21 May 2012

Three Things About The Good Old U.S.A. We Don't Miss At All

1. Lack of eye contact — Not a glance, not on the streets of New York, not upon entering a store, not in an elevator, nothing. Present yourself to an office receptionist and you have to wait until she slowly raises her eyes from her compelling desk work to acknowledge your presence while staring into the middle distance. I know, I know, I'm generalizing, maybe even exaggerating, and perhaps New Yorkers — well known for their aloofness — aren't the best test case for the whole of the U.S. But now that I've gotten used to the more intense, hands-on, eye-to-eye human contact of the Brazilians, I really feel the difference when I visit the States. There's a very studied way many Americans have adopted to look through you. Or over you. Or behind you. Not to mention the ones who talk to you while staring at their electronic devices. Want to know who still looks you straight in the eye in the U.S.? Airport immigration officers. I know it's their job, but I'm happy for any human connection and it makes me feel good.

Comes early, and with a preprinted thank-you, too!
2. Unrequested restaurant checkHave we finished our meal yet? What if we want something else? Can't we order dessert? Did we ask for the check? These are the things I want to scream at our waiter when the restaurant check is slapped down on the table, unrequested and unwanted, along with our meal at many restaurants in the U.S. I know, it's all about efficiency. We're going to ask for the check anyway, why not deliver it before we ask? What's the problem? We're not rushing you. (Ha!) We're not looking to turn over the table. (Double ha!) Sorry, but it makes me lose my appetite, having to stare at the check with every bite I take. How different it is in Brazil, how accustomed I've become to the studious way a Brazilian waiter will ignore you at the end of your meal. They act surprised when you ask for the check. Wouldn't you like something else? they ask. Stay as long as you want, we're open until the last customer leaves, they assure us. This delay in getting the restaurant check is one of the complaints I often hear from our American guests. Funny, huh?

Generic Brazilian doctor's office. Amazing, huh?
3. Doctor's examining cubicles — The last time I ever sat shivering in a frigid, air-conditioned cubicle wrapped solely in a piece of paper, waiting patiently as the doctor visited the six or so cubicles lined up along a corridor, was in early 2002. I had the idea I should get all of my routine check-ups done before leaving my U.S. doctors to doctor on without me. I don't know how medicine has progressed in New York City since then, but going to a doctor in Brazil is a whole different animal. For instance, the doctor's office in Brazil has the examining table in it, discreetly off to one side. In other words, when you walk in — clothed, and for the initial purpose of sitting down and talking — you are the patient, the only patient, for as long as is needed. One of my doctors always begins the visit with a lively conversation about the latest food trends, or some Tunisian movie that's just been released in Brazil. At first, I would sit there worried about the other patients out in the waiting room, but I got over that fast. This is how it's done here. On average, I spend a good 45 minutes with a doctor per office visit. Only on a return visit to go over lab results am I able to get out in less than 45 minutes. But that's only if my doctor has no new restaurant to recommend.


  1. What a great afternoon I spent reading your delightful blog, Barbara. thank you.

  2. No, thank YOU, Luiz! And welcome to my world!