Monday, October 14, 2013

The Harry Potter Insults

A couple of years ago I took a trip back to the UK to attend a friend’s wedding. Just as I’d hoped, the day was extremely enjoyable, the weather was great and I particularly enjoyed catching up with friends I hadn't seen for a while. So the next day after sleeping off the excess of the previous day, I added some of my pictures to my Facebook page.

With wedding pictures you can usually expect a number of people to ‘like’ your pictures, particularly when it comes to shots of the bride. These ‘likes’ are usually accompanied by comments such as ‘absolutely gorgeous’, ‘beautiful’ or as I read once: ‘One word: Stunning Babe!’. You’re then likely to find that the rest of the pictures will have other playful comments written underneath, like ‘oh you scrubbed up well!’ or ‘everyone looks drunk’.

So a minute or so after posting my own set of pictures I envisaged getting a handful of similar comments.

But this wasn't to be.

In fact, I was very surprised to find my Brazilian friend had decided to add some borderline offensive comments to my album. So this friend is someone who likes winding me up nearly as much as I do him, and his comments would have been laughed off quickly had they been made over a few beers. Only they weren't made over a few beers, they were posted on Facebook!

He was particularly tickled that one of the female guests was wearing a large wedding hat. On reflection this hat was an over-sized, floppy thing that was pretty unique even by British standards. Yet it definitely wasn't out of place for a wedding. When it comes to British weddings, I’m pretty sure anything Lady Gaga has ever worn on her head is fair game, the rule is that there are no rules for what is an appropriate wedding hat.

 “Why is she wearing the sorting hat from Harry Potter to a church wedding? Kkkkkkk!” was the first in a series of comments I was scrambling to delete before anyone had the chance to read.

Clearly encouraged when he noticed I was deleting his comments as soon as he’d posted them, my friend continued to write the same comment under every picture of the woman wearing the ‘sorting hat’.

“Gryffindor, you are Gryffindor! Please go to Gryffindor immediately!”

After a few minutes I decided enough was enough, and I sent him an email:

“In Britain women wear hats like this to weddings, this is our culture. My friend will be confused about the ‘Harry Potter hat’ comments if she reads them, so PLEASE STOP!

And he did…. 


Fascinating Fascinators

It’s not just some of the hats that Brazilians find intriguing, but fascinators too. I’ll never forget watching the wedding of William and Kate on Brazilian TV with my Brazilian flat mate. He was very interested in what was unfolding on our TV screen, and his curiosity led him to ask me a number of interesting questions about the event; my favourite one being:

“Why are British women wearing carnival clothes to church?”

“Carnival clothes?” I repeated, wondering if this was a genuine question. After all, nobody had turned up to the Royal Wedding scantily clad and looking like they’d been dipped in a vat of glitter.

“Yes, with these crazy hats and feathers. This style really reminds me of carnival!” Clearly amused by his own joke, he started to laugh. “I never imagined women would wear things like this in England” he added, “They are a little crazy, aren't they?”

I guess wedding hats or fascinators at a wedding must look peculiar to the unaccustomed Brazilian eye, but I still felt it was my duty as a Brit to defend their choice of head wear. As I was about to do this though I glanced back over at the TV screen just in time to see one of the Princesses arriving at the church. She had what looked like a giant pretzel stuck to the front of her head, and after thinking about my response for a while....I conceded that I really should just keep quiet.

The Second Harry Potter Based Insult

A few years ago I sat and watched the final Harry Potter at the cinema with my outspoken friend Carlos. He enjoys winding me up to the point I am almost immune to the majority of whatever comes out of his mouth now, and before the film started I could have guessed the aspects of British culture he was going to pick up on. 

I responded to his comment about Brits driving down “the wrong side of the road because they are crazy” with a dismissive smile and instant amnesia. I also acknowledged his observation that “England always looks really cold, I could never live there” with a half-assed nod and a mouth full of popcorn.

But as the credits began rolling and the lights came up I wasn't ready for what was about to come tumbling out of his mouth. As I looked over at him to see if he wanted to leave straight away or to wait for the crowds to ease before leaving, I noticed that he was thoughtfully looking me up and down from his seat. He did this in a detached sort of way, like he was contemplating an exotic zoo animal for the first time. Then he broke his self imposed silence to direct a very bizarre comment at me.

“Andrew. Your clothes are EXACTLY the same as the people in Harry Potter!”

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do this, but I took a moment to look down at what I was wearing just to check.

They weren't, or at least I didn't think they were.

“Erm….what?” I asked loudly, with a confused frown now dominating my face.

“Absolutely this!” he remarked defiantly, “even now you are wearing Harry Potter clothes! Just look, one hundred percent you look like a Harry Potter character. You look like a muggle!”

Why Can’t I Pass For Being Brazilian?

Living in the cultural melting pot that is Sao Paulo, I am constantly amazed by the ability some Brazilians have to pick me out from the crowd as being a foreigner. I discussed this in a previous blog post I wrote a few months back (looking foreign in Sao Paulo), and am still bewildered that people can do this so easily. When I asked my friends and students why I can’t pass as Brazilian, many have said quite insightfully…that I just can’t. 

They've not been able to put their finger on exactly why, but I have been offered some possible suggestions (including some suggestions from readers of the blog post). One is that my Portuguese accent is definitely not native, others have suggested that I walk like a foreigner; that I carry myself like a foreigner and some have even said it may be because of my foreign ‘style’ of dress.

I won’t lie to you, at first I enjoyed hearing people refer to me as someone with a ‘style’, it doesn't happen very often back home. The UK might be where Alexander McQueen, Tom Baker and Burberry herald from; but to be honest with you, when I go out I'm dressed more like a walking advert for the Fathers Day Marks and Spencer’s range than I do a cutting edge fashionista.

So when it comes to our style, I've now started to wonder if British people look more like Harry Potter characters to Brazilians than I’d ever really considered before....and I'm now looking at Facebook pictures of my friends weddings, and questioning why women look so eccentric at formal wedding ceremonies.

What do you think about the way British people dress? Do you think British women look strange at weddings?


  1. I know your manners will not allow you to go down to his level, but you should mock him back. I am pretty sure he will need some fashion tips. Brazilians are not famous for being fashion orientated. I am Brazilian myself and have the right to say that we are terrible in this matter. It is easy for us to mock other people's fashion because we lack this knowledge. We find weird and funny things that we do not know. Every culture and country has its own particularity that makes them so unique and interesting. I would not dress like a British girl even tough I have been living here for over three years. It is too bold for me and do not express what I am and think. The same should apply to you I guess. Do not worry; your friend is just silly. Do not allow him to mock you. I real friend should not put you down and this advice is given to any country. Juliana(Brazilian in London)

    1. Hey Juliana, you're right, my friend could definitely do with some fashion tips!!! I should have mentioned in my blog that I am constantly mocking his style too....not because it is Brazilian, but because it is uniquely awful! In fact, I am very un-British about teasing him about this.

      I know that my friend only mocks people he likes too, so I'd be more worried about him not saying anything...and he probably wouldn't be my friend if he wasn't silly!

      I think after a few years I have come to appreciate the Brazilian style, it is much more casual than the British way of dressing...and I'm worried about having to invest in a new wardrobe when I go back home! There are some very fashionable people here though, particularly down Rua Augusta. I'd also say the women are very bold when it comes to their choice of skin tight clothing, so it's interesting that you say the same about British women!

      Thanks for the comment, and I hope you are enjoying London!

  2. I know EXACTLY what you mean. no one can put a finger on "why?" i don't look Brazilian, they just say that i have GRINGA stamped on my forehead :/

    Don't take Harry Potter as an insult--they (and we) are jealous that Harry Potter wasn't Brazilian (or American) hehehehe. We will always be muggles in Brazil ;)

    1. Well I'm happy to know I'm in good 'muggle' company!!!

  3. A lot of my female Brazilian colleagues look me up and down before mentioning that women from the UK are not very glamorous, and that they don't seem to make much effort! I've never been told I dress like someone from Harry Potter though - thank god!

    1. Ha ha! Wow, how rude! These Brazilians are doing wonders for our egos!!!

  4. I agree that you look like a gringo (and I don't think that's a bad thing at all), but I believe it has more to do with the way we Brazilians look like than anything else. I've been living in Lisbon for little over a year now and - even though I can't always tell if someone's Portuguese or not - I can always point out a Brazilian anywhere within my sight, even if they don't say anything. The same goes the other way around: I've beem called Portuguese, French and even Arab by people from many different countries; but Brazilians know that I'm one of them no matter where I go. The whole country is a melting pot, and I started to realise how that mixture is probably what makes us so easy to identify each other.
    Anyway, that's what I gather from my personal experience... hope it helps a little. About the whole joking thing, that's really a common reaction to things we're not used to, and we hardly mean anything by it. But it would be wise to let your friends know that some comments can be taken as offensive so they would be more careful in situations like the ones you mentioned! I always try not to step on any toes, but even so I've been in situations where people considered me rude for doing/saying things I could have easily said/done back home... cultural meetings are not always easy after all (but I love them anyway)!

    1. Hey Marcela, thanks for the comment! It does go some way to help me understand why I can't pass as Brazilian!

      And I often tell my friend he sounds rude. But the thing is, he is rude to everyone and not just me so he doesn't need me to tell him this! In fact, him being rude is almost his way of letting you know he likes you, it just so happens he likes to get creative with his insults because I'm from the same country as Harry Potter!

      So I just make sure I'm equally as offensive to him!

      But generally people are very respectful and polite here in social situations (and if they aren't they find their way into my blog, because I too appreciate awkward social encounters a little too much to be able to keep them all to myself!)

  5. I don't think women from the UK dress particularly well, but by god women from Brazil dress a million times worse. Brazilian women often known how to do the "sexy" look, because they love everything that is over the top. It seems to them like more is better and sexy is actually a synonym of "stylish" or "sophisticated". Platform heels, huge belts, ugly patterns...they really should learn from Spanish and French women in this department...that keeping it simple can indeed be best. Of course I'm generalising though and fashion does range from region to region. I'm probably talking about the worst aspects of Cariocas to be fair.

    As for the spotting you a mile's really hard for me to say. I'm British born but of really mixed heritage so, in a racial sense, I probably look more stereotypically Brazilian than I do British (especially since Brazilians have this image of all British people being white, pasty-skinny blondes. I keep pointing them to our football team as proof that cities like London are some of the most racially and culturally mixed in the world but they never seem to get the point). Plus being from London, I grew up in quite an urban culture and probably don't have the preppy look that they suppose a lot of Brits or Europeans have. So I've never had this problem. In fact I struggle to convince them I'm not Brazilian, even after I break into English with a hard London accent! Of course a London accent isn't something they're familiar with, they expect the Queen's English.

    Though I can ALWAYS spot a gringo in Brazil, and I'm not talking just the ones with cameras round their necks and a sun burn. In fact, haha I almost pride myself on being able to spot (seriously from about a mile away) the young American black guys that head to Rio over the carnival period. Before they open their mouths and let their distinctive slang loose on some unsuspecting beauty doing her shopping or walking to work, I can just see it!! The way they dress, walk, act...
    But perhaps that's just because I'm creepily perceptive when it comes to race. For me, American black people look COMPLETELY different to Brazilian black people, and the same for Africans.

    I can often tell a Brazilian apart from Portuguese or Italians by just their smile. Brazilians have big cheesy distinctive grins that jut their jaws forward.

    Hahaha as far as your situation though, I wouldn't worry to much. My mum is English and yes...women do dress quite ridiculously at our weddings, and I don't know why either. It's normally the older ones too. The younger girls just go for normal dresses but the older ones always have to make some kind of scene (haha!) and go for a big hat. The older the bolder!

    And you're right about Brazilians dressing way more casual in everyday life. Especially the guys...they love their running trainers and loose jeans. If there's one thing that sometimes gets to me about the country that I otherwise love, it's the fact that they genuinely believe so many stereotypes about the outside world (unless they of course have lived in said places). They believe British people look a specific way, they believe we live a certain way, they assume our weather is always a certain way, and the same goes for other regions of the world...they often say some very ignorant things or ask silly questions (that sometimes are quite offensive) about Africa and North Africa. It's to be understood of course because they live so far from any of those places but even can get annoying and tiring having to explain that, no, not all muslim women are oppressed and forced to cover themselves from head to toe, and things of that nature. The good thing is that they generally ask in an inquisitive way and don't intend to offend.

    1. I am happy you can relate to what I've written here as someone with a mixed Brazilian/British background! I wrote about Brazilian impressions of our accent in my last blog post, I think you might appreciate that if you haven't already read it.

      I think people in Sao Paulo are a little more fashion conscious than those in Rio, but both definitely dress differently to what I'd become used to back home, that's for sure!

      I enjoyed your comment that you 'can ALWAYS spot a gringo in Brazil, and I'm not talking just the ones with cameras round their necks and a sun burn'....because I am always that sun burnt foreigner over here during summer!

      And I would definitely agree with your last point too, that Brazilians are pretty inquisitive when it comes to other cultures, even if the questions sound otherwise.

      Thanks for dropping by to comment Hab, your insight is much appreciated!

  6. Brazilians are just very conservative in their dressing style, everyone must look the same, anything slightly out of ordinary, they snare at and worse, rudely stare at. I am a Brazilian living out of Brazil for 24 years and to me, it is the single most embarrassing facet of my culture, how small minded Brazilian generally are about appearances and other cultures....

    1. Hey Flavia, I think the Brazilian women I see have taken the conservative style you mentioned...and ran with it! Some of the women I see here in Sao Paulo definitely don't look so conservative in the way they dress with their skin tight clothes and incredibly high heels, but I know this is not true of all areas of Brazil.

      And as Hab mentioned in his post above, many Brazilians are genuinely curious about other cultures, and are very open to allowing me into their lives and homes. So I would have to say the majority I've met aren't small minded at all, but some people lack exposure to my the same way many Brits don't have much exposure to Brazilian culture.

      So I hope you don't feel too embarrassed, I know my friend was joking when he slated my style (or at least I hope he was!). I have a genuine affection for Brazil and they way your people have welcomed me here with opened arms....comments about my culture merely are done for fun...most of the time!

  7. Judging by your picture you can easily pass as a brazilian, if people know that you are a foreign it is either because they already know you or someone else talked about you for them or because you have exchanged words with them. The only way someone can tell with sure that you are not brazilian is if you talk to them.

    1. Hey, thanks for stopping by to comment and letting me know you wouldn't automatically think i'm a foreigner....from now on I will have to study a little harder in my Portuguese classes, or keep my mouth shut!!!