10 November 2011

Girls' Night Out

Every world traveler brings a little something of himself to a foreign country. On a grand scale, an Englishman by the name of Charles Miller introduced soccer to Brazil, a sport now so identified with Brazil that Miller is but a forgotten footnote. Brigitte Bardot came to Búzios in 1964 and left behind an enduring legacy and the blueprint for the most sat-upon, hugged and fondled statue ever cast. Other people have left behind just a dog-eared paperback, or a little loose change in the sand. My contribution falls somewhere in between: I've brought the concept of Girls' Night Out to Búzios. I consider this my single greatest cultural achievement.

Not that women here hadn't always met each other socially, gone out to bars and restaurants and lived it up, had bachelorette parties, of course they had. Teenage girls have sleep-overs, their Moms take off for weekends in Punta del Este sans husbands. But those get-togethers are not deliberately designed as a counterpoint to Boys' Night Out. That was my contribution, my Gloria Steinem-inspired political statement. (Although let me say right up front that my husband is not a Boys'-Night-Out-er, he doesn't play poker, guzzle beer while watching either American football or Brazilian futebol, or participate in any way in any night out with any boys. So my Girls' Night Out was not exactly started as a political statement to get back at him. No, it was started because it was fun.)

I have been meeting with my dear friend Cristina once a week for at least the past eight years. Indeed, our GNO, as we call it (or GMO when we meet for breakfast, or GAO when we meet for that late-afternoon pick-me-up) is quite possibly the longest-lasting institution of its kind this side of the equator. The whole thing started when Cristina was recommended to me as a teacher for private Portuguese lessons. After three lessons it was obvious that we had considerably more to discuss than irregular verb conjugations! So we began to meet more socially. We told our husbands that our out-of-the-classroom meetings at night —  for dinner, with a little wine —  would serve to reinforce our language abilities. In some ways we really meant it. In some ways we knew we were on to something that would go far beyond grammar.  

Cristina and I have a real commitment to our Girls' Night Out, and there are reasons why it has endured as long as it has. We are disciplined about keeping our weekly date, barring emergencies, illness or travel. We are disciplined about alternating languages, one week Portuguese to upgrade my level, one week English to keep Cristina up to snuff. And we are very disciplined about respecting our self-imposed time limit of two hours. No doubt in my mind but that this disciplined approach is what has shaped an otherwise casual get-together into an Institution that has come to be known, and even envied, around town. 

We spent one whole year dining at a great restaurant called Patio Havana. We were really enjoying our evenings there until we realized that the waiters knew our orders by heart and stopped bringing us menus. Time to change! We've moved around a lot since then, switching days, places and times like two spies engaged in clandestine operations. For the last six months we've been very happy meeting for breakfast at a little neighborhood bakery. But just last week so many people stopped by our table — "Oh, must be Friday morning if you two are here!" — that we realized it was time to change again. Starting next week we'll be meeting at — never mind!


  1. Lovely story.

    I've become friends with an English teacher in a kind of a similar circumstance.

    Very nice pictures of you two.

    Hey, I wonder what was your reaction when you first saw this kind of plastic chairs and tables in restaurants and bars here in Brazil. Were you surprised in any manner?

    1. What an interesting question! No, I don't remember being surprised . . . I guess I just thought it was practical, inexpensive outdoor furniture. But you've actually hit on something that did surprise me, and that is that most of the restaurants in Búzios, high-end as well as low-end, use hard wooden folding chairs with no back support. (At least the plastic chairs have support!) As I said, that does surprise me, because they are soooo uncomfortable (particularly for older people with back problems!) One of the ways my husband and I choose a restaurant here is by the chairs they offer (but I think we're in the minority on that!)
      One more thing — if you keep reading, you'll come on some updates on the GNO that might amuse you. We're still at it, now, for 14 years!