Need tips for relating to fellow countrymen and making new friends!
February 13, 2011 4:50 AM   Subscribe

Need tips for relating to fellow countrymen and making new friends!

I have recently to Brazil from the UK with my husband, who is British. We are having a great time here and working a lot (from home), so everything is progressing very well, as far as things between the two of us are concerned. He has started a language course and is getting used to the city, culture, people, etc.

Now, I am Brazilian have been away for nearly 15 years. My friends have changed a lot (most of them anyway) and so have I! I must confess I had a bit of culture shock when returning, since I have absorbed a lot of the British culture myself in the last decade and a half. Sometimes it is hard to start a conversation about something, or even use slang or talk abotu the soap opera of the moment, because I kind of lost that cultural reference.

What is happening at the moment is that I am finding it hard to make friends. I feel a bit nervous about telling people that I have lived in the UK for so long. because the conversation invariably comes back to me and when I realise, and try to find out more about the people I am talking to, they sort of feel they have nothing as interesting and cool to say... :-(

My husband and I are best friends, have lot of fun together and I could easily spend all of my spare time with him only. But, as someone who has left a lot of good friends back in the UK, I feel quite lonely sometimes, especially when it comes to girly stuff, or even talking about Brazilian-specific things.

I need to get to know other people, and find a away to come across as a friendly person who is interested in getting to know others, as opposed to a self-centered princess who knows nothing about Brazil anymore and has brought her gringo with her.

Is there anything the hive mind would advise in terms of getting to know new people and the sort of patterns of conversation/follow-up after meeting the first time/things to do in general? Thanks for reading my question!
posted by heartofglass to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The same thing happened to me. I lived in Japan for 10 years. When I came home (my wife is Japanese) it was almost impossible to interact with my circle of friends. There were a number of reasons, but one of them was culture. My wife found it difficult to interact with Canadians.

We instead made friends with people/couples who had the same cultural background that we do (he's from Canada, she's from Japan, they had kids our age). That really helped. Many people in our broader circle of friends are also from Asia, usually Korea or Taiwan or China.

So, it may be a good idea to look for people with the same background that you do - maybe they have lived overseas, or he's not from Brazil and she is, etc. Makes things easier.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:59 AM on February 13, 2011

I think the best thing you can do when trying to make friends, under any circumstances, is to ask people about themselves. You have a great opportunity to do that, since you have a lot of questions about what has happened in your home country in the years you've been gone. Asking what shows are good to watch on TV, what local stories might not have made the international press, what the newest fashions are, where the new hotspots are, are going to let people open up about themselves.

Don't feel bad about telling people about your unique perspective. It doesn't seem self-centered to me if I ask someone about her experience. It's only if someone talks about themselves endlessly without prompting that strike me as self-important.
posted by xingcat at 7:58 AM on February 13, 2011

I agree with KokuRyu. Try to find people who've been in a similar situation. Not the foreigners who go to Brazil knowing they're going to leave soon and so they never bother to integrate. But the people who are well integrated or trying to integrate but still know what it was like to feel left out.

Don't be too hard on yourself about not being able to re-connect with your old friends. 15 years is a long time, especially when you've been living in different parts of the world.
posted by Neekee at 8:58 AM on February 13, 2011

Assuming you're not in a tiny town, there should be a Hash House Harriers group in your area. Hashers tend to be a diverse group, plenty of expats from all over the place.

A fair number of people don't love Hashing; the nature of the group(s); don't become avid, regular members; but most people make a friend or two, learn of another social group that's more appealing, etc.
posted by ambient2 at 11:35 AM on February 13, 2011

Here in Seattle, USA, there are a lot of small to medium ex-pat communities. One thing that I've noticed is that they tend to congregate around bars or restaurants serving ex-pat food or themed like a pub/restaraunt/etc. from the ex-pat country. Another thing I've noticed is that these places often have a large "native" clientele who are interested in that specific foreign culture for one reason or another.

I know very little about Brazilian social life, so my apologies if none of this is applicable to you, but: maybe there's a British/English pub or restaurant nearby? There's a few here, and they're usually filled with Brits and Yanks who like British things. If there's a community like that around where you are, it seems like your unique perspective would allow you to fit right in (subbing Brazilians for Yanks, of course), and it seems like in that kind of interested community you might not feel so self-conscious about your story and it might be genuinely intriguing to your new friends.

Anyway, good luck, I hope you get re-acclimated as painlessly as possible.
posted by Errant at 1:33 PM on February 13, 2011

When we moved to Greece from the U.S., my Greek husband felt much as you do, even to the degree that he occasionally had trouble remembering Greek words for things now and then ... but he was quickly back in the thick of things within about six months. He reconnected with his old parea (close-knit group of friends) from his childhood and youth, and expanded connections from there.

One thing that I noticed was that another Greek friend who had also lived in the U.S. for about 15 years, and had moved back to Greece a couple of years before we did, had much more trouble re-acclimating and reconnecting, and he was always comparing things (oh, this would never happen in the U.S. because blah, blah; In the U.S. they do blah blah instead of blah blah). I'm not saying that you do this, but I know that when you are experiencing culture shock in your own native country it's really weird, and it's completely natural to be comparing the two, as well as comparing how things were before you left, for better or worse. Most people don't have any way to engage with you on this; they haven't been away, and haven't noticed those shifts since they experienced them gradually.

Try to keep those thoughts mostly to yourself and among your very nearest and dearest, except when asked — and when people do ask, don't go on about it too much, and try to be as uncritical as possible (even if you feel critical about some aspects!). Or offset critical comments with positive ones (Oh, yes, this sort of thing is much better organized there because blah, but on the other hand they have no blah or blah, which I missed so much!).

Even if they keep bringing the conversation back to you and your time away, just keep bringing it back to them, and ask for their help, advice, recommendations, etc. Most people are delighted to help, and delighted to be asked to help.

Sometimes people will want to vent about bad things in Brazil, but I feel this is a bit of a unintentional trap. It's one thing to complain about your country when you've lived there the whole time, and another when it comes from someone who has been away, or a foreigner — even when that opinion been explicitly solicited. I say evade and deflect! :)

But here's a very helpful thing: Other former ex-pats will often want to talk about many of the things that will naturally be on your mind, and this is a release valve for both you and your husband. With these people you can speak frankly (usually) and everyone will understand that you aren't putting down your country if you do say something critical, or that you don't consider yourself "better" because you lived elsewhere for a while. And speaking for your husband: as the foreign wife, I often felt/feel much more comfortable with Greeks here who have lived in other countries, because they understand how it is to be the foreigner, and they understand the various cultural shocks that accompany moving away, moving back, etc., as well as having a wider frame of reference and far less inclination to be defensive. For example, Greeks here who lived elsewhere (especially the U.S. or U.K.) don't find the fact that I'm not terribly social surprising or troublesome, while most people here find it a bit insulting I think (very, very social culture here).

So, while finding expats from the U.K. in Brazil is one sort of natural and helpful thing to do, it can be even more useful to seek out other Brazilians who have lived in the U.K., or other places abroad. You don't want to make up your entire social circle of UK/Brazil ex-pats/former ex-pats, obviously, but it helps to have some friends with whom you can decompress, especially at first, even if that just means not having to be a little guarded about what you say.
posted by taz at 12:35 AM on February 14, 2011

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