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.


It is funny how people react to honest expression. I never claimed to be the world's foremost expert on cross cultural realities, nor did I expect to find that honestly blogging about my cross cultural experiences would be an issue for some people. People love to pass judgment and snap judgments at that. They read a few words and they automatically assume they know who you are. So silly.

Anyway, if you read this blog, please don't do that. If you are a foreigner reading this blog, don't take too much offense that I see the world differently or that I report on things since as both positive and negative. You do the same when you travel and I am sure you would have just as much to say. I try and be graceful about what I write and how I write it, but all of us have prejudices we are not always aware of. My daily quest is to overcome those prejudices and reeducate myself, but it takes time. As much as I am aware of them, I acknowledge them, and I hope you can respect that, as many people do not.

For anyone else, I am writing this blog as much to relate honest experiences and reactions as to provide positive information. And sometimes the reaction to those experiences is negative, but I always try and put a positive spin and my heart's desire is that people who read would desire similar experiences themselves, because I think the world will be a better place the more everyone interacts with each other, especially cross culturally.

That being said, the purpose here is to discuss culture clashes. Not to pass judgement on them. If you cannot do that, then you shouldn't read it. But there are culture clashes occurring every day and if we never discuss them, we will never get past them or stop them from occurring. So be it what I will, I will write honestly. And I will try my best to be respectful and sensitive. But at the same time, it will be mostly from my point of view, as I have no other point of view to write from.

However, as I said from the beginning in October 2004, I would welcome comments and discussion as long as they are not vulgar, rude, insulting, denegrating, or otherwise inappropriate (disrespect being inappropriate). I will gladly respond and we can learn from each other. It does no good to share my point of view, if I am not open to yours. And I cannot become a better cross cultural citizen without learning from others. I do however have it set that I have to approve comments, so if you are of the type I said won't be welcome, don't waste your time. I will not allow it on the site. Otherwise, let's discuss.

Finally, a definition of culture might be somewhat helpful. When I talk about culture, I am not just referring to the rich cultural heritage of architecture and arts, etc. Nor am I just referring to history. I am referring to daily life. Those who look at the cultural heritage are right to wonder what toilet paper and other daily minutae mentioned here have to do with culture. But those minutae have everything to do with daily culture and that culture, I believe, is what most visitors have the most struggle with or at the most immediate reaction. So that is what fascinates me the most. Everybody deals with different aspects of daily life in unique ways. That is as much a part of their cultural reality as music and design. And it is what makes us different in ways that are more immediately noticable for many people. So I choose to include those things in my definition of culture for the sake of culture clashes, and I discuss them here.