Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

Brazil, the Former Poor Cousin from the South

Even though I was born in Brazil, I lived in the USA with my parents in the 60’s. In 1969, we went back home. I remember how Brazil lagged behind America in terms of technology, infrastructure and education, as well as in every other social aspect. I have vivid memories of our return back to Brazil. It was like going back in time. The level of poverty was shocking even for a small child like myself. Seeing kids begging on the streets was beyond my comprehension. I recall my mother saying how nice it was to have hot water to do the dishes in the USA, how nice it was to be able to drink water from any fawcet and how ridiculous it was to polish the floor of your house manually on your knees like Brazilians still did (even though it was a maid who would do the job). For a few years I remember my mother citing the differences between the two countries and how more developed the USA was.

Another shock for my young self was the difference between classes, which encompassed skin color. The darker you were, the more likely you belonged to the lower economic classes. Not only these people were poorer than you, you also had more rights than them. They were supposed to treat you with respect, because somehow you were “superior” to them. This is something that is ingrained in most white upper class Brazilians to this day. Some Brazilians are still surprised to see a black man driving a nice car when they visit America.

During the military regime, heavy import taxes were put on foreign imports, and some imported goods were completely forbidden. Therefore, American and Japanese electronics became objects of desire for most Brazilians, as well as French perfumes, designer duds and imported alcoholic beverages. The word “imported” meant high quality, desirable. People who traveled abroad were viewed with envy, since they could bring back Swiss chocolate, French cosmetics and American running shoes. The “Americans”, our neighbors from the North, were viewed with awe, admiration and envy. They were richer, lived in bigger houses, drove better cars, produced better movies, had more gizmos, were blonder, taller, happier, etc. The USA was the place to be, and the place most Brazilians secretly longed to visit or to live. The comparison was natural as both countries are the largest on the southern and northern sides of the American continent.

This picture has changed along the years. The “poor cousin from the south” is no longer so poor. Electronics are still cheaper in the US, but you can easily buy them in Brazil. The lower middle classes have more disposable income, and many finally bought their first car. Brazilians of African descent gained more notoriety and inched their way into a better position in society. Poverty decreased, educational levels rose.

Adding to this scenario was the recession that hit the United States and most of the world a few years ago, leaving Brazil almost unscathed. Meanwhile, the United States changed its population composition in the last 20 years. Incessant immigrant waves from Asia, Middle East, Africa and Central America changed the blonde-blue eyed “All American” type idealized by 50’s movies into a diverse melting pot. Even the new president of the USA looks like an average “mulatto”. High rates of unemployment and the lack of economic growth made the “rich cousin from the North” seem less and less threatening.

Brazilians, naturally patriotic (a famous Brazilian motto is “God is Brazilian”) became even prouder of their country. Finally their self-esteem grew, championed by loudmouth President Lula, who represents this new role Brazil has in the world. At the same time, a new sentiment was in the air: the old envy felt towards the “rich cousin”, added to an increased national pride, grew into a general feeling of oneupmanship. Finally, the rich cousin lost money and power, while the poor cousin could now show off his brand new shiny Mercedes Benz. A new hostility developed, seen in blogs, tweets, articles and conversations with Brazilians.

This sense of hostility and “you cannot tell us what to do anymore” made it very hard for David Goldman, a regular American father from New Jersey who had his son illegally abducted to Brazil by his wife, to be able to legally bring his son back home. Brazil had signed an international treaty, the Hague Convention, and what should have been a speedy decision became a Herculean feat for Mr. Goldman and an international imbroglio involving the international media an figureheads in both countries.

The latest example of Brazilian bravado was the CBS show “60 Minutes”, aired on December 12th, 2010 and called “Brazil, a Rising Star”. Eike Battista, Brazil’s richest entrepeneur, tells the American reporter “Hello, it’s time for Americans to wake up”.

Many Brazilians still resent the American support to the military regime of the 70’s. It was well known that the American military trained military Brazilians in the “art of torture”. It is well known that America has always made it difficult for Brazil to export its agricultural products in order to compete internationally on equal footing. In the last decade, Brazil joined many other countries in its disgust at the American interventionism in the Middle East as well as the unnecessary war it started under the Bush administration..

What seems interesting in this newfound Brazilian self-esteem and veiled hostility to Americans is that many Americans are not aware of it. When Brazilians tell Americans they are from Brazil, they hear compliments such as how beautiful the women are and how they love the beaches and Brazilian music. Now, more than ever, Brazil is on the map. Most Americans have heard about its models, fashion kings, great plastic surgeons and rising Economy. On the other hand, Brazilians do not have many kind words towards Americans. The resentment is still there, with traces of the old envy. The poor cousin got richer but cannot get over the fact that his richer cousin once upstaged him in every way.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | Difference between cultures | 6 Comments

Envy between couples

Few people discuss the presence of envy in a couple. All the focus goes on cheating and its byproduct, jealousy. But the presence of envy in a marriage or partnership can create havoc. While some people are more competitive by nature, I suppose envy inside a couple’s relationship is the very essence of what a marriage is not supposed to be.

When people exchange vows, they promise to help, cherish and support each other in good or bad times. Envy presupposes you are not happy if your spouse is happy, you two do not have common goals for the future and you do not have your partners’ best interest at hand.

If one half of a couple feels envious of their partner, it can also be the result of low self esteem or tremendous insecurity. Sometimes it is a perceived threat: your partner may be better looking, smarter, better educated, and more charismatic, have more friends, make more money. In that case, your chances of losing your partner increase (in your mind). Therefore, envy surfaces. Anything about your partner that is good threatens you and your relationship.

Such a person does not perceive that any advantage their partner has only adds to them. People tend to judge a person by their spouse. A man who has an intelligent or beautiful wife is perceived as more successful. A woman who has a successful husband is perceived as more powerful.

When someone is envious of their partner, they do not feel part of a team. They do not feel that their partner and them are together in the game of life. They feel that they need to protect themselves from their partner. Sometimes I wonder if the rise of divorce has made people so skeptical of relationships in general that they are always considering an escape route, thus disassociating themselves from their partner.

The consequences of being envious of your partner are multifold. Here are some typical scenarios:
1) The envious party does not care about their partner’s feelings.
2) The envious party resents their partner.
3) The envious party does not feel they need to do anything nice for their partner (“why do anything nice to someone who already has so much going on for them”).
4) The envious party is not generous with their partner. Same thinking as # 3.
5) The envious party can be often irritable, hostile, cruel and rude to their partner.
6) The envious partner can become emotionally abusive, resorting to name calling and put-me-downs.
7) The envious partner may resent everything that is part of their partners lives (their country, their friends, their family, etc).
9) The envious party may hide their partner from their friends or workmates, since their partner makes them feel “inferior”
9) The envious party starts avoiding their partner all together, not wanting to spend time with them, since that makes them uncomfortable.
10) The envious partner stops wanting intimacy with their partner, especially when their envy is also related to how they look and how their partner looks.
11) The envious party often does not show respect, kindness and affection towards their spouse/partner.
12) The envious partner hates the idea of sharing money with their partner.
13) The envious partner has little interest in their partner’s health or well being. Why worry about someone who they feel already has so many other advantages?

I think therapy is really in order for someone who is feeling envious of their partner to the point that the relationship is no longer a marriage or a partnership, but two ships passing on the night.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | Psychology, Relationships | Leave a comment

The “evil” stepchild

Popular culture has references to “evil stepmothers” and “the redheaded stepchild”, but few people discuss the difficulty it is dealing with stepchildren in today’s divorce riddled society. Nonetheless, message boards across the internet are full of stepmothers and stepfathers with horror stories of stepchildren who cause them immense grief, disrupt their lives, insult and steal from them and eventually destroy their parent’s relationships. I have personally heard stories of stepchildren or future stepchildren that made the lives of the mother’s boyfriend/husband or the lives of their father’s girlfriend/wife so hard that the stepparent-to-be could no longer deal with the situation.

Many parents feel guilty about their divorce and try to compensate by letting the children run their lives. Sometimes they feel hurt and lonely and lean on their children as confidantes, which is a lot worse. Children are not supposed to be burdened by their parents’ love lives. Not only they don’t have the maturity and experience to deal with these problems, they start feeling that the parent’s partner is their enemy, thus a feeling of competition develops. Moreover, throwing your child against your lover will only make this child have a very eschewed view of relationships in the future, affecting their capability to trust and have a good stable marriage themselves.

For younger stepchildren, the problem is usually establishing boundaries. These kids have been hurt by their parents’ divorce, and it is natural for them to dream that their parents will be reunited. Who doesn’t want that? The new girlfriend or boyfriend is an outsider, an imposter, a threat. Some smaller children do not even let their mother or father hold hands, sit next to or sit in the front seat of the car with their lover/boy-girlfriend/new spouse. What’s a parent to do? Establish boundaries and explain to their child that the GF/BF is their partner, but that they (the child) will always be their child, and will always be loved and protected. When a child sees that their Mom or Dad loves and respect their partner, they learn to respect that person as well, making them less inclined to oppose them or resent them.

Adult stepchidlren’s animosity towards their parent’s partner is often times related to money. They fear their parent will give the inheritance they feel entitled to to the new spouse. Some even resent if their parent spends any money on their new spouse. Some daughters resent if their father gives a nice gift to their girlfriends and wives. What a parent spends on their partner is their business, and not the child’s business.

Things are especially thorny with divorced men and women who only have one child. And things get a lot messier if the child is from the opposite sex. If you have watched the 1958 movie “Bonjour Tristesse”, with David Niven and the lovely Jean Seberg, you will see an example of a very unhealthy Daddy/Daughter relationship, where the daughter is able to completely manipulate and control her father to the point of driving his girlfriend to…oops, spoiler. There is also an Italian movie (I cannot recall the name) where a lonely divorced woman has a very “unusual” bond with her teenage son, who scared away every potential suitor his mother had.

Only children are not used to sharing their parent with anyone. When it comes to an opposite sex parent, they subconsciously see themselves as their parent’s romantic partner (“why does he need another woman/man, am I not enough”)? This situation is more complicated when a parents’ marriage breaks up very early in a child’s life. This child develops the “me and Daddy/Mommy against the world” syndrome. There was never a sibling to share the spotlight or the presence of a stable couple in this child’s life.

Enablers are parents who sense the child’s resentment of their new partner and feed into it, for several reasons. Sometimes, a divorced woman or man feels very lonely, and their attachment to their child goes beyond a normal father-daughter or mother-son relationship. They look to the child to supply all the elements of a full blown adult romantic relationship. That set up is a potential landmine when the parent finally starts dating or remarries.

Step parenting is a very difficult and thankless task. Many times the stepparents do what is within their power to treat their step kids well, encountering firm opposition and disrespect (or worse, the “behind the scenes” manipulation of their confused parent). In 90% of the times, the parent of the child is the person that can make this scenario better. If a child sees their parent and their new partner as a strong solid unit, their resentment will eventually turn into acceptance. As long as the child feels loved by their parent and has discipline and boundaries, problems between a step kid and stepparents are less likely to occur.

Finally, a parent whose child resents their spouse has to think: how can I love and protect my child and at the same time protect my relationship? After all, your child is going to grow up and marry someone else, and that person will eventually become their best friend and confidante. If you lost all the relationships in your life because of a jealous child, you may find yourself lonely. And sometimes a child never gets married because they don’t want to “have to” leave their primary relationship with their parent. Who hasn’t heard of those bachelors who never get married and still live with their mama (or talk/see mama every day), who disapproves of all their girlfriends? Kind of twisted, right?

December 1, 2010 Posted by | Being a mother, Relationships | 4 Comments