The Cup

And how it represents Brazil and Brazilian Culture 

The CupThey say there are three stages to living abroad: Culture Shock, Anomie and Adaptation. I recently experienced all three of these stages with the simple use of a plastic cup. Before I explain why this cup, in my opinion, represents Brazil and Brazilian culture, let me explain the three stages.

Culture shock, as many of us are familiar with, happens when the traveler becomes disappointed, unpleasantly surprised or turned off by the new culture and surroundings. We often begin missing the simplicity of our home life and crave the comforting elements that we left behind. It’s not uncommon at this stage to feel resentment towards the new culture, as we tend to feel like outsiders.

Anomie begins when you let down your guard and begin to accept the differences. You no longer see these differences as a hindrance, but rather a part of life. Surprisingly, you begin to appreciate the new culture as well as begin to see life through the eyes of your new culture. During the anomie stage reflection becomes a huge part of everyday life.

Adaptation occurs when you learn how to fully appreciate and enjoy your new culture and surroundings. You are now able to efficiently navigate social encounters and everyday occurrences, and the new culture is no longer “new” to you. Personally, in the adaptation stage, I begin to take on a new persona–I begin the process of assimilation. At this point you are often able to successfully step back and reflect on cultural beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of both the old and new culture, while holding on to the best aspects of both worlds.

Now the cup…..

While restlessly waiting for the live samba group to set up on stage, our waiter began to rattle off the daily specials and beer choices. Even though it would have been ideal to ponder about the many beer choices and make my first Brazilian beer experience a good one, my overheated body and shriveled up taste buds could have cared less. I wanted the coldest and cheapest beer! I ordered a litro of Skol and excitedly awaited the arrival of my giant, sweating bottle of refreshing goodness. Before I could wrap my greedy hands around the 40 ounce bottle, Sarah (American but Brazilian at heart Fulbrighter) swooped up the bottle and began distributing it in tiny plastic cups. Wait hold up girl…..ok maybe it didn’t come out like that, but I was going ghetto on this girl in my head. When I inquired about the sharing of my beer she looked at me like I was the crazy one. “It’s what we do here” was her response. She went on to explain that when you drink in a social setting, each person buys a beer on their ticket (another ridiculous Brazilian thing that I will address later) and shares it with everyone. Well that’s stupid–This is where the culture shock set in. I like to stay on a budget. I am fine with substituting quality for quantity (especially when it comes to drinking), and I am not the quickest of drinkers. In that moment I felt like I was forced to chug my beers in order to get what I paid for.

At my first official party in Ilheus I encountered the Cup once again. It had been a long day, and like the samba club, I was ready to get my drink on.  As usual, I went over to the cooler and helped myself to a can of Skol. After a few minutes socializing with the infamous LEA students, Kali (Brazilian who acts more like an American Machista surfer dude)  just looked at Sarah and I and chuckled. “You guys are so American with your cans”. As I looked around, I noticed that everyone had those same, stupid plastic cups. WTF mate?!? Kali went on to explain that when you drink from a can instead of sharing and using a cup you are setting yourself apart from the community. He also addressed the issue of Americans being so individualistic–I quickly scanned the group and realized that he made a good point. I stand out enough as an American, so holding a can when everyone else has a cup makes me look even more “different” and somewhat selfish. However, I also noticed the amount of discarded cups and cans scattered across the yard and decided that would be my excuse as to why it is perfectly fine for me to drink out of the can–less trash! Considering Brazil has taken many steps in order to clean up their environment and lessen “plastic pollution”, I thought my point was quite valid. Nevertheless, I accepted the fact that the Cup would now be part of my weekend routine and unconsciously let the anomie stage being its process.

Since drinking in a social setting is a daily occurrence here, I was provided with several opportunities to practice my “cup use”. Two days ago was the first time I realized that I had moved on to the adaptation stage of my assimilation process. At this party I was offered some beer (which was generously poured into my cup) and then the foreigner next to me was offered some as well. Without thinking, she grabbed the can, said thank you and began to slip the beer. The Brazilian and I exchanged surprised glances….wow that chic is weird….wait that was me 3 weeks ago. So there you have it, my moment of glory! After resisting and judging I was finally thinking like a Brazilian, and it was a natural response. I had adapted and become a part of this secret Brazilian community. Even though I stand my ground on less pollution, I can proudly say that I am an avid plastic cup user and do so without thinking twice.

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