped all week, and that night, I am guessing, it must have been in the 30s or even the 20s. And the cinderblock wall next to the bed was so cold, that the pillows got cold. I had three blankets and I was able to sleep, but I woke up always cold the few times I woke up. And there was NO hot water. Yes, people live like that all over the world. And despite several times in Africa, I have not been able to adjust. In Africa, we used pitchers with coils to heat the water. I need to buy one of those things for myself because the Africans provided them. I need to travel with one. Because I did not shower. I self-determined that I did not stink, and so I did not shower because the water felt like ice. And so, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

In defense of my pathetic self, I might say that I had developed a bad cold two days before and was sick and did not want to be sicker. I did have to sing that day. And I was far from home. But really, my only excuse is, I can't take it. I cannot take the cold. I am weak. And yet people live with it every day. All day. It never ends. I wish I knew how they do it. I wish I were a better man. Not so spoiled, perhaps. I wish I could do it myself. But I just couldn't.

So I send my respects to those who do. You have strength of character I do no possess. I am sorry you have to suffer that way, but even as I say it, I KNOW you do not consider this suffering. You don't mind cold showers. You have not been spoiled by hot water like me. And you are just happy to have running water at all. I am ashamed at my own wealth and privilege -- the privilege to know that hot showers exist at all. I hope to keep learning from those less privileged. I hope it changes me. And I hope my writing about it here makes you want to change too.

Peace & Understanding.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Political Culture Clash

I hate to talk politics as mostly it results in bad feelings and arguments these days. But since this is about culture clashes, I feel I must at least comment on the culture clash that is politics these days. American political discourse is starting to look more and more like the abhorrent politics I witnessed in Brazil and Ghana, among other places. Candidates competing not on facts or issues but on who can say the most outrageous thing. And it has become so offensive that it is a huge turn off for many of us.

Our society is clashing over divergent values and it is hard to live in peace these days. I used to be middle of the road. I voted based on issues and candidates. Sometimes I voted for Democrats, as I did for Bill Clinton when he was elected in 1992. Sometimes, I voted for Republicans as I did for George W. Bush twice in 2000 and 2004. In the case of Bill Clinton, I regret voting for him only because he showed such contempt and disrespect for our country, the office of President, and the American public when he made statements implying we are stupid. Everyone knows what the meaning of "is" is in the given sentence. Some words are just not given to multiple meanings. I would respect him if he had just had the decency and guys to confess and admit he has a problem. But no, he had to try and schmooze his way out of it. I admit to dismay when I hear the people who claim he was the greatest and the whole thing was blown out of context. Or even worse, they long for the days of Clinton.

How can you blow out of proportion the most powerful man on Earth not only showing contempt for everyone else but not living up to his ethical and moral responsibilities? Not even minimal ones. Some people tell me why does that matter to you? It matters to me because kids and other Americans, and even foreigners, look up to our President. And they see him as an example. When Clinton had an affair with Monica, it made it okay for people to do that in many people's eyes. And it is not okay t0 cheat on your wife. There are some things that should just on even the most minimal moral standards be unacceptable. That is one of them. It matters to me because I voted for him, so he represented me when he did that. And I find that embarrassing and disgusting.

It should matter to everyone that instead of saying "I have a problem with women, and I did wrong, and I am sorry and embarrassed" Bill Clinton instead chose to actually try and convince us the word "is" or "sex" could be defined in multiple ways. Everyone knew what was implied. So did he. So why treat us like you are so intelligent and we are such stupid sheep that you can convince us otherwise? THAT is offensive. It is embarrassing and disgusting.

I will say that Bill Clinton did good things in his first term. He accomplished more of his election promises than any President in 20 years up to his time. And he has redeemed himself in some ways by some of his post-Presidential activities. But the question mark will always exist. He will never be the great man he so wants to be in history. And that is because he was so smarmy and ridiculous in his approach to being caught red handed.

Enough about that. I don't agree with everything George W. does either, by the way. His cowboy talk is taking things too far all too often. And he makes statements offensive and culturally arrogant that offend people in other nations. And that is just not right for a President for some of the same reasons -- looked up to, etc. But I do think we have a greater responsibility than any other nation as the sole superpower. And one of those is to police the world and fight for justice. Ultimately, that is what the Iraq War should be about and often is not. It should have been emphasized from day one. And Bush should have thrown out those who misled him and made him look bad with misinformation and failure to give him the best information he needed to do his job. I admire and respect loyalty. But I find it disappointing when loyalty becomes a liability, as it has with George W.

At the same time, I used to be able to vote moderate, and I cannot any more. The loudest voices in the Democratic Party have become extremists, and I believe their stands on issues are in the worst interests of our world and country. And even though I believe we need gun control, and need to care for the environment, and disagree with the Republican Party on other issues, ultimately, I do see gay marriage and the reprogramming of our values that comes with the whole gay agenda, and abortion and the reprogramming of values which has already occurred because of that, and other Democratic mainstays as more threatening than those issues. So I find myself voting Republican these days, and when there is no Republican, I vote Green Party or someone else. This election on my absentee ballot, I even wrote in people.

I think it is sad it has come to that. It is sad that at certain family gatherings I cannot open my mouth and I have to listen to very offensive remarks from family Democrats as they slam things that matter to me. And it is sad that I cannot talk about what really matters to me to some people. But well, I can do it here. I hope we get back to the days where I can vote based on issues and candidates. I hope we can restore a sense of what really matters. But who knows when that will happen. I find it discouraging that so many who claim to be Christians don't actually get the realities behind these values issues. That they actually don't see the conflict with Biblical values and so much these issues represent. It is sad that what used to be common values we all shared at a minimum are fading away. And if you don't think that's true or don't understand that ask yourself how people can actually think the President of the U.S. cheating on his wife and with someone who is barely out of her teens is acceptable behavior? It didn't used to be that way. The loss of values must grieve the heart of our heavenly Father even more than it grieves my heart. And that ought to make people stop and think. Before it's too late.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

♥ In Memory of Jason & Lindsay...

An incredible statement by people dealing with incredible loss! What a witness! I had to link to it!

♥ In Memory of Jason & Lindsay...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Brazilian Elections: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Brasileira Scorned

This article was published in its entirety at Let's admit, nothing like the culture clash of a feuding husband and wife.

Brazilian Elections: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Brasileira Scorned
Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Friday, 29 September 2006

What to do when your divorce is dragged out in long court proceedings... For Maria Christina Mendes Caldeira, the answer was simple: run against her ex-husband for Congress. Given Brazilian politics' propensity for dirty campaigning, the result is nonetheless one of the most unique and interesting political races to be decided in Sunday's election, at least for São Paulo voters -at least for soap opera fans.

Their divorce contest alone has gotten them plenty of notice in the press. There was a widely noted incident in 2004 when Caldeira was forced out of the couple's Brasília mansion, when her estranged husband, Liberal Party president and current Congressman Valdemar Costa Neto had the water and electricity shut off at the house in order to force her out.

Caldeira first struck back against her ex politically during national televised congressional hearings last year about the alleged political slush fund, as covered by the Brazzil newsroom, when she stepped forward to testify of personally seeing her ex-husband, Costa, hiding stacks of cash in his secret safe.

Costa testified that the funds were supposedly to finance the political campaign for the second round of presidential elections, a version that the panel handling the investigation, The Chamber of Deputies Ethics Council (Conselho de Ética e Decoro Parlamentar da Câmara), found implausible.

Facing impeachment, Costa had little choice but to resign. Now he is seeking another four year term against the most unlikely of opponents. In fact, his ex-wife has become his chief opposition for the seat and continuation of a 14-year political career.

This votes-for-cash scandal has dominated the politics of Brazil over the past year and currently threatens to bring down the government of President Lula.

The votes for cash scandal, known as the Payoff CPI (CPI do mensalão), began on June 6, 2005, when a Brazilian Congressional deputy, named Roberto Jefferson, told daily Folha de S. Paulo that Lula's PT party had paid a number of congressmen 30,000 reais (about US$ 13,000) a month to vote favorably for the party's legislation. The end result was a ballooning scandal during which many congressmen, including Costa, resigned or were fired.

At the heart of this race lie core questions faced by Brazilian voters: Does political corruption really matter? Does honesty matter in Brazilian politics? So far, polls seem to show the electorate hardly cares.

Political consultants expect 70% of Congress to return to office, including Costa and others who were involved in the slush fund payments scandal. Though his own administration has been plagued by some of the worst political scandals in decades, President Lula is widely expected to be reelected for another 4-year term.

Caldeira, the daughter of an old money real estate baron, who studied in Europe is facing Costa, her ex-husband, son of a provincial mayor, who grew up in Brazilian politics, with great odds against her.

She lacks his fund-raising ability, political experience and connections. But that hasn't stopped her from making herself known. She led a group of protestors armed with brooms and buckets in cleaning up Liberal Party headquarters, symbolically at least in Costa's own home town of Mogi das Cruzes.

And when a Costa supporter threw a shoe at her, she returned the favor with a bucket of water -for which she wound up arrested.
She is frequently seen campaigning and handing out fliers from her 1984 Volkswagon motor home, covered with her slogan Tenho Atitude and blasting her campaign theme song from a speaker system, when it works.

The van is frequently plagued with mechanical difficulties which inhibits travel, let alone blaring the music. Her ex, on the other hand, is running what is reportedly one of the best financed congressional campaigns in the country.

Even Costa's reputation for heavy gambling, corruption, and a temperamental personality - all aided by the testimony of Caldeira herself, of course - does not seem to deter voters. There are also those who testify of Costa's caring for his constituents, such as the adolescent he helped get treatment at a top hospital after an accident. But it did lead to the invitation from the Green Party to run against her ex, candidate for the Liberal Party.

Given the Brazilian system of proportional representation, whereby each party gets a quota of congressional seats, the two could wind up serving together in Congress. That would make for an interesting reunion for press and voters, if not for Costa and Caldeira. And they still have to settle their divorce, which has dragged on since 2004.

Regardless of the outcome, the prospect of a candidate whose leading slogan consists of "Vote For Me - I'm his Ex" beating an experienced incumbent makes for one unique and interesting race. Forget about the fact that the candidates are often too busy sniping to discuss any significant issues. These days few candidates seem to find the time for that, even in the United States.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy.

His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Lesson in Language and Respect from Mexico

I just returned last week from a three day LAUNCH Conference on Worship in Juarez, Mexico for the Anchored Music Ministries - Border Evangelism and Mercy Ministries (better known as BEAMM) partnership.

Because of my desire to communicate well and show respect to those who do not speak my own native language, I learned a number of songs in Spanish. I use the term 'learned' loosely. I attempted. I also had songs translated into Spanish. The results were that I led them in worship and singing on three occasions and it was well received. I also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don't speak Spanish.

From mispronouncing the word ahora as it looks instead of with the silent 'h' as proper -- giving it a much closer sound to implying what it sounds like it implies in English than the Spanish meaning of 'now' -- to my slaughter of syntax by emphasizing the wrong syllables, I in every way showed myself a neophyte Spanish speaker. But the lesson here was in the gracious response of the Mexicans.

No one criticized me. No one frowned. And no one cried out to me to stop murdering their language. There were no snide comments to the missionaries or by them. Everyone was very gracious. Part of this is the Mexican culture, and Latin American culture in general, where people avoid offending or embarrassing others with open criticism. But even in private, they were more likely to comment on my genuine attempt to learn and communicate in Spanish than my failures in the process.

I wonder if we are as gracious in the American culture.

How many times have I heard someone with a foreign accent struggling to communicate at a retail counter or in a hotel or restaurant, only to have an American criticize "the word is ______ instead of _______."? How many times have I heard comments like "learn English buddy, you're in America!" or "What, you no speakey English?" I shamefully must even admit to my own past frustration listening to someone attempt the language who seemed to have little understanding of it. These Mexican hosts put me to shame.

Sometimes I think English has become so dominant as a language of business and tourism that we just feel like we have a God-given right to expect people will speak it wherever we go. I think we somehow feel like it is obligatory, when we fail to even attempt to learn other languages so we can communicate. In tourist areas, one can get away with such culture arrogance but not in interior cities which rarely see tourism or outside core attractions and border areas. No one the stereotype of the 'arrogant American' is so predominant and so reviled. In fact, as an experienced traveller, I have joined the ranks of those Americans who abhor encounters with fellow Americans who fall into this category. This despite the fact that I know I myself still fall into that category sometimes.

Language is often the ultimate culture clash. How nice it was to be allowed to stumble just because I was trying so hard. How nice it was to have people graciously understand and offer suggested interpretations until we could actually communicate or even just gloss over obvious errors in the interest of graciousness. I must now do better at doing the same when I meet others in a similar position to the one I was in there in Mexico.

An Out-of-this-World and All-Around Charming Varginha, Brazil

This article was published originally on Brazzil Magazine at But here it is in its entirety.

An Out-of-this-World and All-Around Charming Varginha, Brazil

Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Sunday, 10 September 2006

Since January 2003, when I first ventured out of my world in St. Louis, Missouri, to the foreign world of Brazil - a different culture, different language, different continent (though Brazilians would argue this third point for sure) - I have visited a number of places in Brazil.

I have visited Rio de Janeiro, arguably the country's most famous city for reasons good and bad, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Goiânia, Ouro Preto, Mariana, Ouro Branco, Três Corações, and even Três Pontas.

And I have enjoyed different things about each of them. To be honest, I prefer the smaller interior cities to the massive congestion, noise, and crime of Rio and São Paulo for lots of reasons.
One of my favorites so far has been the little gem of Varginha, hailed as the coffee capital of Brazil, in the south of Minas Gerais. One of Brazil's larger coffee enterprises, Café Bom Dia - sold now in Sam's Clubs in the U.S. - is based there.

They have several colleges and universities, including the State Conservatory of Music and Federal University of the South of Minas. Even UFO aficionados know the city from a reported UFO incident in the mid-1990s.

But for me what I like is the charm of a city large enough to have the necessities and niceties but small enough to be safe from major crime, pollution and congestion issues, even tourists, that so often make challenges for those of us in the larger cities of Brazil.

Varginha's population is presently listed around 100,000. It has a charming downtown of shops, cafés, restaurants, etc., which bustles with activity most days. The streets are generally straight but often wind up and down rather steep hills.

Most are wide enough for two cars, but a few are narrower, and many are interspersed one-way roads. Crosswalks are frequent, and unlike Rio and larger cities, the drivers actually seem to stop promptly when the lights change, conscious of pedestrian safety.

As one friend told me: "In Rio, pedestrians are just obstacles, but in Varginha, they have equal rights." In fact, you can even take a romantic starlight stroll almost anywhere in the city without worrying much about crime.

I mean, as with anywhere in Brazil (or the world for that matter), take the usual precautions, but you can walk through shadows and deserted areas without a lot of concern that someone will jump out at you or is lying in wait. In fact, Varginha has no favelas and the citizens are mostly middle class, hard-working family people.

For those wondering what there is to see and do, Varginha is surrounded by coffee plantations with the beautiful old historic fazendas and hills of green coffee plants. At Fazenda Pedra Negra, for example, built in 1915 and situated on the road to Três Pontas, the owners allowed us free reign to wander through the house and grounds, answering any questions as we raised them, and permitting pictures of anything and everything we wanted to shoot.

They have a working old telephone with the separated round earpiece you hold to your ear while talking into the megaphone shaped piece on the phone itself. They have a working stone oven large enough to prepare meals for huge parties, no doubt. They have a swimming pool, an amazingly designed water system to feed the house that still is out of reach of city water systems.

They have a charming dining area indoors and out, and they have a Museum of Coffee which is well worth the visit alone. The exhibits are well put together with good explanations and finely maintained examples and artifacts from the periods when this coffee plantation was at its prime to modern day.

But there is more to see as well. For one, the Museu de Varginha is a great place to explore both the history of this region and the city itself. Because of the UFO story's popularity and despite the fact that most locals I spoke with did not believe the story and even found the city's publicity of it a little distasteful and embarrassing, there are statues of aliens at the bus station, for sale in many shops, and spread along the Praça Governador Valadares, which lines Avenida Rio Branco in Centro. There is also a unique one at the base of the giant UFO found along Avenida Major Venâncio in Praça Marechal Floriano (beside the Honda dealership).

Varginha is also a great place to shop for the gems from which Minas Gerais gets its name and at bargain prices. The selection is optimal compared to smaller towns nearby, if nothing else, because the larger city has more shops from which to choose.

O Forno has the best pizza I have had in Brazil (though to be fair, I have never had pizza in São Paulo). Água Doce is a great cachaçaria and restaurant. The picanha is as good as any I have had anywhere. And don't miss the smoothies! Delicious!

This is also a great spot to sample the great comida mineira (Minas food) such as tutu à mineira (bean purée and pork rinds) and doce de leite (milk candy) and other specialties of the region. There are even local cachaçarias (sugar cane liquor bars) and wineries as well as great opportunities for the famous queijo mineiro, the cheese of Minas!

The selection of hotels is also good. My personal favorite is the lesser known Hotel Jaraguá, much newer and nicer than its older cousins in other cities. Free postcards of the city and its famous UFO statue are available along with inexpensive ceramic aliens at the front desk.

Each room has a stocked fridge with room to store your own stuff, as you only pay for what you use. The cable television selection is optimum, the breakfast buffet the best I have had in Brazil, and the service top notch. They even have a rooftop pool and bar. All of this at rates much lower than equal hotels in Rio. In fact, less than half price.

The hotel is located on Avenida Benjamin Constant not far from Centro or the bus station and it lies along major bus routes leading to various neighborhoods around the city. Hotel Castelar, situated more in Centro, is another fine option recommended by friends. Slightly more expensive than Jaraguá, it is located closer to Avenida Rio Branco and the shopping.

One of the nicest things about Varginha is that you can just about walk anywhere in the city in twenty minutes or less. The only exception would be from one edge of town to the other. It is safe to walk, and the weather is normally mild - 65-85, with occasional 50s a couple of weeks a year as well as occasional 90s in the summer. So this is a great place to visit without having to rent a car.

The bus ride from Rio de Janeiro passes right through mineral spa towns like São Lourenço and Cambuquira as well as other towns with access to National Parks like Resende and Barra Mansa. So you can see amazing and beautiful countryside in route and even use Varginha as a launching point to visit other places of interest or relax at health spas.

The historical cities of Tiradentes and São João del Rei are within 3 hours as well as Três Corações, birthplace of Pelé, Três Pontas, birthplace of Milton Nascimento, and the spa capital of Poços de Caldas.

Varginha also has an amazing country club and tennis club. The Tennis Club is located off Avenida Benjamin Constant in Centro while Termas do Sul do Minas Club, for members and guests only, is located on an island in the middle of the river that flows past the city.
It has amazingly large outdoor swimming pools linked by bridges and includes great waterslides, indoor pools, tennis courts, racquetball, foosball, peteca (shuttlecock), volleyball, and other activities, even a ballroom. Definitely worth a visit if you can befriend any local members or somehow get an invitation.

Either as a gateway to the interesting coffee farms and spa towns around out, or for its own unique culture, Varginha, is a great place to experience life of the interior of Brazil in a way that cannot be experienced in the larger cities.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

A Trip Back in Time in an Old Brazilian Submarine

This article was published originally on Brazzil Magazine at But here it is in its entirety.

A Trip Back in Time in an Old Brazilian Submarine

Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Wednesday, 20 September 2006

For most tourists, a trip to Brazil is rarely complete without a visit to her second largest (São Paulo is the largest) and most famous city, Rio de Janeiro, the city on the bay. With its beautiful beaches, rich museums, architectural variety and booming nightlife, it is a place where memories are often made.

For those who love Rio de Janeiro, with all of its energy and cornucopia of activities, one site not to be missed is Espaço Cultural da Marinha. Located on Avenida Alfredo Agache at Avenida Presidente Kubitschek, this museum is on the seafront, at the site of a formal naval establishment.

Here you can look out into Guanabara Bay and watch planes taking off from Aeroporto Santos Dumont. To see large planes landing on such a seemingly short strip is truly a sight to behold and can make for some memorable photos as well.

The location also provides a great view of Ilha Fiscal and other islets in the Bay, and one can watch ships of all shapes and sizes setting out across its waters - from sailboats to the Niterói ferries to far larger vessels. But the real gems here are the two ships: a World War II Brazilian submarine, Riachuelo, and the Torpedo boat Bauru.

You can guide yourself on a tour of these ships which are well preserved and have helpful displays showing what life would be like aboard. Both ships seen together in the marina are like a time capsule back to a different time, and their decks provide impressive views also of the bay and surrounding area.

Making one's way down the ladders and through the portholes of the Riachuelo, one is led to wonder how so many men could possibly live here. For someone larger than average, the narrow, steep ladders and small spaces seemed difficult to maneuver with the ship anchored. To imagine doing it with the ship moving underwater in the open sea is mind boggling.

It was impressive to see how quarters were often very small and bunks were tucked into whatever space was available, even in areas where one could not imagine sleep coming easily. The torpedo tubes, engine room, bridge, and officers' quarters were all open to visit for up close inspection. Also, the submarine's periscope is working and can be used and maneuvered by visitors to peer around at Centro Rio or out to sea.

I had always wondered what life might be like on a submarine, and it was even more cramped and tight than I had imagined. As I ducked down and lifted one leg first through each porthole, climbing through, it was easy to understand why naval men often say it takes a special kind of man to become a submariner. One visit to the Riachuelo and there is no doubt.

The Bauru was equally as impressive with its doctor's office, barbershop, hospital area, and bridge all among the sites on the tour. It has many steep ladders and narrow portholes of its own as well, and there were mannequins in uniforms on both ships at various points to demonstrate the activities of the crew in each area.

I tried to imagine myself maneuvering up the various narrow ladders and passageways on rocking waves with a seawind and battle raging around me. It must be truly an impressive accomplishment.

One can also recreate the famous Leonard DiCaprio-Kate Winslet moment by leaning out on the prow into the wind with the cry of "I'm the King of The World." Just leaning out like this and staring down the side, I was impressed by the size of the chain leading to the anchor. Later, a spare anchor also was impressive in its mass. For those who have not had opportunity to see such ships up close, Espaço Cultural da Marinha provides a unique opportunity.

I also tried to imagine being employed in the kitchen of either vessel. While the Bauru's kitchen crew had much more space than those on the sub, it still must be challenging not to get burned or otherwise injured when the ship is out to rough seas or otherwise rocked by the waves and wind. Truly these men had to develop real skills in their jobs just to get it done.

For those who favor living history, this is as close as one can get without actual reenactments and the freedom to explore on one's own, often a hindrance at some lesser attractions, is here a great benefit. The lack of formal tours allows one to wander through them at leisure and spend as much time examining the various details as you desire.

There is also a Museum of Underwater Archeology and Historical shipping, and the Galeota, a boat used by the Portuguese royal family. The museum features most of the exhibits formerly found at the Museu Naval e Oceanográfico. These include paintings and prints, weapons, and figureheads.

Finally, from a launch nearby you can catch boats to Ilha Fiscal to see the former Custom's House, which is now a museum. It was built by the Emperor Dom João II but then deemed too beautiful for use as anything but to host official parties. Only one was held there five days before the Republic began. It is now linked to the Naval Cultural Center.

We had a great deal of trouble finding this gem when we first attempted, because even taxi drivers didn't seem to know how to find the address. After taking a taxi in a circle back to where we started, we spotted it, behind the Casa França-Brasil and rushed across a busy throughway to get to it. It was worth every effort and a true delight. I took some of my favorite photos from the trip there and both my Carioca fiancé and I agreed it was a highlight.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

Bad blogger, bad!

Okay, I have been neglecting my responsibilities here. But I have been on a plane every two weeks since July and have been swamped. One of things I have done is revamp our ministry website, so you can find it at

I also wrote two articles for an online magazine about Brazil, which are posted here as well.

Hope some people still read this site. Please send your own culture clashing stories if you have them. My intent all along in creating this site was to make such things available and allow people to interact with my own experiences and the experiences of others in crossing cultures!


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Culture Clashes in the Family

It has been a while since I wrote here. In fact, since I started I have not written the way I intended, but soon I will be having more to write about as I have two crosscultural trips planned. But in the meantime, I am having a culture clash in my own family.

My younger sister is the child of my birth mother. My twin sister and I were adopted into a different family. We grew up uppermiddle class. Our younger sister grew up blue collar. No judgements on which is better. But there are two different world views at work. And this can cause discomfort, misunderstanding, and different values.

The present issue is with values. Admittedly, my younger sister lost her mother when she was 14, and her role models since have been shaky at best. Now she is a young mother and her life has some issues. She probably doesn't know how to do things because no one ever modelled it for her. So much of what we learn in life we learn from the modelling of others -- parents, teachers, friends, etc. So my younger sister is at a distinct disadvantage. But still the difference between maturity and immaturity is not thinking about bad things. Both mature and immature people think about doing things that are bad or poor choices. The difference is mature people have the self-control and wisdom to not take it beyond thinking into action.

For example, every person is tempted to cheat sexually at some point in life. And there is a long history of examples of it making a mess of people's lives, yet people still do it. The examples go back to biblical times. Yet we still have not learned this lesson. But people who are more mature, with more life experience, hopefully will know more of this history and let it be a deterrent. Also they probably have the wisdom to choose between the passion of the moment and the value of the longer term, vested relationship it might ruin. Just one example.

I think moral issues are particularly hard to deal with. So often Christians just condemn outright anyone who admits temptation or struggle. This is denying their own depraved, sinful nature. We are all in the same boat. Nonbelievers and believers are equally sinful. The advantage we have in Christ is forgiveness and hope and the power of the Spirit to give us wisdom which can protect us from bad choices. But this is only true if we allow it to seep into us and spend time pondering it and learning from this wisdom. And our possession of this NEVER makes us better than anyone else. No wonder Christians around the world have so much trouble with people thinking they are hipocrites and such. Because we often demonstrate hipocrasy.

Truthfully, I have a Culture Clash with Christians who cannot relate to real sinful people. People who are in such denial and have such a superiority complex that they actually think they are separate because of how they are not who they are in Christ. I am way too aware of my own sinful thoughts and actions past and present to ever allow myself such escapism. And I think it is not Christlike to live in denial of your own sin and commonality with other human beings. That is what does the most harm to the Christian cause of anything I can imagine. And it is why we are disrespected and not heard.

In Brazil, such thinking is actually so common it is scary. But I hear it in the US often as well. I heard less of it in Africa, but it is there also. And it is a divide which is hard to bridge. So I never have thought myself better than my younger sister or other family because of their different values or point of view. I just get frustrated that sometimes I have perspective and wisdom that is refused. I try to offer it as nonjudgementally and kindly as I can and I hit a brick wall. Even when I am discussing things which the people themselves admit were stupid or wrongful behaviors. It's sad.

I need people who have experiences I don't have to advise and help me grow and deal with new situations. And other people need experience of people like me. Right now I am sure wishing my little sister could see this. I sure think it is sad that she is trying to find her way in the world without the advice of older relatives who have lived some of the same situations and made different choices. Maybe then I would feel like her life was less out of control. Maybe she would stand a chance of making different choices. But when this one world view is all she knows and sees, how can she?

Culture Clashes in the home are the worst kind. So divisive and discouraging.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mexican Hospitality

I am the world's worst blogger. Why? Because I just never come here and write. And because I have a hard time figuring out what to write. Most of that is due to my present circumstance, preparing for a longer term cross cultural assignment but only actually travelling for a few days or weeks at a time in the meantime. So what I have to say is limited unless I delve into my personal life, which I rarely do because it is PERSONAL. Yes, I am engaged to a Brazilian, which means I am cross culturally reacting every day. But that is not the type of thing I mostly want to write about here. As I get to Brazil and Mexico and start working full time in cross cultural reality, I expect to write a lot more frequent and interesting posts. Meantime, I hope I have not bored you to tears or caused anyone to lose interest by posting few and far between.

That being said, I just thought of something that I wanted to write about from my time in Mexico in October. Since we go back in September and are starting a program there which will eventually involve my living there full time, it seems appropriate to start discussing Mexico more often.

When I was in Mexico, the missionaries introduced me to a family from one of the church plants. The wife was involved in the church music group I was to sing with that Sunday. Since the missionary's son had a birthday the next afternoon, and I was scheduled to rehearse with these folks, the family, who didn't even know me, graciously offered to host me for the lunch and early afternoon.

What was interesting to me is that they had a nice lunch with me before the father and two youngest daughters went with me to the soccer game of the older daughter. But this lunch took place two hours after I arrived and did not begin until the soccer game was already going. And it was conducted at a very relaxed pace.

Why does this suprise me? Because if I were a parent, I would have wanted to be at that game. If I were the daughter, I would have wanted my family there. And especially since they had a crushing defeat, I wonder how the daughter felt that they only saw the ending of the game. I know she was crushed at losing, even though, as goalie, we did see her make an amazing block. YAY!

It just got me thinking that perhaps the cultural duty of hospitality is a higher calling than the calling to support your child at one of what is probably 20 + soccer matches she will play. And I am not sure what I think of that. One on hand, as someone whose father missed out on some events that were important in my young life because a busy surgeon and Emergency Medical Director of the city's paramedics had other duties, I admit to feeling sympathy for any disappointment the daughter may have felt. She expressed none to me. And showed no antipathy toward me. But still, she is a teenager. And you need someone to root you on, especially your family. On the other hand, I am flattered that a complete stranger would be so important to them. The meal was pancakes, nothing fancy. But that they stayed home when they had somewhere potentially more important to be sent a clear message: Hosting me was their most important duty at that moment.

I respect that greatly. And admire them for that. And it intrigues me to find out more about a culture that places this kind of emphasis on hospitality, especially when Latin cultures are known for resistance to outsiders. Of course, in my experience, they are also big on hospitality. And this is an example of the kind of generous hospitality we read about in the bible.

Truth is, I don't know if I would have done that if it were my kid. I won't know for a decade or so when I finally have kids old enough to have soccer games, I guess. But I would like to think I am a good host who makes the proper sacrifices and shows the proper respect to guests, even strangers. I know Jesus did. And I thank this family for modelling that to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy New Year!

Okay, I need to say a belated Happy New Year to all my readers! Since I got back from Brazil, January 7, I have been busy working on a fundraiser March 4 in St. Louis. And finishing work at the church, starting new consulting at Peabody Energy, and planning a wedding in Brazil. Not to mention the realities of daily life, and trying to maintain a long distance relationship. It is challenging.

Anyway, I had hoped to write some relevant comments here, but have not felt I had much to write that fit the purpose of this blog. Hopefully, when our Mexico and Brazil projects start later this year, I will have things to say, as I will be interacting regularly in cross cultural settings. But right now I am not.

I will say I had a great time in Brazil. I love Varginha even more now that I have had time to just be there with no major agenda, wander around, get to know the place. It is fun just to walk around there. And, for me, the ambience is so different from Rio or even Belo Horizonte that it is almost startling.

I make no secret of the fact that despite the fact I am engaged to a carioca, I don't like Rio. For one thing, I don't find myself as overwhelmed by its beauty as a lot of people talk about. To me it is an older, not very clean city that is crowded, and frankly uncomfortable. You always feel like a target in Rio, if you are a white foreigner at least, and I hate that. There are some amazing buildings and museums and parks and other points of interest. The restaurants are great too. But overall, I just prefer other cities in Brazil.

Take Belo Horizonte for example, I love Belo Horizonte, and while I know people who have been robbed there, I have never personally felt uncomfortable there. You have to take care with your camera in Centro (downtown) and there are some places that one should not go except in groups, but this is just common reality for most cities, even in the U.S. Belo is beautiful, surrounded by mountains and hills. It is not as crowded. And it has plenty to see and do as well.

I also adore Goiania, though I have known people who were victims of crime there as well. But Goiania is very European in feel. And it is well developed, not as crowded, and fun to visit. It does not have as many tourist sites but it has plenty to do, in my opinion, and is near enough you can also visit Brasilia and a famous Brazilian healer, if you are into that.

However, my preference overall, despite the fact that I live in a large city right now (St. Louis) and have been living in big cities since I left Salina, KS (population 48,000) for college in 1987, is smaller places in Brazil like Varginha, Ouro Preto, Mariana. They are so amazingly charming that despite their lack of some things cities provide, I think one would relish daily life there, even if one needed to escape to larger cities once or twice a month on weekends. The architecture, the charming handcrafted goods, the great food, the charming hospitality are all wonderful, plus the bonus that you get to experience a taste of what life is like for far more Brazilians than live in big cities.

Anyway, I am sure many Brazilians will not like my comments on Rio, but I am just being honest, and frankly, even a lot of Brazilians think many of their countrymen think too highly of it. So there it is. Brazil is just a difficult place in some ways for white foreigners especially because while the country has many things we find common in the West and decent infrastructure in most cities, the poverty and crime and far bigger problems than anything most of us have ever encountered in our regular life at home. So the emotional reaction to that combined with the reality that you are a target and could be robbed on the street in plain view of other people is usually a rude awakening and makes it hard to fully enjoy the experience.

Anyway, I will write more later. I promise to have more positive insights next time.