So there I was last night, at the Atheist Convention, sponsored by the Atheist Alliance. I took pictures and talked to Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, Julia Sweeney, Tom Wolfe and the great great grandson of Charles Darwin (Matthew Chapman). I just did not see Sam Harris, but he was probably around. What an amazing evening! Everyone looked elegant and Margaret Downey, the organizer and her husband were gracious hosts. Dawkins is really humble, Hitchens is shy one on one. Darwin’s descendant is a bit on the womanizing side….he asked me what had my mother fed me to be so tall, which I responded (very appropriately I must say): “it’s evolution baby!” 🙂
The rational response squad team was there and they were filming videos for the Blashemy challenge. I made one saying “I deny the holy spirit” and so did husband (kind of reluctantly, please honey!!).
I actually have fun with friends sometimes saying I challenge “god” to kill me right there and then with lightning. Funny how they kind of recoil in fear, even the ones who are not so much believers anyway…ha ha.
I made a comment to a friend of mine that last night I was at the convention and she told me I am brainwashed and crazy….hardly she knows that is what we think of religious people!!
Some pics are fuzzy because the iPhone camera is not great. But you can see me with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Matthew Chapman, the great great grandson (:)) of Charles Darwin (left-he is a screenwriter).
For more on the atheist alliance convention go this guy’s blog: www.friendlyatheist.com
Also check out the convention sponsor website: http://www.atheistalliance.org/
This is me and hubby. We share (thank god! :)) the atheist point of view.
Crystal Clear Atheism, this is how it is being called, a play with the city hosting this important convention sponsored by the Atheist Alliance. I am pleased to be there tomorrow night, for the opening cocktail. I may also serve as a volunteer on Friday and Saturday nights. The venue is the Crowne Plaza in Arlington (Crystal City, near the Pentagon), VA.
Dawkins will be there, Sam Harris will be there, Christopher Hitchens will be there, Darwin’s great great grandson will be there. I perosnally know Lori Lipman and Rick Wingrove, two of the speakers and really great people.
It was nice to find out from a poll I saw on AOL that Sweden is 80% atheist. Talk about a logical country! I also think the 9% of atheists they claim America has is growing with the New Atheism movement, and also that there is a large number of people who call themselves religious because it is “normal” and “nice” to do so but who never step on a church or pray or give a shit.
I will be happy when the US (and my beloved Brazil) become majorly secular, and religious folks relegated to being some excentric types. Who knows, it may happen in my lifetime.
Here in the very diverse Washington DC metro area, I have friends from all over the world. I was used to the mostly homogenous population of Brazil. Most of us came to America legally, some through the Worldbank, some to get a degree, some because of green cards they obtained. Most of us are educated professionals. Usually worldly, cultured and fun. I also have American-born friends, but for some reasons my relationship with them is more work related. The Americans I find more in common with have either lived or traveled abroad extensively; they have a broader worldview. Some are of Mediterranean/Latin extract and therefore are a bit more outgoing and social.
I am starting this blog because I just love to write…wrote my first book at the age of 12 with a friend from school. Why am I writing in English when it’s not my first language? When my English grammar will fail me here and there? Because I want to reach a wider number of people. Many Brazilians read English as well, but very few Americans understand Portuguese.
Growing up I had the opportunity to come to the US at the age of 4 and live in a different culture and learn a second language. I went back to Brazil at the age of 9 and then came back again at the age of 16. I moved permanently to the USA in 1997. I did live most of my life in Brazil though.
I have a bit of both cultural influences. I think I can see the best of both cultures. Therefore, I have compiled a list of things that I like about life in the US and a list of things I don’t. Some are quite petty, or even funny. Some are residue of the old Anglo culture, and some are the nature of the beast (being a low regulation free market society).
Here it goes:
Things about the U.S. that irk me:
1) I will begin with the bathroom stalls. Why are they open on the top and the bottom? Why is there a big gap between the door and the standstill? Why can I see my neighbors’ feet and hear their most intimate noises? I don’t want to hear my co-workers’ gas problems! People can peek inside my stall through the gap and see me. Is this on purpose so people will not have sex or do drugs in public bathrooms? I feel relieved (double entendre) when I find a “normal” bathroom in some rare restaurants. Nowhere in the civilized world I see such bathrooms as in the US. Ok, I know there are places in the world where there are NO bathrooms (bushes and holes in the grounds), and at least most American bathrooms are cleaner than some other countries.
2) The whole engagement proposal and diamond ring thing. Are we still in the 1800’s? Why do women have to wait patiently for a man to decide to propose to her? I see women wasting their best years on a man and waiting passively for him to propose only to have them leave them for the BBD (bigger better deal)! Why can’t both decide to get married after a couple of years of dating and announce their wedding date or their engagement to everyone? It makes women seem so out of control of their destiny and men have too much power. I have heard complaints about commitment phobic men all the time, and I have to say: it shouldn’t be that way. Both should make decisions together about their future.
3) I decided to talk about the diamond ring in a separate paragraph. This baffles me. The whole industry, dominated by De Beers, wants women to think they deserve a big rock and that their BF’s love is in direct proportion to the amount of money they spend. Young men starting their lives feel obligated to go through the whole rigmarole of an “unforgettable” proposal-how embarrassing that can sometimes be- and to spend thousands of dollars in a ring-instead of a downpayment on their house, for example.
I think this old diamond tradition needs to be seriously revisited. Diamonds are not as rare as they make them to be, and nowadays there are many man-made/lab-made stones that are just as beautiful and durable and ten times or more cheaper. One of them is moissanite: so beautiful that no one, not even jewelers, see the difference!! Cubic zirconia can be beautiful too. Other precious stones can make gorgeous rings, such as sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Semi precious stones in gold settings (nothing like 18K gold in terms of beauty) can also make beautiful engagement rings: citrines, aquamarines, peridots, amethysts, etc. And one more thing: the fact that the female side of the couple wears the engagement ring before the wedding takes place and the man wears nothing seems kind of sexist.
In Brazil, there is none of the diamond ring custom. First, it is too expensive for the average Brazilian; second, it is not part of the Latin tradition. The Brazilian tradition is for the future groom to buy two wedding bands, usually 18k gold (we don’t even consider 14k to be gold in Brazil). Before the wedding, BOTH wear the bands on their right hands, and after the wedding they move it to the left hands (always the same band for both woman and man-or man and man and woman and woman-gay marriage is getting more and more acceptance). Seems logical and simple. I will make a separate post about this.
4) The frump nation thing. I read this term somewhere and I liked it. See my newer post about it. Having traveled to many countries and seen many styles, excepting really poor countries in Asia and Africa, I have never seen such a bad looking population as in the US. Frump Nation at its best. Many American women, especially the anglo ones, dress like a man. There is very little femininity. Short hair, glasses, no make up, no jewelry, baggy clothes, flat shoes. Very confortable indeed, very feminist, but very…..unnatractive. I often see couples across America where the woman looks a lot worse than the man-I often wonder if he feels attracted to his wife… I am sure he may love and respect her, and all that is sine qua non, but a woman’s feminity is nothing to be embarrased of or to hide. It is also a sign of healthy self esteem to take care of your appearance, without paranoias and too many nips and tucks.
5) This one is a given: the fattest country on Earth. I remember in 1997 I went to Disneyworld after 5 years without coming to the US: I was shocked at how many obese people I saw in those parks. Whole families of elephants. I know how unkind it sounds but the truth is that this can be avoided by exercise and self control and a little more education on what is healthy and what is not. Ever seen the food offered in these parks? Sugar and fat, sugar and fat. It is obvious for many that the widespread highways we have in America and that are subject of admiration by foreigners have made us very car dependant and unable to walk. Add to that the aggressive advertising by food companies-our children are bombarded on TV by ads of candy and other sugar laden treats.
The government does a bad job in educating kids and adults about nutrition (Michelle Obama is the first to tackle this). Elementary, Middle and High Schools offer very unhealthy snacks and sugary sodas as the only eating options. Kids have to be at school so early that they don’t take lunch with them. They also do not have microwaves at school like office workers do to heat up their food. And of course, no one walks, because of the urban sprawl.
Usually only those who live in large downtown areas like Manhattan are slim. Go to small towns and see the gravity of the excess weight in this country. I see pretty faced 20-something year old women throwing away their lives and their chances for romance underneath enormous amounts of flesh. And it is socially acceptable because everyone around them is also fat! When I feel my clothes tight I know I need to revamp my daily exercise and cut down on food. These people don’t get the message. It is a social disease in this country. Anoxerics in Hollywood, obese in Tennesee.
6) The workaholic mentality. Short vacations. Long hours. Parents who do not see their kids. Kids babysat by the TV since the parents work long hours or 2 jobs to be able to have a decent lifestyle. Couples who lead separate lives. A lot of divorce. You get the picture.
7) The ME mentality. My “space”. My time. Married or otherwise committed men going to bars with other males to “Boy’s night out”. Hey, you are a boy until 21, after that you are a man! Same for “girls’ night out”. They go to meat markets and put themselves in a position to flirt with the opposite sex. Men in committed relationships going to strip clubs and wanting their women to think it is “normal and socially acceptable” for them to be there.
8) The health insurance business. Health insurance is extremely expensive and the quality of care is mediocre (I call it the “5 minute doctors”).
9) The constant scamming of the public. Credit card scams, insurance scams, long distance phone companies scams, false advertising. Ads disguided as “public health information”. There is too little control of this stuff, and the innocent, the naive, the elderly, the very busy and the foreigners are usually victims. It seems everywhere you look they are out to get your money. No honey, the waitress is not being fakely nice because she likes you, she wants a fat tip!!
10) The religious right. All those religious nuts and bible thumpers with their desire to opress women and ignorance about science. Unfortunately, Evangelicals and Pentecostals are growing in Brazil too, where they are taking over the poor and uneducated masses with the promises of a “better life is you accept Jesus”. Barf.
11) The traffic ticketing scam. Everyone knows it is not for safety. Speed limits are artificially low. It is all for filling city and county coffers and to give profits to the car insurance business. Why they increase our car insurance premiums because of a speeding ticket is beyond me. That should only be in the case of an accident.
12) The smugness of police officers. Not as bad as in some dictatorial countries obviously, but many police officers have a bullying attitude. They are there to help the public but sometimes they treat minor offenses like going 65 in a 55 road as if the person is a major criminal.
13) The racial division. The separation between blacks, who have developed their own culture, language and lifestyle, and anglos, hispanics of Native American descent, Indians from India, Asians, etc. Right, this is a democracy and I believe this country has been successful in guaranteeing everyone access to everything and to keep discrimination at large, but we all know that Shamika does not date or socialize with John Henry Stafford III.
Now, for those who might respond to these points with a: “If you don’t like it here, go back to your country”, I have to say I chose to live here for various reasons, which you can see below, but that doesn’t mean that the US is perfect, hell no! There is no nirvana. There is no Shangri-la. There is no paradise on earth. Every country/region has its pluses and minuses.
Things about the U.S.A that I admire:
1) The cleanliness of the streets. You can also see that in Western Europe and Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong.
2) The well organized urbanization. The well thought of urban planning seen in the layout of streets and highways. The infrastructure. The beautiful landscaping everywhere. The maintenance of buildings and streets. Open spaces, wide roads, smooth and well maintained. With a few exceptions, the US is a country where you can see that our tax money is well spent.
3) The free school system. Well maintained and well equiped schools, mostly. Some with good teachers. A variety of subjects, sports and activities. Not the best education in the world, but one that is democratic and available to all.
4) The multiculturalism. The fact that everyone has access to the same stuff theoretically speaking. Black, white, green or purple, we are all equal. The class system is less pernicious that in other societies (excepting Western Europe’s democracies).
5) The affordability of food and clothing for the majority of citizens.
6) Safety. One of the few parts of the world (except for Western Europe again) where you can leave the door of your house open, your car open, not have alarms in your house, fences, bars, the works. An issue that encouraged me to consider moving to the U.S. (I had my home and my business burglarized in Brazil, even though it could happen here as well in a not-so-great neighborhood). I am aware there are dangerous places to live in LA, Bronx and Queens, Southeast DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, inner city crime and such, but as a whole, America is safe.
7) The fact that the minimum salary is not very low, unemployment is low, government corruption is low, and most people have a similar opportunity to succeed. (I wrote this in 2007, before the recession became BAD).
8) Respect. When someone crosses the street, you wait for them to cross instead of forcing your way in. There is more respect and civlity in the daily human interactions.
9) Overall quality of life, which encompasses several of the things above.
Yes, I want to add one more pet peeve about stuff I do not like much in America. I know, I know, the list is long, but then again some are smaller stuff while if you look at the list of things I do like, they have a lot more impact. And again, no one is perfect and certainly nowhere is perfect 🙂
Customer service. All through the 70’s marketing specialists have been training American corporations about the perfect service customer. How to please customers, how to captivate customers, how the customer is always right and how to create customer loyalty. Problem is, they also taught the whole service industry how to annoy customers. Have you tried to have one intimate conversation in any restarant that is not a top A level restaurant in America? You are interrrupted every goddamn 10 minutes. You actually wait a lot to be served, but then they don’t stop harrassing you! They come and introduce themselves (as if you care what their name is) and ask you how you are doing today, as if THEY care!! They bring the food and then 2 minutes later ask: “How do you like the food”? “Well, I haven’t even tried it yet”!
Then every 10 minutes or so they come with their fake smiley faces and ask: “Is everything all right?”If something wasn’t all right we would be calling you, wouldn’t we dickhead? How many times I have been engrossed in a very interesting conversation just to have some teenager pop in and yell “is everything ok”-and then we lose the momentum?
Learn with the French (aha, with the Brazilian waiters-professional waiters that is, not kids trying to make an extra buck): come to the table, write down the order, don’t get chummy, be polite but not fakily nice, don’t recite a million specials, bring the food without a word, wait in the fringes to see if you are called for anything and wait for the check sign-bring the check and say thank you. That’s it!! We go out not to get to know waiters and waitresses unless we are very very lonely!
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