Lisbon to Brazil

I am in Brazil to work on metaphors and concepts around urban violence.

I felt an ’empathy gradient’ as I travelled from Lisbon to Fortaleza in north-eastern Brazil. In Lisbon as we struggled to buy travel tickets, the man in the kiosk demanded, unsmiling, why we hadn’t told him we didn’t know how the system worked. He explained it, was very helpful, but we came away feeling we had been told off for something.

Arriving late at the airport, a large taxi driver was waiting for me, holding up a sheet of paper with my name on (not just my name but the full works “Senora Profesora Doctora Lynne Cameron, Open University, UK”). I had forgotten how kindly Brazilian people are in interactions. They look into your eyes, appear concerned for your well-being, shake hands, touch you on the shoulder when leaving. The taxi driver did all this, wished me a good stay, and left as if I was a dear friend already.

Of course, I am not. And there may have been little difference in the actual helpfulness of the two instances, but they felt differently empathic from inside me. Connection with another person is established through what is seen and felt: the eyes, the attention given, touch. Do some cultures just do more of this?

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