I moved from Brazil to Norway last August in order to study the Visual Anthropology Master’s in the University of Tromsø. The first misconception I often hear when I mention my country is how fantastic it must be to live in a tropical setting as the Brazilian one. It is true that our landscapes are outstanding, the population is very welcoming towards foreigners and we don’t face the harsh Polar winter, but Brazil is not the paradise often portrayed by media. Aside from endemic corruption and urban insecurity, another issue that is intrinsic in the Brazilian population is racism, as one can perceive by the media’s predominant portray of light-skinned people, the ones with darker skin finding it harder to ascend on education and economically, and the great majority of wealthy population being white.
However, in the lower social classes such as the one I am part of, there is a total diversity in terms of culture, religion and ethnicity. I am used to interacting with people from various skin colors, given that our population is mostly composed of immigrants from Europe, black people that came as slaves from Africa and the indigenous people that were already here prior to our colonization in the XVI century, among others. The common interracial relationships have provided us with all shades of skin, hair and eyes, beautiful combinations that are not common in other countries where people mate with the same color, forming a mosaic of different hues, while in Brazil we are totally mixed.
I find myself as a Caucasian, with green eyes, red beard and a hair color that is considered blond in my homeland but called light brown here, where there is obviously more comparison with true blondes. This fact leads to the misconception I have the most contact with, that I do not look Brazilian. People not only say that to me all the time, but even start speaking Norwegian after I have told them I cannot do it with ease, as they forget I am not a local due to my Norwegian appearance. If I were to determine how a Brazilian should “look like”, I would not be able to determine the common face of my people, and I am very proud of that.
This contact with people from different backgrounds is what led me towards studying Anthropology, as I have a lot of experience in approaching different people and trying to understand their realities, instead of assuming I know anything about them based on prejudice, such as that Brazilians should, be definition, have darker skin. I am glad that in my course I have people from different parts of Europe and Africa as students and professors, providing me even more cross-cultural learning. In 2019 I am going to spend 3 months filming a documentary in Cameroon, the second country I will visit after Norway and after very brief stays in South American countries.
The third misconception I often hear is that I live in a jungle raising monkeys (I have actually heard that from a Finnish person) or that I live in a rural area with no access to basic sanitation and drinkable water. I admit that I have seen monkeys once or twice, but I lived in São Paulo, the third biggest city of the planet with 12 million inhabitants. We have subway, commercial buildings, a metropolitan landscape. I often have to show pictures so that people can conceive that the image that is often published internationally has nothing to do with the reality, and this I also apply to my own misconceptions about different places. It is acceptable that people have their preconceived ideas, as long as they keep an open mind about what they might find in other places of the world.