23 April 2012

Five Typically Brazilian Behaviors We're Getting Better At

Last week I talked about some typically Brazilian things that Mark and I used to do but don't do any longer. Let's flip the coin now. We've been guests in this country for a long time, and I think I can honestly say there are some Brazilian behaviors we're getting better at. For example:

1. Spontaneity — Americans are anything but spontaneous. We're a people of self-control and self-restraint; we believe in planning and organization. It's been something of a challenge for Mark and me to join our impulsive, free-spirited friends in the carefree way many of them go about their  lives. "Apareça em casa," they tell us repeatedly. ("Drop over anytime.")  How can I, I worry, without calling first? "Vamos ao Rio agora? Vamos!" ("Shall we go to Rio right now? Let's!") But wait, I think, I'll have to pack, make a few phone calls, cancel some appointments. I feel as if what seems effortless for my Brazilian friends has for me at least been a real struggle. On the other hand, I must have had a little seed of spontaneity in me back in 2001. The picture here was taken when, in a flash of impulse, Mark and I decided to make this house we were being shown our new home.

2. Using first names — I spent years in the States scolding telemarketers when they used my first name, or receptionists, or salespeople, or anyone who didn't even know me. Such cheek! Now here I am, in the country of First Names Only. In fact, many people, including the ones in call centers, don't seem to be able to talk to you at all if they don't have a name to call you by first. So, everyone calls me Barbara, or sometimes Barbara Ellen, to distinguish me from some other Barbara. (Funny, the first time I heard "Barbara Ellen" here I looked around to see if my mother was there. Previously she — and only she — called me that. And believe me, it was not a good sign.) Not only am I called by my first name, I've learned to call everyone by their first name, too. There's Doutor Paulo Roberto, Delegado Guillerme, Professora Adriana. And the day I meet her, I'll call her Presidente Dilma, too.

3. Entertaining for long, long hours — Entertaining is something Mark and I loved doing in our New York apartment. (We were particularly proud of our "dining room," a real conversation-starter.) But no matter how good the food, or the conversation, or the music, our guests would generally leave after two-and-a-half hours, three tops. Occasionally they'd eat and run after one hour. Well, an amazing thing happened once we started entertaining here in Brazil. We learned fast that often people come for dinner and stay for five hours. Five hours! It is also not unheard of to invite people for a 1:00 lunch and then, at around 7:00 or 7:30, start to wonder what's in the pantry to rustle up for dinner. Of course, now that we're used to it and expect it, we're always prepared. And we get to do the same thing in someone else's house!

High-level kissy face
4. Kissing & hugging — Put a bunch of reserved Americans in a room with a bunch of effusive Brazilians, and one group is bound to change. I guarantee you that it won't be the Brazilians who emerge from that room with a newfound habit of handshaking and nodding at each other. No, the kiss-kiss-hug-hug greetings will win out, hands down. Some Americans we know, even those who have been here more years than we have, are still downright creeped by all this touchy-feely slobbering. They're quick to stick out their arms, which they use as a distancing device, so as to get the greeting over with. But Mark and I have made great strides, and I'm happy to say we've really gotten into it. Nowadays, we even initiate the hugs.

5. Not touching our food with our hands — Brazilians pick up what we call "finger food" with the intermediary of a napkin. And not just finger food, they also use napkins to pick up sandwiches, hamburgers, fried chicken, nearly anything edible. Is it that Brazilians don't want the food to get them dirty, or that they don't want to get the food dirty? Either way, diving into food with your hands is considered rude behavior here. Mark and I have been very good at following suit and using napkins, and we're also getting used to knife-and-forking even a pizza. But when we pass through the States the napkins stay in Brazil. We wouldn't be caught dead eating a pizza in New York in any way but the right American way, as taught here by the hilarious Jon Stewart:


  1. Haha Adai from Guam, USA! Our culture is very much like Brazil. Right down to kissing and hugging, haha! In regard to finger foods I'd say we generally use utensils to pick it up at a party, because rarely do we ever have just finger foods! Not to say we never use our hands while eating. With some foods you just have to :D. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Your place must be particularly tempting for guests to stay all the five hours or more. Based on the pictures, it is so full of space and so nicely decorated.