Many foreigners come to Caracas and are swept away by what Giulio and Miguelangel call The Phenomenon.
The Phenomenon is, in my interpretation, an insensitive, starry-eyed fascination with this country’s president, his followers, his outrageous claims; and also the levels of crime, inflation, and other aspects of present-day Venezuela that depress locals to the point where, when people say, Did you hear what he did today!? the only response is: I don’t want to know.
Another friend says that Venezuelans have experienced crisis fatigue for a while now. They are not outraged by, but rather tired of the threats and breaches of trust bucketing down on them from their leader. So that’s why I think The Phenomenon discussions are somewhat disrespectful: its followers come to Caracas and quickly arrive at brazen and superficial conclusions about the status of things, then have a neatly wrapped story to send home about how “crazy and wrong” things are “over there.” It’s insensitive because it’s a frustrating / difficult-to-escape reality for some, and for others, a passing topic of conversation, kinda like what bar you went to last night.
It’s also too easy to criticize The Phenomenon up and down; all the “shocking” observations are predictable and all the political themes are “sexy” as we love to say in the development world.
I recently read the NYTimes’ opinion piece on Japan’s “dysfunctional and troubling” hostess culture. Below is the one comment on it that rang true for me:
Analyzing Japan’s social customs is a silly and somewhat arrogant endeavor. Lefacido (sic) Hearn’s books and comments started it all and everyone since chimes in as if their comments register with someone somewhere in Japan. They don’t.
While I think the individual plight of a human being who is forced to sell her sexuality should be made known to a wide audience, I’m bothered by criticism of a culture as it presently is, as if any single person’s standard of cultural judgment is the correct one. I myself am guilty of this all the time (see: this blog). And while all traveling humans experience culture shock in some form, this is a call to all us expats to please keep The Phenomenon discussion to a (bare) minimum. As in, please do not discuss it or I will awkwardly interupt the conversation by asking what bar you went to last night.