I am convinced Brazilians are a bit obsessed with comparing their country to the United States, not to put us down a peg but to raise their own status. In Brazil on the Rise by Larry Rohter, a book that our cohort read during our first training block, the chapter that most captured me was “Becoming a ‘Serious Country.'” The purpose of this blog is not to convince anyone that the author’s views are correct, but to get you as the reader to have a sense of why Americans are perceived the way we are here in Brazil.
Rohter starts off speaking about Brazil’s insecurity, which orginates from the lack of respect for Brazil as a developed country on the world stage. He calls it the “mongrel dog complex,” which arises relative to the United States being treated as a “measuring stick.” Because Brazilians often feel slighted by the world powers, they often use the United States as a reference point for how things could be, but often this is used to highlight the negatives. For example, Rohter states, “If the murder rate by gun in Rio and São Paulo is alarmingly high, for example, any discussion of that problem sooner or later is to mention statistics from New York or Los Angeles in an attempt to argue that things could be worse.” I find this to be incredibly valid. This sort of “well, things could be worse” comparison often comes up when speaking about health as well, being that a third of Americans are overweight/obese. Brazilians make sure to let it be known what they do better than certain developed countries and often employ counter arguments to deflect all points that shed light on their weaknesses.
As I mentioned in my last blog, the fact that the United States receives so much attention in Brazilian media means that the happenings in the far away world of the United States are strangely always fresh in their minds. My favorite quote of the chapter is the following: “If Brazilians tend to be obsessed with the US, the opposite is true of Americans: for many, Brazil barely registers on their radar screen. For Brazilians, the relationship with the US is all-important; for Washington, it is merely one of the many and only gets concentrated attention from the president in times of crisis…” Brazilians are prideful people, but I believe, like Rohter, that in their dealings with world powers, they can feel insecure and act passively.
Being the beautiful, culturally rich country it is, Brazil believes it should share the spotlight with the United States, the UK, Germany, China, and Japan instead of living in the shadows of these countries they feel are economically comparable to it. Now, I beg you to reflect on this: How would we as Americans feel, knowing we have so much to offer the world, yet not receiving any recognition? Brazil’s chance is now. The World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 will give the country the attention and recognition it has long desired. Depending on how the country handles this stressful time, the world will know com certeza whether Brazil is ready for the big stage.