Saturday, March 17, 2012

Being A Tomboy in Brazil

We all know that people come from different backgrounds. Our individual viewpoint is formed by several factors that include upbringing (which can determine our sense morals and cultural identity)... socioeconomic factors (which can affect our education options and range of potential experiences)... and our unique temperament (which is a filter on how we see the world). All help to shape who we are - and how we will live & relate in this life.

As I’ve mentioned before, I write from an American viewpoint - specifically that of a female... Austinite... Texan and tomboy. I measure things in feet and inches, judge weight by pounds and ounces, and relate distance in miles. For these reasons, I have thoughtfully placed a conversion widget for your convenience at the bottom of the page.
I write from my handful of experiences thus far. I am a jack of all trades, and master of none. I have a certain array of skill sets that, while valued back home in Texas... are not only useless, but regarded with disdain in the culture in which I now live. This is due to my individual choices in life, and while I’m okay with that, it occasionally accentuates the homesickness I feel.

At a young age I determined to ‘never need a man,’ and spent my time investing in a nice assortment of tools and know-how. Here I was forced to retire my tools, keep my know-how on the DL, and learn what it means to be "a lady.”

In this region of Brazil social functions are usually divided into two sides: the men and the women. The men talk about business, cars, fishing and sports, while the women tend to discuss certain novelas and/or fashion related topics. If they have kids, the women will discuss the finer points of whichever theme they are considering for their child's upcoming birthday bash. Needless to say, I tend to gravitate towards the conversations of the males, as the go-to topics for females bore me stiff.

Although I am now aware of some of cultural protocols that enable me to fly under the radar, I still get made for someone who’s not from around here, due to certain personal preferences. Some things we can change, some things we choose not to. Some things we have absolutely no control over: like how a culture may see a woman that doesn't conform to the accepted padrão [standard, model].

It's not like I am leading a one-woman revolution... I just don't have the strength to pretend to be something I'm not. I don’t blowout my hair – I wear it naturally, which means wavy. I avoid high heels at all costs. I don't do lace or bows. (Not only is it nearly impossible to find clothing for a grown tomboy in the city that I now call home - there isn't even a true translation for it). I can count the number of times I've worn a skirt in the past 5 years on one hand (well, 3 fingers). I prefer watching a sports event to watching a novela (or discussing one). I’d prefer to take an arrow to the knee, than to have to go to the salon.

I’d also rather go hang out on some campsite along a river than to stay back in town “with the women”… Do I like being the only woman in camp? No way. (That’s usually seen as volunteering to be the cook – which normally turns out to be a huge disappointment for someone else.) Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a female friend that can hang.

The fact that my husband accepts me & loves me for who I am is a blessing – with an ata on top. There have been more than a few times that he chose to bring me on an otherwise all-guys fishing trip, to the surprise and chagrin of his friends, rather than leaving me to suffocate in our urban high-rise. I honestly try to not to rock the boat, so to speak, but chauvinism is no friend of mine. I miss the inclusive social structure of the U.S. We mingle. We work & play together - at least, back in central Texas.

As a young adult I typically worked in fields that were predominantly all male. I have worked for various companies where I've been the only female outside of the office, but I was seen as a liaison rather than a liability. My friends and family back home never thought twice about it. The fact that I could change a flat or hang a ceiling fan was a running joke at the weekly ladies' Bible studies, but they never looked down on me or shied away from me.

(Thanks to Zach Montoya for Mechanic Girl!)

Here... I just don't bring it up (it's one of those DL-things). However, every now and then something might accidentally slip out that makes someone look at me for a minute as they ponder on what exactly I just said. ("Watch it! That plug is not grounded!" or "Wow! Feel the horsepower in this thing?!") ...but it's usually attributed to the fact that maybe I don't speak Portuguese too well. ("She can't have meant that!" or "That crazy Americana is babbling again...")

Truthfully, I have made some changes voluntarily, just to minimize the overwhelming effect the local Brazilian females can have on a man (and each other - just ask the local hairdresser). Goiânia is infamous for the ratio of 6 females to every 1 male, and boasts the most attractive Brasileiras (oozing their femininity) in the country. I can't confirm or deny this, as I haven't been all over the entire country, but from what I’ve seen it has inspired me to be a tad more feminine. (More on that later...)

Just as I’ve not yet made it to every area in Brazil, neither have I been to every area in my home country. I've been to 11 of the 48 continental states, and on almost every side of my home state, with the exception of West Texas. I hear the speed limit is awesome there.

That said, what I write is simply observations based on my point of view. I remember as a 5-year-old kid, the world looked amazing when seen through a prism… I’d walk around for days on end looking through that thing, no matter how many near misses I had with a wall or flight of steps. These days, I call it as I see it sans prisms, in accordance with the Laughter Is The Best Policy ...uh, policy.

I try to keep in mind that most females, even those back in my home country and state, probably won't share my affinity for old cars, the smell of the grease-oil-gasoline mix that comes from a long day in the garage – even if it’s only observing & admiring the work of someone mechanically inclined, the intoxicating smell of freshly cut grass from weed eating and mowing the yard, or the buzz that one gets after a successful home improvement project comes to fruition.

The thing is, I wasn't as much of a rare breed back home, as I am a potential sideshow freak here (were I really able to get to do what I love). Living in a 100% concrete high-rise helps to keep me in check, as there is simply less to do, but hopefully we will move into a house by the end of the year, so that I can get back to my roots (literally). I told my husband that I will take care of the yard. Since all of the houses have a high wall surrounding the property, no one has to be the wiser. ;)

(Unless otherwise noted, all images found on Google.)


  1. Interesting, Amaris. I observed a similar situation when I was over there some time ago. This is what scares me a bit about moving to Brazil, in case I have to some time in the future. I'm not particularly into male topics or activities, but I'm not particularly 'feminine', either. Do you think the situation varies from State to State, and/or from urban areas to countryside?

  2. Ana -

    So far I’ve been to 7 states + the federal district. I've traversed Goiás extensively, from one side to the other - and everywhere in between... I've also been through a good portion of Mato Grosso.

    I haven't seen anything to the contrary, yet. I thought that perhaps this was mainly the case in the metropolitan, upper-class social circles, but it’s the same in smaller towns, too. Good conversations have been few & far between, but are memorable for the delightful deviation from the norm.

    Don't get me wrong: I really can’t stand talking about business or fishing, but in this case, "guy talk" is the lesser of two evils. Truthfully, no one talks about things that interest me here. I'm caught in a cultural chasm, if you will.

    I actually prefer to talk about comics, cuisine, environmental & humanitarian issues, movies, music, photography, pop culture from the '80s & '90s, video games, etc. … which fail to interest the social circles in which I find myself. We mutually bore the heck out of each other, I think. The first year I thought it was because I didn’t speak enough Portuguese, but it truly is cultural.

    The second year I decided that I was racking up enough wasted hours at parties where I just couldn’t connect. The conversations were just too superficial, if not nearly nonexistent. I started bringing a book in my purse. The first time I did it, my husband accused me of being antisocial, but after everyone had run out of things to say and I was left with nothing but time on my hands, I discreetly slipped into a corner and read. This really helped me to feel like the time spent there was not a total waste, and my brain wouldn’t turn to mush as quickly.

    It’s hard when there is no one to converse with in your native language – vocabulary starts to disappear… the mind gets idle… it only accentuates homesickness & can lead to depression. I’d rather appear “weird” or “antisocial” for not occupying a designated space at a party all night, on the off chance that someone might speak with me, and instead go do something enjoyable that stimulates the brain.

    Nowadays I don’t go to a social function without all of the following in my bag/purse: a book, journal, ipod & camera. If nothing else, I can slip off & get some good pics of the surrounding area, or find a quiet place to write. The ipod’s good anytime – I pop it in when off-color subjects arise (and they do quite often). It’s a good buffer. It may not be the most gratifying experience of the week, but it’s how I cope with the vacuum.

    What part of Brazil are you considering moving to?

  3. Amaris, thank you for sharing all this.
    It's still quite a vague possibility, but it would be Recife. I was there already for a little while but it was hard to judge whether I would fit in in a hypothetical future. As you say about yourself, my Portuguese wasn't great at the time, and being it the first time I was meeting everybody, the conversation would be mostly on what I do, where I am from etc., which came quite handy. But overall I had the feeling that the themes and the tones were quite different from what I prefer/am used to with my close friends. Then again, I've had similar experiences in other countries; sometimes it's just that people are at different points in lives or have different perspectives. Hard to say, but it's interesting that you say it is cultural. In that case, well, I'll make sure I'll bring my camera, too ;-)

  4. Ana -

    I agree with you that a lack of connecting beyond a surface level can be because people are at different points in their lives, or simply have dissimilar interests and/or viewpoints.

    That added with the fact that just as in our home countries, there exists the popular culture here: novelas, Big Brother, etc. (back home: Dancing With the Stars or some reality show, etc.) that a foreigner may or may not connect with. In my case, i didn't watch any of the "popular culture" things back home, either.

    Once i moved beyond the basic 20 questions (where i'm from, do i like Brazil, etc.) i found that unless i knew the family (to discuss how everyone is doing, etc.) then subject matter was scarce. Again, this has something do with finding someone in our particular field, and/or similar background. [In my case, this is where culture plays a big role.]

    I don't expect others to meet me where i am, as i realize that the odds of that happening are slim to none. I try to find things (aside from the standard novela, salon, fashion topics) that might interest them, but it's been 5 years and i have yet to figure out how to connect on a deeper level.

    I don't think we can ever expect to find friends that will be as close as those we grew up with, as we more than likely shared similar interests with those nearest to us. I'd like to think that in the future i will have close friends here, but for now, i realize that i’m simply in a different chapter in my life.

    Look me up when you get to Recife! :) Perhaps we will make it that way someday, too.

  5. If I ever go, I will :) Good luck for now!

  6. Amaris and Ana- I'm here in the middle of nowhere, Rondonia, and I can say that it is the same here. What I do- and my Portuguese is very,very basic- is I talk about things that interest me, and say revolutionary things about how I don't have kids and don't want them. I also talk about how wonderful life can be if you go to college and travel and delay marriage/children. I tell little girls life without children is wonderful, etc. It's normal here for girls 15-17 to get married and have children with a boy of the same age.

    I also bring up animal rights, human rights, the economy and war and push women to give me their opinion. I find that Brazilian women just are not used to giving their opinion. But if pushed, they will talk briefly about something interesting to me.

  7. Jennifer -

    It's healthy for people to be exposed to other views, i agree.

    I've tried bringing up animal rights, human rights, the environment, the war on drugs (we see so much in Texas that isn't shown other places) ...the economy & immigration reform, etc. but i've found out that some females view that as i "only want to discuss weird subjects"... lol

    I've been accused of hating children or being sterile, simply because we haven't chosen to take that step, yet... (and, *yes*... we know the clock is ticking!) The very same people ask me verbatim, "...and WHEN are you having YOURS???" e-v-er-y-time we meet in a social setting, so i now tell them to refer to the same answer that i gave them the last time they put me on the spot. :D This has helped to alleviate the mind-numbing frequency in repetition of the same scenario over & over... (It was really excessive, at one point.)

    However, i must say that it has to be (or at least, i hope it is) a regional thing. I haven't noticed as much of the stereotypical attitudes along the coast - in the touristy areas/more international cities.

    As for us, we just have to remind ourselves that this is simply another chapter in our story. It's nice to find others in similar situations, though, so that we can compare notes and cheer each other on. :) :)


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