Traveling overseas for the last nine months, I have been able to experience what it’s like to experience holidays that I typically observe in the United States while in a foreign country. I was in Rotorua, New Zealand for Thanksgiving, but I was able to eat lots of similar food at a Maori hangi feast. I was in Bangkok, Thailand on Christmas Day, a Christmas quite different from any Christmas I’ve ever experienced, but memorable nonetheless. Today is the Fourth of July, and I am currently in São Paulo, Brazil, where I have been based for over the last four months. And today promises to be memorable as well.
In some ways, today is much like any Fourth of July in the United States. People have been rushing to the markets to buy food and drink for parties and barbecues with family and friends. Fireworks are crackling, even if their timing is a bit premature. Displays of the gold, green and blue, colors of the beautiful Brazilian flag, are everywhere. But this display of patriotism is not because today is Brazil’s independence day. This is O Brasil na Copa. This evening, Brazil is playing a crucial game against Colombia in the Quarter-Finals of the FIFA World Cup. And unlike the celebrations that will undoubtedly take place in the United States tonight, it is uncertain whether Brazil will have reason to celebrate in the same manner until the final whistle of the game. So for now, it is the Fourth of July here, but with the strange feeling that the party may come to an abrupt and unhappy end.
I am told that the displays of Brazilian patriotism seen now are unique to the World Cup, which only comes every four years, and that Brazilians are not very patriotic. Most Brazilians I have spoken with have some pride in their culture and history, but are quick to point out the many problems in the country: crime, corruption, bureaucracy, poverty, etc., and many of them do not believe that things will ever get better here, even after the elections this fall. There are fears that when this World Cup party is over, there is going to be a huge mess to clean up and that Brazil is going to suffer with the indebtedness incurred in hosting this big party for the world. I truly hope that things do not turn out as bad as the prognosticators of gloom and doom are predicting.
This journey has given me a fresh perspective on the United States. Stepping outside of the country and looking at it through many other lenses has revealed both its flaws (and believe me, I have come up with a really long list) and its successes. The United States is not a perfect country by any means. It is fundamentally an optimistic country (sometimes naïvely so) even in these pessimistic times. It remains a country that much more people seek to enter than seek to leave.
I have really loved being in Brazil, in spite of its problems, but today, I am really missing home.