Monday, September 10, 2007

Culture Clash of Time & Distance

One of my wife's favorite phrases to describe places in Rio De Janeiro, her hometown, is "It's next to my house." This phrase is the source of a major culture clash for us. When she says this, I am assuming, okay, we can walk there in five minutes or less. What I discovered more than once: we can walk there in forty minutes or less, if I'm lucky!

An example happened the other day. We drove eight minutes, or around 5.5 miles to Cherokee and Lemp to the Mexican district to shop for some items. My wife kept track of the time and proudly declare that now she knew the Mexican Grocery is next to our house. I said: "It's not next to our house! It's a long way from it." She said: "Bryan! Come on! Only eight minutes! So close!" Sure. Did I mention we drove there at 65 miles per hour on Insterstate 44? Still she is determined that it's next to our house.

In Rio, we had this problem all the time. Bianca would describe places as next to her house, but when it came time to actually getting there, it was far enough, we took a cab. To me, any place we can't walk to on our own is not close. And the term "next to my house" indicates something close. Not so to Bianca. But then Rio De Janeiro is a big city. And spread out. So maybe that's why her concept of close is different than mine.

I wonder if this relates to the concept of time. In Ghana, Mexico, and Brazil I have experienced non-white time. What this basically means is that if something begins at eight, you show at nine or after. And it's not rude. The only exception is something like a movie, which starts on time, after the usual bevy of previews and commercials, or church services. Also, if you show up late for a job interview, it makes a bad impression. Otherwise, lateness is fine. Of course, the one your interview is with will let you sit at least an hour before he or she shows up, but you must be there on time. If you are invited to someone's home, showing up on time is considered rude, and often the host's will not be ready yet (still in the shower, still preparing). In such cases, showing up on time inconveniences the hosts. Yes, I am serious.

Patrick Oster, in his book The Mexicans, quotes sociologists who describe this concept as a form of protest. Mexicans live lives so controlled by factors beyond their control (government, crime, etc.) that when they have the chance, by showing up late, they are saying: "I still own my time." And they usually trickle in over the course of an hour after we start any program there. This last time, in fact, some showed up ten minutes before the end of the program. As one who was raised to be punctual, this can drive me batty. (Some would claim batty's so close I could walk or next to my house). But I have learned, with time, to accept this reality when dealing with other cultures.

However, it's funny how different it seems when dealing with my wife. My wife is late for everything. Not by much, thank goodness, but she'll say "let's go" fifty times before she actually heads for the door. It frustrates me so much, I often head to the car and tell her if she's not there when it starts, I'll leave her. I wouldn't do that (would I?) but it usually motivates her to move things along. That's why I tell her we have to go for most things with plenty of time to spare. I allow for an extra thirty minutes. It's the only way I have of ensuring we can leave in proper time to arrive "white time." Even if it's "next to our house."

For what it's worth...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Peace and Respect For Others

In an 1867 speech to the burgeoning Republic of Mexico, Benito Juarez, soon to be President, stated: "The people and government must respect the rights of everyone. Among individuals as among nations, peace means respect for the rights of others." How true that is, and how sad that respect for the rights of others seems so absent from our society today. For me, that's a source of constant culture clashes -- trying to reconcile myself with the world of today vs. the world I grew up in and often still wish it was.

People are so divided these days. They don't see shades of grey, just black and white, and you can't be both. You have to choose one or the other. Liberals malign Conservatives as bad people. Conservatives malign Liberals the same way. I rarely find it so simple to line things up. I am a Conservative, but in my younger days I leaned more Liberal. Where that leaves me today is somewhere in the middle. I embrace the biblical traditional values that seem to out of fashion these days. I still believe that living together outside of marriage is wrong, that divorce is tragic, that abortion is murder, and that lying is a character flaw. And there are many more. These make me an odd-ball, it would seem, from looking at the world around us.

How many people expect honesty from others? How many people are truly disappointed and upset when they don't receive it? How many practice it they way they want it to be practiced by others? Most people seem to prefer it for themselves from others, but not want to offer it from themselves to others. Living together outside of marriage and divorce have become the norm. Abortion seems to be the only one that still draws strong debate. Why?

In my opinion, there is less and less a sense of community and responsibility toward one another, and more of an every man for himself climate in this society today. And it is destructive to all of us. Maybe it's just that the most polarized people have the loudest voices or talk the most. Maybe the rest of the moderates, like me, are so shocked by what they see, they don't know what to say or where to begin to respond to it.

For example, I am Republican, but I favor gun control. I also favor more government care for the needy, funding for education, and fairer taxes for lower income vs. favored taxation for higher income. However, I am against gay marriage, and I am against abortion. But I do not believe in bombing abortion clinics or beating up gay people (nor discriminating against them in other ways). I also believe personal beliefs have a place in politics. That's why it matters a great deal to me what a candidate believes. And why I laugh when candidates campaign on their beliefs then deny that they will unduly influence their decisions in office. I say if you really believe something, it will always influence you. A man who claims belief in things and then fails to have that belief influence his decisions is a man with no integrity and nothing to offer (no to mention, confused about his own beliefs).

My own beliefs are complicated and have evolved over a long period of life experience, education, travel, etc. Being an adopted child, born of date rape, certainly influences my view on abortion, for example. Being well educated, influences my belief in the importance of education. My work with the poor around the world, influences my belief that taxes should not penalize those who can least afford to pay them, and that those with more wealth need to do more to help provide for those less fortunate. My belief in Christ influences my belief that violence and murder are not the way to defend your positions, and provide no high moral ground, but at the same time, I believe Sadaam Hussein needed to be removed from power and Al Quaeda needs to be fought like the enemy to all people it truly is.

Other people have had different experiences, such as my wife. And that's okay. We don't have to agree on everything, as long as I feel respected. And that's the rub. Too often, there is no respect these days for people of different beliefs. Maybe that's why the world feels like an unpeaceful place. Why hate seems more and more common, and public critiques of others seem more and more hateful and hurtful. People see no reason to mince words for those who embrace opinions they find completely abominable. The KKK and American Nazi party and others should welcome this change. They no longer seem so radical. They no longer have to feel outcast. Everyone else is speaking hateful things about people they disagree with, right?

The more I have thought about this the more I have become convicted that we have to get back toward the way things used to be if we are going to get back to a sense of peace in our society. Where there is no respect, there is no peaceful coexistence. And I don't know about you, but I like peace.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Living in Fear v. Living in Faith

My wife, Bianca, lives in a world where everyone is suspect, where you cannot trust people, and where there's danger lurking around every corner. I live in a world where you should not trust everyone, caution is common sense, but one can live and move through most days without concern about being a victim of violence or crime, as long as you follow the first two rules. Yes, we live in the same house. Such is the nature of cross cultural relationships.

First of all, a little background might be helpful. My wife, Bianca, was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, without a doubt one of the most violent cities on Earth. The latest statics I can find are from 2002 where the murder rate was 28.5 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world. Supposedly it is only rising. As a victim of Brazilian criminals myself, I can tell you that Rio is one place I do actually feel a sense of fear daily, when walking around. I have been concerned in places like Mexico and Ghana, about possible crime. After all, especially right now, Americans are targets. And I always expect that I am on someone's radar who might wish to do me harm, when I am in public places in other countries. But in Saint Louis, walking around, while I keep my eyes open, pay attention to my surroundings, limit the cash I carry, etc., I don't tend to be afraid. My car was broken into once in 7 years, and I left the back window cracked too wide. But my wife grew up in that world, where caution was a necessity. Yet she was not a victim of crime until we were robbed on the beach in 2005. And they did not rob her, just me.

My background is growing up in a small town of 45,000 people in Kansas, where we all pretty much knew everyone else. Street crime and petty theft were not common experiences of anyone I knew. Violence was a rarity in the local paper. It was a quiet place to grow up. (Too quiet, if you ask my wife, who finds small towns very boring.) But since I left Kansas, I have lived in one city after another: Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Saint Louis. Since I am 38, and I left home at 18, that means over half my life, I have lived in cities. In that time, I have been a victim of crime maybe 4 times. Identity theft, lost/stolen cell phone, car broken into twice. Outside the U.S., I have been a victim twice: pickpocket in Ghana and robbed in Brazil.

From this explanation, it is not obvious that Bianca should feel more afraid of crime than me. Though I am 13 years older than her, I have been a victim of more crimes. Yet I feel safer. Part of the reason, I suppose is my inherent desire to believe in the goodness of people. I used to live constantly expecting the best until someone proved me wrong. As our culture has changed, I have had to greatly revise such expectations. They have been tested many times. But nonetheless, I still believe most people are inherently good and not out to get me. Bianca tends to think the opposite. She doesn't trust anyone. Not even me. Although, I am working on that part.

In any case, the reason seems to be more of the cultural and environmental realities in which we grew up and learned how to face the world. For someone of Bianca's background, with people being shot at in public, killed and robbed regularly, and a general sense of lack of law and order, she grew up to be very cautious and apprehensive. Certain situations, especially, trigger natural instincts of self-protection, which I don't have, because I have a different background. For someone like me, crime was a rarity. Most people were nice, friendly, and generally not prone to harming me. So I felt safe, and tend to regard people as safe until I have reason not to. This does not mean I walk around in a foolish, dilusional daze. It just means that I start out with a more trusting attitude.

To me, I tend to live in faith in people, generally, while Bianca lives in fear. It's not that she's constantly quaking in her boots. It's more of a general expectation that people have to earn trust. They don't start out with any vested in them. This cultural clash is something that happens a lot between small town and big city dwellers, and it happens a lot between Americans and those of other cultures. In any case, it's an interesting (I think) example of how culture effects our outlook on the world -- culture clash in action.

For what it's worth...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Do You Remember...?

Do you remember the days when people who worked hard were rewarded to it?

Do you remember the days when integrity was regarded as a positive quality?

Do you remember the days when people were honest and decent to each other just because it was right, not to gain something?

What happened?

Sometimes I wonder. I remember, and sometimes I think I am the only person trying to live that way. Every once in a while I meet someone who reminds me that that's not true, but yet I wish it wasn't every once in a while. I wish it was more often.

Sometimes that's why I don't blog. The blogosphere, the internet in general, can be so depressing. So many scams, liars, people being cruel and hiding behind the anonymity it provides. It seems to so often bring out the worst in people. Did I mention popups or viruses or hackers?

These behaviors used to be the exception. Now, more and more, they seem like the rule. Why is that? I think it's a decline in our culture. I think it's a loss of our values. And with it, I think it's a loss of what made us great -- our national identity. We still try and ride the high horse like we did in the old days, only the moral foundation is no longer there. No wonder other nations mock us and hold us in contempt. No wonder we have lost our standing in the world. Who are we to look up to these days?

I guess this is a depressing post. It isn't meant to be. It is meant to be a reminder, and a challenge. If anyone else misses those days, we can only bring them back by living them out ourselves, one person at a time. It starts with each individual. Only by example can we lead.

For what it's worth...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Our Changing Culture

Bernie Miklasz' column yesterday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch titled "Baseball Is Selling Its Soul Alongside Bonds Mementos" really struck me. The whole steriods-baseball-Bonds controversy has really been bothering me ever since it appeared a few years back. It's a sad statement really on the state of affairs in our culture.

I was just thinking driving to work about how I saw Barry Bonds play years ago. Giants v. Dodgers. My friend had gone to high school with Bonds. And I was a Dodgers fan. So we argued about who was better. Bonds or various others. I was still a George Brett fan, having grown up in KC and been in awe of Brett's 80s hitting streak, etc. It was amazing how a man could so consistently hit like that. I remember starting to feel the same way about Mark Maguire years later here in St. Louis. And Sammy Sosa was there too -- wow, two at one time. But then the word came out about steriods. Just a trickle at first.

There had always been rumors, of course, but this was starting to seem more substantial. And Maguire and others testified to Congress that they had never used them. Only, one could just look at the way Maguire had physically ballooned up over five or six years and suspect that maybe the rumors were true. Maybe his denials were not. And in Bonds' case, the evidence is even more disturbing. So why am I so ho-hum about a guy who has hit 757 home runs? It should be a monumental achievement. But somehow, it just seems so tainted. Bonds was, beyond a doubt, an admirable athlete when I saw him in Los Angeles in the early 90s. But somehow the thought that he and Maguire and Sosa and others accomplished what they did by artificial means just leaves one to wonder if there are any truly amazing athletes out there. A George Brett? A Nolan Ryan? A Hank Aaron?

Maybe we can never go back to the days when there weren't such questions. Maybe that's just the way things has changed. And maybe our society is so capital driven and warped that baseball has sold out. An event like this does bring press attention and sell memoribilia. And so they get richer. Maybe that is all they care about. Integrity seems overrated these days, doesn't it? But it sure is sad to think about. Maybe Barry Bonds deserves to lose his reputation. And then again, maybe enough people don't care how he did it -- just that he did -- that it will never matter in history books.

Perhaps it started with Bill Clinton's claim that he didn't have sex because he defined it differently. Or that the word "is" could be misinterpreted. He seemed to convince a lot of people that morality and integrity in leadership are not important, even from the leader of the free world whose influence stretches far and wide. It continued in many other instances since, and is perpetuated by Hollywood-types who argue that anything they do in the name of art is sacred. Who argue that they have no responsibility to screen themselves or worry about who might be watching. It's pervasive in our culture today: the attitude that personal freedom is more important than personal responsibility. The idea that it's more important that I have total freedom to do whatever I want, than it is that other people live with the freedom to not be offended or see what I do. This argument seems patently ridiculous to me. And it's led to a climate of irresponsibility. I have seen people take their kids to R-rated movies. I have seen people give their kids alcohol. All in the name of this attitude.

It's not the same world I grew up in, for sure. Somehow, I can't help feeling we've really lost something. And maybe we will never recover it.

For what it's worth...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Our Superiority Complex,2933,292670,00.html,9171,1651502,00.html

I haven't written here in a while. Mostly because I have been caught up in my own culture clash of sorts. I married my Brazilian fiancee April 14th. No, we don't clash that much. But the cultural differences do keep life interesting. Certain recent events, however, brought to mind something I've been thinking about for a long time.

When you write about culture like this, you get a lot of nasty critiques. I have been slammed for talking about issues with plumbing and things in countries like Ghana or Mexico. Some of these critics were Americans. They think it makes the country sound like Third World. I've got news for you -- it is Third World. Although these days, people from those countries prefer the term "developing world" so I will at least cede them that point. But it's funny to me when Americans get so defensive about another culture. After all, Americans more than anyone are pompous about our own Superiority. We so often take comfort and pride in our own successes, even if its unspoken. And even if we think we don't look down on other countries for their "developing" problems, somehow inside I suspect we all feel a bit smug and pleased that our own nation doesn't have the same issues.

That's why it's interesting to me to see what's happened in New York City this week, and in Minneapolis as well with the Interstate bridge. Whether you have ever been there or not, native New Yorker or not, New York is without a doubt a proud achievement of our country. It is one of the world's great cities, and, as such, a big icon for our nation and our culture. Think of the influence it has -- in the arts, in journalism, television, infrastructure... Two of the leading current Presidential candidates are from New York and there are rumors that a third might throw his hat into the ring, too!

When I travel around the world, people always know New York, even if they don't know Saint Louis or other cities. They know the "big apple." And they know America takes pride in her. So here we are, all superior and proud, and New York is looking a lot like the developing world this week. Subways and airports delayed for hours by flooding. Infrastructure torn up by heavy winds and a tornado. Ok, so the tornado is a natural disaster which can't be helped, but what about the flooding?

Saint Louis has similar problems when we get heavy rain. A few years ago, flooding submerged major portions of downtown. There are still neighborhoods that flood when we get more than a few inches of rain. And Highway 64-40 is like driving on a lake every time we get rain of more than a few minutes. In El Paso, flooding left people stranded on a major interstate last Fall and it is happening again this year with the rains. They have neighborhoods and intersections which regularly flood. Standing in El Paso, you can look across and see the differences in infrastructure with Juarez, Mexico just across the way. And it can make you feel proud or perhaps a bit superior. But if we are so superior, why can't our infrastructure stand up to a little water? How can heavy runs shut down major interstates, flood entire neighborhoods and shut down public transportation?

And then there're our bridges. A report in Time magazine (linked above) reports that we are in big trouble all over the country, because governments have not spent money on maintenance, instead prefering shinier, more high profile new projects. And the results are a collapsed bridge in Minneapolis, several deaths, and many other infrastructure problems every year which are less catastrophic but, given the right circumstances (what if bad infrastructure prevented your escape from a terrorist attack, for one) could be just as problematic.

You might argue that infrastructure withstands many and most situations but extreme ones can always arise beyond its capacity. You might argue that engineers are always working to make improvements and find new ways to prevent such problems. All of that is well and good. But I would argue that we're not as different from these "developing" places as we'd like to think we are, especially in such moments, and it does us a lot of good to be in that situation. All of us need to be humbled from time to time. And I think being reminded that even our own developed nation is not above problems is a good equalizer.

Maybe we can be less cocky when we go to places that seem to have less to brag about. Maybe we won't feel like we have it so much better. This would do international relations a lot of good. And it would promote better understanding. Because any time we focus on commonalities and see ourselves as more alike than different, deepened understanding and better communication can always result. When we approach things from the angle of feeling superior, that's when we create barriers and distance that separate us from others.

It's certainly something to think about. For what it's worth...

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cutthroat Business vs. Old Fashioned Customer Service

I am experiencing a culture clash these days in that everything seems to polarized. There is a general lack of integrity and concern for others who in any way are opposite you. Nowhere is this more signified than American Airlines' handling of my recent travel.

I was flying from Saint Louis to Dallas then to El Paso and back. The flight out of Dallas was delayed first because of a broken copilot's chair. Then we sat there waiting for late passengers for thirty minutes more. THEN we sat there an hour because of a broken wing light. By this time, it was almost 11 and I had had enough. I was not about to go through switching planes and arriving at 2 a.m. It was inconsiderate to my hosts and would severely mess up my sleeping cycle. So I said NO. I want a hotel.

The airline accomodated me with Clarion Hotel. I got to the room to find that every lamp was unplugged, so I used the bare light from the light over the door to stumble around, pulling out beds, etc. to find the outlets. Then the ice machine was broken. When I went down four floors and walked out what seemed like half a mile to the front desk to inquire, they looked at me crossly and asked why I didn't use the ice machine on the first floor -- as if I was a complete bonehead. I didn't even know where it was! The next morning my clothes got wet because the sink would not drain due to an unconnected stopper.

Finally, I made it to El Paso. On my way back, out of El Paso, there were mechanical problems and we had to deplane. The airline ticket agent would not reaccomodate me because she was too busy. I had to wait until they could switch planes, even though they had only standby out of Dallas (we had all missed our connections). I said I would rather stay where I know people than fly somewhere and risk being stranded where I don't. They didn't care.

The flight did leave. They did find me a connection. I got home. But I emailed to complain. After all, I flew 26000 miles last year and gave them a lot of business and money. I still have not heard a peep from them. No apology. Remember Jet Blue? That's how you run an airline. American subscribes to the philosophy of all too many airlines -- we have laws to hide behind that keep us from having to provide good customer service. THEY ARE A SERVICE INDUSTRY! Not even common courtesy seems to be required! If I ran my business like they do, no one would hire me!

I remember the days of "the customer is always right" when businesses worked hard to apologize and make it up to customers who were inconvenienced or disatisfied with their service. Something about this attitude seemed to me to be particularly American. And it was about respect and appreciation. We now live in a culture where such values have gone with the wind. And that clashes with my culture of how I think things should be. It is much more like foreign countries where bureaucracy runs over people with abandon with no thought of such concerns. But I don't want to live in those countries. I want to live in the United States of America -- which used to be a great country and the place everyone wanted to be. It sure doesn't seem so much like that anymore.

For what it's worth...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Letters From Iwo Jima: Culture Clashing at the Movies

What a monumental achievement this movie is. Its Academy Awards nominations are richly deserved. My knowledge of Japanese culture and WWII history are wanting in this instance and I need to see "Flags Of Our Fathers" to get a view of the U.S. side, but I was blown away by this movie. "Letters From Iwo Jima" takes you inside the minds of the Japanese soldiers. You empathize, and even root for them in the face of the impossible odds -- because they cannot win.

That a first time screenwriter, a Japanse American, got such an opportunity is also phenomenal. She worked with Paul Haggis, Academy Award winner, Clint Eastwood Academy Award winner, and now she may win herself. Talk about the chance of a lifetime! But the achievement is monumental and one wonders how it could have been written without the collaboration of someone with an inside understanding of that culture. It was based on a book, in part, but nonetheless, the Japanese cultural themes are so strong throughout.

The film is the the Japanese side of the Battle of Iwo Jima told from the points of view of the commanding general and those who serve under him. These are ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances. Saigo is a baker who just wants to get back to his wife and the daughter he has yet to meet. Throughout the whole film, he just wishes he was somewhere else. None of the seemingly blind patriotism of some of the others. He just wants to go home and is doing what he must to survive.

The Japanese sense of honor is certainly a key cultural theme, and it is interesting how it takes shape here. At one point, when things are clearly taking a turn for the worst, many officers and soldiers want to commit suicide to preserve their honor, while the commanding General has ordered them not to. Others want to go on. And there is an intra-cultural struggle here against the traditional sense of honor and a new understanding which has emerged in these circumstances.

Another cultural theme is patriotism. Certainly we Americans know much about this, but I think the soldiers in this film evidence a level of it which often goes beyond what most American realize. To fight and die for their country is the highest honor to them, and their will to live, their instinct to survive, is constantly tested by this resolve. What is true patriotism? Is it the man who realizes they are defeated and takes mines out to destroy one last tank suicidally? Is it the soldiers who rather than face defeat, kill themselves? Is it the soldiers who continue fighting on? Is it those who die in the course of duty? Whose is the greater patriotism. The film provides no clear answers but the questions are strong ones that leave you thinking and debating long after the film is done.

Other themes are what most jar us. If we go thinking the Japanese are not like us in any way (which I did not), we might be shocked to hear them thinking of their wives and kids, writing and receiving letters from home, and interacting with one another much as we do. One of the most powerful scenes is when the soldiers listen as their leader translates a letter from the mother of an American soldier they had captured. And they comment that the letters sound just like those of their own mothers. Maybe the Americans and Japanese are not so different, the characters realize. We realize it. And that is the heart of the brilliance at work here.

"Letters From Iwo Jima" puts us in the heads of those whom on the surface might seem nothing like us and allows us to see the world from their point of view. In the process of comparing both films, I imagine, one can see the similarities more than the differences and gain new respect for the long villianized Japanese enemy who so valliantly fought against our grandfathers and great grandfathers all those decades ago. I have yet to see "Flags Of Our Fathers" but it was written and made by the same filmmaking team as a companion from the American point of view, and I have heard it is powerful. I cannot wait to see it. You should not wait to see "Letters From Iwo Jima" either. It leaves you changed for the better.

For what it's worth...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine: Culture Clash in the Movies

At first glance, you might not think of Little Miss Sunshine as a culture clash film. It's about a white family of Americans, after all. But the story is rich and complex in its exploration of the family dynamics and there are several culture clashes at work. You have the gay male vs. straight male clash between Greg Kinnear's Richard, Alan Arkin's Grandpa and Steve Carrell's Frank, the homosexual brother-in-law. There's also the teenager vs. adult conflict between Paul Dano's Dwayne and Kinnear's Richard. You also have a clash between Richard's belief in winners vs. losers, and his family's clear awareness of their own imperfections, which seem all the more blaring to them every time he discusses winners. You have the Grandpa's exhibitionist/totally open attitude clashing with Kinnear's and other's more reserved attitudes.

All of these various cultures intersect and interact in rich ways which lead to great transformations for each of the characters, and that is the substance of the story as it reveals itself to us over the course of 102 minutes. It take surprising turns and the characters make surprising choices, and once you see it, you have no trouble at all figuring out why it's so highly acclaimed as one of the best films made all year. So often we think of culture clashes solely in the context of interrelations between people from one country and another. But there are cultures within those countries themselves. And that is what Little Miss Sunshine reveals and explores so richly.

And it does so without judgment. We might make judgements ourselves, but not the movie. All are presented in their various views in well rounded ways. All have their own motivations. And all are sincere. They are all respected for who they are, even as they come into conflict with one another. But in the end, they also come to mutually respect and learn from each others' differences at the same time. And we learn with them, because there's something we can relate to in each of these characters. That is what makes the film so rich and rewarding a viewing experience. It is a rare film, indeed. Not to be missed.

I personally run into my own culture clashes daily. From the superficial boss who makes snap judgments about those who work with him and sticks to the first impression no matter what to the stepford admin assistant who somehow thinks if you are not as "dedicated" or "excited" as her, you are not a valuable employee. People use their cultures to make assumptions and interpretations about people every day. Any difference, no matter how slight, can be used to justify writing someone off or judging them inferior in some way. To me, all of that is ridiculously arrogant and self-indulgent. So often the people you are judging, judge you right back in ways you couldn't possibly imagine, because you are too busy feeling perfect or superior. Don't worry. They are doing the same.

I learn more and more through my corss cultural adventures not to make such silly, ignorant assumptions about others. And Little Miss Sunshine reminded me especially not to do it when it comes to my own family, or even closest friends. Biblically, of course, I'm reminded that we are all unique parts of a larger Body, and God fully intended for it to be this way. He made us all uniquely in His image, and so we have no place judging others or placing ourself as superior to anyone else. It would be a better world if more people lived with this in mind, I think. But all I can do is do my part not to contribute to that negativity, to keep this in mind myself. Little Miss Sunshine is a healthy reminder. It will be one for you, too, if you allow it.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ugly Betty: Culture Clash on Television

My favorite new show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the culture clash comedy UGLY BETTY on ABC. This show is so smartly written and well acted. And it examines culture clashing in every episode. Based on one of the famous Latin American soap operas called telenovelas, and smartly adapted for American audiences by Silvio Horta, UGLY BETTY tells the story of an imperfect looking Mexican American woman. She may be the first Hispanic female lead of a hit television series. She is chunky, but not really ugly, with braces. And she is blue collar, but smart, from the world of so many Hispanic Americans, interacting daily, through her job at MODE Magazine, with people who are mostly white and rich and think they are smarter than they really are.

Episode after episode, Betty proves to be the smart one, who helps the others out of their own messes in spite of herself. She struggles: with fitting in, with her father's medical issues, with family finances, with relationships. Real struggles every viewer can relate to. And she struggles with how to fit in and succeed in a world that by merely looking at her condemns her to failure. How many people can relate to that? I can. I have lived it. And I bet most of you have as well. How many of us have seen the superficial world around us and been skeptical? How many of us have sworn we would never be like that? That is what Ugly Betty does. That is her ugliness. Ugly only to the world that is too superficial to recognize what true beauty really is.

That's the shows brilliance. It takes someone from the margins who is so much like the rest of us and shows that she is indeed so much like us. And in turn, we share her life on the margins, we experience her world, her point of view, and we find out that the world around her is not as attractive or desirable as we though it was. We sympathize with her marginal world, and we see the world through her eyes. And if we let it, we might even change the way we think about our own lives, our own world. We might change how we think and what we do about it. And we might even become better for the effort.

We are also surprised to find that the characters we most expect to be unsympathetic are instead sympathetic. The playboy boss with the silver spoon is the most likable secondary character, outside of Betty's own family. With the exception of the English props manager, almost everyone else she works with is so superficial and self-absorbed that it is difficult to like let alone relate to them (for most of us). They have their moments, but it is Daniel Mead, the boss, who really surprises. He doesn't know what he's doing, which is why he needs Betty, and he knows it while living in constant fear that everyone else will know it too soon enough. He has made a mess of his life and wishes he could change, but he seems trapped in old patterns and demons. Underneath the fame and fortune, he's also a nice guy, who actually cares about Betty and respects her, unlike most of the others. And he gives her the opportunity to shine. He's a good boss, and one we can't help but like.

If you have not yet checked out the show before GREY'S ANATOMY, then I highly recommend you check it out. Episodes are available on as well. You can watch them completely. And every one is entertaining. But more importantly, every one makes you think. Great cast. Great writing. Great subject matter. Presented in an entertaining way. So much so you almost forget you are learning and feeling along the way. This is what great television is made of. And I hope we all continue to learn from this study in culture clashes for a long time to come.

Congratulations to Silvio Horta and Selma Hayek and their team for this fine work. And to America Ferrara for truly representing what America is all about.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Culture Clash of Expectations: A Reality Check -- Appearances

One thing I have been discovering and pondering a lot during the past three weeks in Brazil is how my own realities have shaped my reactions to some things in Mexico, Ghana, and Brazil in ways I was not so much aware of before. For example, houses are often crammed together in smaller plots and share adjoining walls. One house is painted one color. One is painted another. Sometimes the colors, to me, do NOT look good together at all. Sometimes, the same house is divided internally into two smaller dwellings, and each half is painted a different color. This has always clashed with my internal senses of order, etc. And I am finally taking real notice of it.

I am not a home owner. I have rented apartments since moving out with my parents, but as I prepare to marry, I am pondering at least a rental property and the new responsibilities that brings. I always shied away from mowing lawns, gardening, etc. as well as other things like carpentry, painting, etc. I will have to learn about these things or hire someone to do them for me. Or my house will not meet my neighbors' or friends' expectations. And probably not those of my wife or myself.

As I drive around Rio de Janeiro, and in Juarez too, I saw many places where houses were dirty, in need of a paint job, some looked run down or poor. But at times, I would enter and find quite charming, nice homes. There's more to looks than appearance, my mother once advised. And that seems to be the case here. Between the torrential rains and the lesser infrastructure, leaving more dirty and dust flying around to stick to wet walls, and the costs of paint, workers, etc. people in Ghana, Mexico and Brazil don't appear to put the same premium on keeping houses looking prim, shiny, and clean that we U.S. citizens do. Or maybe it's just a losing battle and they have their hands full with more important tasks of daily living. It is not something I really thought about until this trip. I just reacted to these things, without pondering why they are the way they are.

Another thing is space. Generally, people seem to live in less space in these countries. In all three countries, you can have 10 people living in a house with two bedrooms, and small ones at that. You can have three people regularly sharing a bed. Even as adults. It is not uncommon. It is not unnatural. It is the way things are. It always seems to threaten my sense of personal space when I think about this. But right now, my fiancee Bianca is sharing a bed upstairs with her cousin and Grandma, her mom and stepdad have a bed, and I am the only one who has my own. I am lucky that way. But that is because I am a foreigner. I also have air conditioning in a sealed room which Bianca, her Grandma and cousin do not have. Truly, I feel guilty. But no one complains, and probably would never dream of it. This is the way life is.

The house is recognizably smaller than the house I grew up in. The entire upstairs is her Grandma's separate space. Millions of people all over the world live with such shared spaces, and it is always striking to me. I am not judging it wrong or bad or terrible or anything of the sort. It is just not how I grew up or how most people I have known in the U.S. have ever lived. It is a challenge to my cultural mores, as a result. And I am pondering more and more not only how lucky I have been but how ignorant most of us in the U.S. are to basic realities for the rest of the world.

Anyway, there is more to looks than appearance in these cases, as I have been learning. And so I have to reevaluate my own perceptions in light of the new information. I have to react to things differently. So many things that are normal to people in these other places -- like having to do something beyond turn a knob for warm or hot water, toilets that don't flush paper, or houses that don't look uniformly shiny and cleanly painted all around the neighborhood or event he same size and shape -- challenge my cultural values. And I have to change and grow from this so as not to judge people in ways that are unrealistic and unfair. That is a daily process, I find, as a frequent cross cultural taveller. I am getting better and better at my inner compass, but I still have a ways to go, and probably always will.

We always have to remember that other people have just as valid an experience of reality as we do even though theirs is far different from our own. I ran up against this recently on a website that claims to be "the most balanced on the web" about Juarez. It is balanced because the webmaster believes everyone who disagrees with him is biased and negative. If you share that view, you will find in balanced as well. For me, it always seemed grossly unbalanced, because it did not share views from other points of view, just the one. I had joined a discussion forum and tried to share some alternative views, but was lambasted by the owner and a couple of other members for my "disrespectful" and "insensitive" views. Certainly some of them know more about Mexico than me. And certainly I have moments of insensitive and disrespectful views, but when I looked at the things I wrote and asked others I knew about them, we felt it was more a case of "dissenting views" than the other two. Certainly, no one likes criticism of things they think fondly or or places for that matter. But some criticisms are valid because they relate to things people may experience or face, even if you don't. And denying those realities is not balanced. It is biased and it is setting people up for greater disappointment or frustration because they were not well informed than if you discuss them realistically. Besides that how disrespectful and insensitive is it to publicly insult someone instead of just sending a private message and suggesting that their comments might appear biased? Especially for a webmaster?

I am not on the site now, but it was really shocking to me to see someone who claims to want the most balanced site rejecting someone who was not fighting with anyone or whose posts had not generated any public complaints, etc. I was not breaking any rules posted on the site, or attacking or insulting anyone deliberately. I just did not agree 100% with the views of the majority, who have a very narrow view of their world and don't like their boat rocked.

If you are going to interact cross culturally, you will have to widen your view. If you are going to interact cross culturally, your boat will get rocked. And if you are going to write about that, people -- hyper-sensitive as they are these days -- will object to it at times. They will insult you, call you insensitive and disrespectful, etc. And they will remain ignorantly unaware of their own lack of respect or sensitivity or that other points of view have any validity. In most cases, freedom of expression dictates that even if you feel that way, you don't discriminate against people. But this was an exception. The webmaster had even suggested he'd like more things from me on the forum like I write in my blog. Then he says I and my blog are "disrespectful" and "insensitive." Either he didn't really read it before he said that or he is a confused person. Whatever the case, you cannot have it both ways.

Most readers, for whatever reason, have not chosen to comment on this blog. I am disappointed by that, as I know people are reading it from the emails I get and responses in other places. And those comments come from both foreigners and U.S. citizens and have been positive. One Brazilian even said he appreciated my willingness to work hard to see things from multiple sides. I am grateful for that. I know I am not successful in every entry, but I do try, and it is always on my mind. Some things are still seen with blinders on that will take time to tear down. It is that way for others looking at my culture. That's not a bad thing.

We need to spend the effort to try and understand each others' points of view to get past all that and work through the conflicted feelings it creates. Most people, like those on the Juarez website, are just not interested in putting forth that effort. I am, which is the whole reason I created this website. If you are, too, and you read this, please comment. If you find something shortsighted or offensive in what I wrote, post a comment. We can discuss. All I ask is (as posted in my disclaimer) that you be respectful and not use foul language. I can deal with contrary opinions. And I am willing to learn from you. But you have to be open to learning too or it won't work.

One final warning: beware of wolves in sheep's clothing...beware of wolves in friends' clothing, too.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tres Hermanos v. Walmart

Okay, this is not a culture clash in the typical sense it occurs in these postings. It is more observational. For those readers who Americans, you might recall the running commentary about how Walmarts are like trees -- they are popping up everywhere (ironically, they pop up in place of trees, so the trees themselves are going away). In Juarez, I don't know about the rest of Mexico, this was Tres Hermanos. But here's the thing, Tres Hermanos is a chain of shoe stores. That's what they sell: shoes. Now, maybe I am just not that into shoes (okay, I admit I am not), but why in the world in downtown centro Juarez would there be 7 separate Tres Hermanos stores in a 2.5 block area? Seriously. And not one carried the same shoes we saw in the others. I know because in the first store, I found the shoes I liked and wanted but they did not take credit cards, so we went around to all the others looking for the shoes. None had them. We tried other shoes but none fit or looked the same. Finally, we had to actually organize a trade between two separate franchise stores to buy them at one with a credit card machine. A lot of effort for shoes.

But leather is cheap in Mexico. Cheaper in price than the U.S., not cheaper in quality. You can find low quality, of course, as you can with anything anywhere. But you can get leather items of high quality for 50% or less of the U.S. price just by crossing the border into Juarez, and on my November-December trip, I was determined to take advantage of that opportunity. I got the shoes, but it was a lot of work.

Even though Walmarts are prevalent here, I had never seen anything like 7 franchises of the same store in such a small area. And I looked to see if other franchises popped up the same way and so far did not find one. It is an area where tourists go to shop, and leather is a big item, so I can understand why they want to capitalize on it, but how can you compete against so many feel franchisees, and even more, who knew there were so many varieties of shoes that every franchise could carry different ones. I am sure there were a few carry overs I didn't catch, but largely they were different. Both Wilbert, my Mexican host, and I noticed and laughed about it. It was Imelda Marcos Disneyland.

Anyway, I wanted to comment on that because it is interesting as I travel to see how much U.S. style merchandising and commercial activity is permeating the outside world. I have commented here before how disappointed I was to see so many American restaurants transplanted across the border, because when I go to another country, I like to feel like I am in a different country. And seeing Applebees, Dennys, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Wendys, etc. all over the place just detracts from that. But even more than my personal desire to escape into a foreign landscape, I am wondering if these are things that are deserving of export. Is this really what we want to say about our culture to foreigners? Does this represent the culinary best the country has to offer? Is Walmart or Sam's Club so great that it really needs to infect another culture? I shop there, I admit, but that is more about necessity than it is about being a fan.

I don't know what degree the native stores try to emulate U.S. stores, but they sure have grown more and more to resemble them. From store layout, to advertising, to product lines, etc., I see such a familiar pattern. And I wonder if they just do it because it is good business or if they do it because it works here. I suspect some of both. But I have not been to business school. I don't know if someone is teaching at Mexican Universities classes on marketing the McDonald's way. I do know that some brands such as Nike and others sign contracts with those who sell them requiring certain kinds of displays and store setups. And so that could play a role in this phenomenon. But I am not one to believe we have it all figured out so everything should be our way. Those who do are arrogant and ignorant in my opinion. But what concerns me is that perhaps others from foreign countries buy into that. I think that would be a shame.

Anyone who is honest and reads on the topic will easily determine that U.S. economic might dominates the world on a number of levels. The resentment towards us by foreigners is not just Bush and Iraq related as some Democrats might love to have you believe. There are other deeper, underlying causes. And it is something every U.S. citizen should be aware of and consider. For example, I am becoming more and more careful about using the term Americans. I did not realize until I travelled in Latin America how much we U.S. citizens are resented for our arrogant presumptuousness of adopting this term to describe ourselves. Those who live in Latin America and South America are not at all happy when we exclude them from the concept of being American, because they live in America, too. So I am learning to change how I think about this term and, in the process, myself. It is hard to change the habit, and I do still use it when it seems appropriate in context, but I also try and be sensitive about how I use it, when, and with whom. U.S. commercial power is another issue.

We have long acted like Colonial powers with our money, even in countries who are not our colonies, never were, and never will be. Independent U.S. companies and the government acct on their own or conspiring together to force various concessions or demands upon foreign governments and private businesses all to get what they want and have an advantage. An advantage that most of the time we do not deserve. It is not right that we should think because we have money, power, and success, that we have an entitlement. And yet this is how we behave commercially throughout the world. It is so pervasive that strong companies in the U.S. do it to each other. Look at how Walmart uses its buying power to negotiate with suppliers, etc. This has been discussed a lot in the news. Walmart can afford to sell items less than their competitors, thus keeping their competitive advantage, primarily through this practice. And it also helps them keep unions out of their workforce. So Walmart makes advantages for themselves at the cost of suppliers and their own workers. Now, they are transplanting this around the globe. I don't know about you, but I am so proud..............NOT!

But Walmart is just an example. Thousands of companies do this every day, including biggies like Bank of America, Texaco, IBM, you name it. It is our way of thinking about business, and it is unfair and offensive to other countries. If you were on the receiving end of this, you would resent it as well, and I think that we need to recognize that and make some changes. Our foreign policy needs to change, too, of course, but it all combines as one package -- the image of "America" around the world. And that image is not pretty anymore. It is not respected or admired or desired as it once was. And it is not seen as glossy and shiny either. Instead it is dull, oppressive, and pompous.

I don't hold the U.S. President solely responsible for changing things, because the government cannot dictate how private businesses or even tourists conduct themselves. We are all responsible, and until we take this responsibility seriously and stop acting as if we are God's gift to the world, we will continue to see growing problems in our international relations, including safety issues for "Americans" around the world. I, for one, loving to travel as I do, find that greatly disconcerting. Perhaps I am the only one. But I hope not.

For what it's worth...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What to Expect on a Visit to Juarez, Mexico

A lot of people ask me when they hear of my travels what it is like. So perhaps I should take the opportunity to offer a perspective on the place I have visited most recently. Certainly there are a lot of rumors out there about Juarez, Mexico. As a border city, it has a long history of bars attracting college students and others across the border where drinks are cheaper, prostitution less frowned upon, drugs perhaps easier to come by, and the laws about age limitations more lax. Because of a long series of serial murders of women and drug gang activity (the two primary causes), Juarez also has somewhat of a reputation for violence. Add to that illegal border crossings which of course are common in the largest city on Mexico's border, poverty, and other items, and some might have found as I did that the mention of a visit to Juarez is often greeted with a number of warnings about such things.

In three visits to Juarez, two for a few days, one for over a week, I have encountered none of those negatives. I will admit to being concerned for safety, as I often have been in travelling -- most notably in Rio De Janeiro -- but I will tell you that I felt much safer than many other places I have been, even when I was alone. And I felt that these reputations are similar to many things: negatives get the most press. People do not like to write about positives because it is less juicy. Of course, I also must say I did not spend time looking for any of these things either. That being said, if you don't look for them either, they shouldn't bother you in Juarez.

There are some things I think might cause culture clashes to the average American. Those are what I will comment on here now. No one likes to hear negative things about their city, and overall, my experiences are mostly positive, but I also think it is better for people to go with more awareness than less, so that their reactions are lessened when they encounter cultural differences, and their enjoyment is less effected as a result. At least that is what I hope, so here I go.

1. Driving in Mexico is a trip. I have not yet been behind the wheel, but I have sat passenger-side front on numerous occasions and I think it is, to say the least, a true adventure to drive in Mexico. You hear warnings about making sure you have insurance. Of course you should. You should do that anywhere. And since everyone tells me Americanos get the blame for accidents first, no matter whose fault it is, it would be foolish to go in without insurance and a greater sense of a need for precautions. Drive like an old lady. That is my recommendation. Get a good map and know where you are going, but drive defensively and with extra caution. If you do this, you will not have many problems. Mexicans do drive aggressively. Some might call them "crazy drivers." I saw some things that amazed me, similar to things I have seen in Brazil. Rules of the road seem to apply only to those who wish to abide by them or when cops are around who feel like attempting to enforce them, otherwise, it is every man for himself.

2. Shopping at Mexican Markets is not for the faint of heart. The bargaining experience, as I comment on more in depth in an earlier posting, is not something for everyone. Some love it, some hate it. I strongly dislike it, mostly because I do not want to take advantage of the vendors, but I also do not want to feel like they took advantage of me. Prices are often marked up for you simply because you are American. Now granted, we are talking about items which are often handmade and in the US would be sold at two to three times the opening asking price, but nonetheless, I do prefer to get a market value price in that context rather than an inflated gringo one. At the same time, I totally realize how hard these people work and how little they earn, and compared to them, I am rich (though not at all by American standards). So if you want to get handcrafts and an authentic Mexican experience, go to the market, but be prepared to be assaulted by hundreds of new best friends, and be prepared to bargain. (For tips on how to approach this, see my earlier post).

3. Mexican food in Mexico is not the same as Mexican food in the U.S. One of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles was a Mexico City-style Mexican food place. And I enjoyed it particularly because it was different from Mexican food I had eaten anywhere else. But I was surprised how different everything was in Juarez. The people I work with there love it, Mexican and U.S., and in time, I will adjust too, but, for example, I love enchiladas, and none of those I found were very similar in looks, taste, etc. to what I have eaten before. So I was a bit disappointed. The flautas, however, were the best ever. Tacos were different but not in a bad way. Still, if you go, prepare to try the food, but prepare for differences, so you won't be disappointed.

4. Bathrooms. I also posted about this earlier and sorry to bring it up but three things to be prepared for here. First, toilet paper is not a god-given right. Toilet paper is something that most public restrooms outside of tourist places like hotels and shopping malls just do not provide in Mexico. Bring your own. Unless you don't mind buying it at the last minute, if you know what I mean. Second, toilets in Mexico like Brazil are not often up to the challenge of paper. This means that after you use the paper, you must deposit it in the receptacle (usually a small trash can). I am probably not the only one who finds this kind of gross, but trust me, what is grosser is what happens if you flush and the toilet flows back on you. It is also hard to explain without Spanish and somewhat embarrassing, especially in a private home, or where there is only one toilet. Just be aware. Third, hot water is a luxury many people live without. In most hotels, you will not have a problem, but in private homes, hot water is not something to take for granted. It may or may not be available without using a kettle on the stove. So if you don't like cold showers, keep this in mind.

5. Spanish. You don't need Spanish in a border town, but if you want a true cross cultural experience, take it upon yourself to learn some. If nothing else, it shows respect. The effort itself shows you want to communicate with them and that you feel their culture is worth some work to understand. You have no idea how much that means to people until you see their reaction when you speak to them, but it always moves me every time. You will find a mix of English and Spanish speakers. You will find a lot of people who understand more English than they speak. You will find Spanglish, a pigeon mix of the two languages. And you will find some people who understand nada (nothing in Spanish, for those who have not learned yet). But for the most part, it won't be an issue unless you make it one. Take a phrase book or pocket dictionary, and find humor in whatever difficulties arise, because language is funny. And then you will be fine.

6. Customs agents are not your friend. Customs agents will never be your friend. That is not their job. But if you treat them with respect and respond calmly as asked, with short, direct answers, they should not be a problem either. Provided you are acting honestly and within the law. That being said, take time to find out what the law is. The US Border Patrol and other websites offer lists of forbidden items, so read them. There are also many books. I say, the more you know, the better your experience will be.

7. While the water in big cities is supposedly okay these days, unlike the past, just drink bottled water, and probably use it to brush your teeth as well. It is readily available at good prices, so it is better safe than sorry. I have found that traveller's diarrhea is just a reality when you travel to various places. Most people experience it at least once in protracted periods over a few days abroad, whether in Europe or the Third World. So don't increase your risk of experiencing it by drinking the water. It is treated with different standards from the U.S., so it may still cause your body to object in various ways, even if it won't make you deathly ill.

I can probably think of more things to write here, and I will edit the post and add them later, but that will be it for now. Many of the things here you will encounter similarly in other places in the world. The bathroom thing applies in Brazil and Ghana, for example. The driving thing also applies in Brazil and Ghana. The customs thing as well. Others might be more unique to Mexico. But I do think you will enjoy visiting Juarez. It is an easy way to get your feet wet in a day for neophyte international travellers, if nothing else. But I urge those who can and are willing to have an adventure to go beyond a day trip and get outside the tourist areas and really try and experience Mexican culture and life. Don't do it on your own. Find a guide or a friendly Mexican, of course. You do not want to end up in the wrong area. But you will be richer for the experience. And so will the world we live in, especially on the US-Mexico border.

For what it's worth...

Christmas In Rio

Well, since I wrote about my anticipation of Christmas in Rio not being what I am used to, I should write about how I experienced it now that it happened. First, my comments were not meant to denegrate other people's cross cultural expressions of the Christmas holiday. Just to relate my own reactions to perceived differences. And this post is intended to react to those after the fact.

Christmas with Bianca's family was very different than I am used to. I enjoyed it because of the relationships. We had a relaxing day at home. Watching some movies, read emails, talked to her family, ate, etc. But I will say the traditions I have treasured most of my life as the epitomy of Christmas were pretty much absent. Not judging their expression as wrong, mind you, just saying it is not much related to my own. That is as far as the family thing goes. But it was still delightful in its own way because I was with the one I love.

As for the community, of course, Christmas feels different when it is 107 outside and it did not cool down until this week. It was in the 100s all last week and the week before. So, it did not bring images of snow, etc. to mind. But there are lots of Christmas images around from decorations at shopping malls, stores, and other businesses to those in homes. Bianca's family does not have a Christmas tree, but they have various Christmas items around. They don't do the exchange of presents my family so enjoyed, but we did give presents. It just wasn't set aside for a particular time, with bows and wrapping, etc. the way I am used to. But the shopping malls, the sales, the deocrations all struck a familiar chord. Some of the Christmas displays at the malls must have cost a lot of money and taken lots of time to put together.

There is also Christmas music on the radio and playing at various places. This, of course, always makes one nostalgic (at least me). And it is fun to hear Brazilians, many of whom speak little English, sing the words in English, memorized from just such moments repeated time and again.
We even saw the world's largest Christmas tree, floating in the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. It changed colors regularly and was quite a site, and they also had lasers and water dancing (a combination of fountains, jets, etc.) all against an amazing background as you see in the picture above. Then we sat and ate crepes and pastels and talked. It was indeed special and moving. I guess I got new sentimental memories after all.

So Christmas in Rio was not all strange and unfamiliar. It was just different, and overall, that is not always a bad thing. Most of us, if we are honest, will admit to hating change. And we will also admit to struggling with it when it cannot be avoided. One of the reasons I love cross cultural travel is that I get the opportunity to deal with change and am forced to deal with it. I have to dig deeper inside myself, look at things with more introspection and intensity, and to grow in our expectations of and understanding of the world. Christmas in Rio has helped me with that, and I think that's a blessing.