Hi guys, it has been a while! I have not showed my face around here for months now, and I am deeply sorry about that. I did not get tired of blogging or leave Brazil, nor did I run out of ideas what to write about. Actually, I doubt the latter will ever happen. My mind is like a gigantic lottery machine, which throws thousands of balls around inside it in a chaotic manner until one of them gets sucked into the tube and becomes the focus of the moment. So plenty more where that came from.
The truth is that I, both on purpose and accidentally at the same time, stepped onto a road of fierce and burning self-discovery and have not been able to stop for some air ever since. Metaphorically, of course. Literally speaking my breathing is just fine, thanks to a steady yoga practice and in spite of living in São Paulo and taking countless smoke puffs in the face from people that think that their right to smoke anywhere anytime is more important than another person’s right to good health.
However frustrated I am about it, not being able to escape passive smoking in Brazil, is not what I am going to write about today. What I do want to write about, and that I very much want your feedback and stories on, is the matter of self-doubt versus self-assurance.
Recently I have been feeling it all and very strongly. Living in another country itself has been like embarking on a journey of self-discovery. It has been ground shaking and eye-opening. And now, four years later, after adding an even deeper, yet self-implicated and sometimes painful process of really getting to know myself, I have truly learnt that while adapting is necessary, it is important to know your limits. It is only so far you can bend before you break.
I have come to feel the importance of truly embracing oneself with everything you are, the good or the bad. And I am learning to recognize when I am trying to fulfill someone else’s expectations or an idea of an ideal, whereas when I am actually being myself. To illustrate that point, let me tell you a story.
I will never forget the worst date that I have ever had. It happened here in Brazil and it served as a lesson to remember that I have limits that are mine, my own and not necessarily the same as the next person’s. They are mine because I am a person that matters with my own specific experience and background and someone who creates their own reality. Furthermore, it is up to me to position and maintain myself accordingly and make sure my limits and I are respected. Often it is easier said than done.
It was shortly after my arrival that in a casual meeting of foreigners in São Paulo and Brazilians that wanted to make friends with foreigners, I got talking to a guy. Let us say his name was Paul. Paul seemed like a shy guy. He was a psychologist and liked classical music. He seemed serious, friendly and safe, maybe even intellectual. Even though I was not attracted to him, as a new person in town that did not know anyone or any places to go to, I accepted his invitation to go to a classical music concert together.
When the day arrived, Paul met me at the metro station to walk together to the concert hall – the wonderful Auditório Ibirapuera. He was girlishly giggly, stared at me constantly and made funny comments about how he thought that me carrying a jacket on my forearm (as it turned out not to be cold enough as to actually wear it) was chique. Already then, I thought that he was overly excited and obsessed with me being a foreigner while completely oblivious to my reaction or me as a person in that matter.
We had good seats in the front and from the looks of it; the concert was going to be great. And it was. I mean, the music was wonderful, but the rest of it was horrifying. Even before the orchestra started playing, Paul tried to hold my hand asking me to go to church with him on Sunday, have lunch with his Mom etc. That moment I thought: “What have I gotten myself into, this guy is crazy!” but stayed calm, changed the topic, asked rather about his work and told him by the way that us, Estonians, have a thing with our personal space and we do not like it trespassed.
Paul laughed about it, said he thought Estonians were weird and continued with the touchy behavior as if nothing. I then proceeded to remind him that he was overstepping my limits, intruding my personal space. Probably not too convincingly, though. He laughed and said I had too many limits. I felt so uncomfortable, yet not sure of myself enough as to stand up and leave. After all, he had seemed nice and it could have been the cultural difference, I thought.
Then the lights were turned down and the concert started. Sitting next to me, Paul tried to hold my hand again and kiss me on my cheek. I was unable to move. My head started throbbing and everything that I wanted was to run far away and hide in the safety of my home walls.
At some point he said: “Ah look, when I touch you, I can sense how afflicted you feel. That is so funny.” And then he just kept on doing that. Meanwhile, I could not stop being the nice girl that does not yell, behave in a rude manner or cause a scene in public that I had always been taught to be, even though those might have been the very things that would have put an end to this aggression. I did not and this will forever haunt me as a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
Later in a taxi on my way back home (before letting me get a cab he, of course, had insisted on taking me in his car and then invented some kind of story of how his brother had taken it and we would have to wait for him at his place etc.), I fell apart. Nauseous, with a splitting headache and tears filling up my eyes, I was gasping for breath while the taxi rolled on the busy streets of São Paulo. I had been harassed and the worst part of it was that I had let it happen, partly because I was in a very different culture from mine and did not know how to behave, partly because the learnt rules of how I should behave as a woman repressed the person that I actually was. I myself did not feel sure enough about my limits or myself and did not assert them.
While this story definitely illustrates the problem of how women are often seen and treated in the (Brazilian) society and how we, women, very differently from men, are taught to always be nice and well behaved, this post as a whole serves another purpose.
Living in a culture or a society that is very assertive, manipulative, not exactly considerate, sometimes even aggressive, and where you are the odd one out, the foreigner, it is not uncommon to lose yourself. Especially if you are a young person still in search for yourself. However, forgetting or not knowing your values and limits just because someone else is being very convincing or much more sure of themselves than you are, will never do you any good.
There is adaption and then there is suppressing your own needs, values or even who you are as a person. It might seem like an easy way out at first, even more so if your goal is to be adaptable and flexible. Nevertheless, I can assure you; it will always come back and bite you in the ass until you realize that you are doing it to yourself. Responding to external pressures, of course, but it is ourselves that in self-doubt forget that we matter, that we create our own reality and are worthy of being taken into account and respected the way we are, not the way someone else expects us to be(have).
So my advice is: learn to separate the two and you will suffer less, because in the end of the day adaption is not about changing who you are, it is about successfully surviving in a new situation or environment. It is supposed to add, not take away.
Did it just get too confusing? Are you going through this right now? Do not agree at all? Let me know what you think!
7 Comments Add yours
“Women are always objectified by men”, it’s rather unfortunate you had to go through this in another country. Anyway, you should learn more about the people there, to prevent surprises.
Indeed, if you read a bit further you will see that this is the whole idea of this blog: Understand another culture and myself in it 😉
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Exactly! I also had to learn to make the difference between adaption and staying true to myself… an important reason for which I got to know myself much better during the last 3 years here in Brazil. Sorry to hear about the experience with this guy 😦
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Thanks for sharing Nina!! 🙂 Where are you from originally if I may ask? And do you feel comfortable living in Brazil now?
I’m from Switzerland. My husband is brazilian and we’re currently living in his hometown in Minas Gerais. I always wanted to know better his origins and learn to speak his mother tongue, also because of our kids. It’s definitely an amazing experience to live in a country like Brazil, with all its good and a bit difficult sides. But nevertheless I’m missing Europe. What about you? São Paulo must be pretty nice, I imagine. Much more cultural events going on, very international (in our city there’s like 1 % foreigners…) etc. Great blog btw, I enjoy reading your posts!
OMG reading your experiences in Brazil I can now much more understand what was/is going on with Brazilians that moved to Europe. You can get Brazilian out of their society and culture, but cannot get these two out of them. No wonder they prefer to stick with other Brazilians in a new country as well… And yes, I know how it feels when you try to be nice and polite and really just friends yet they think you are maybe just playing kind of game.