I was recently invited to go to the mall with Laura’s host-sister and several of her 15-year old friends. I eagerly accepted their invitation because I had not yet had the opportunity to spend time with Brazilians close to my age and learn about Brazilian pop culture. I’ve never been a mall person, but disregarded my personal prejudices figuring that it would still be a valuable experience.
Then we drove through the parking lot. It was easily larger than any of the malls back in Sonoma County and more closely resembled a parking lot at an international airport. The mall itself was comparable in size to the upscale malls in downtown San Francisco (if not bigger). Walking by seemingly endless rows of expensive and shiny stores, I recalled the lecture our Brazilian history professor had given us on what he called “North America’s cultural imperialism of Brazil”. I now understand what he was referring to. Had the whole experience been on mute, it might have taken me a few moments to figure out what country we were in. I didn’t recognize most of the stores, but I did recognize the businesses in the food court, the movies playing in the ten-screen theater, the cars being raffled off, and the music playing in the stores. Likewise, the teenagers we were with talked about Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift and the upcoming Black Eyed Peas concert. They patiently helped us with our Portuguese and I taught them how to pronounce “Ne-yo” and the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believin’”.
Although we’re living in a wealthy neighborhood this first month, the experiences with our host families have thus far provided us with a unique perspective. The group excursions led by Tony have exposed us to the polar opposites of what we’re experiencing at home, allowing us to see first-hand both sides of the spectrum that our economics professor continues to emphasize. So the trip to the mall was in fact a valuable experience, because if I hadn’t seen the products of all of the economic growth Brazil is currently enjoying, I don’t think I’d be able to fully understand the gaps in economic development.