24 September 2012

Blogs I Can't Write

Just one button short of news anchor decorum

There are a lot of blogposts I can't write. I am completely stymied by a deeply ingrained strain of American puritanism coupled with a strong desire not to offend my Brazilian friends. When I was growing up it was common etiquette not to talk about sex, politics or religion, but these are not the problem topics for me here in Brazil. No, there are other subjects way more delicate, provocative or touchy than that classic trio. Just as an example, there's no way I would ever write a blog about the differences in style between American and Brazilian women. No way. Unh-uh. If I'm still surprised when I see the two-sizes-too-small fit of Brazilian women's clothing, causing all kinds of intimate body parts to protrude and bulge, I guess that's my problem. If I still roll my eyes when I turn on the evening news and see killer décolletage on a serious female news anchor, that's my problem, too. And this is, of course, a two-way street. Plenty of Brazilian women roll their eyes at me — at my comfortable, oversized clothes, often purchased in the men's department. But as I said, this subject will appear in no blogpost of mine.

And I will never discuss how middle-class adolescents are raised here in Brazil. I'm such good friends with the parents of some of these kids, I wouldn't presume! I raised no children in any country, so who am I to mouth off? It's just that a lot of these kids don't know what a household chore is. Remember chores? My sisters and I grew up doing chores around the house, it was a natural part of growing up. How can a person ever go out on their own if they don't even know how to do the basics, like make a bed, wash a dish, prepare a simple meal? These kids I know are all such great kids, they're smart, they're talented, they're funny, they care deeply about their families and the world at large. Why should I be so worried? Well, I'm worried because a lot of them are looking forward to participating in English-language exchange programs some day. Boy, are they going to be in for a shock when some host family in Iowa starts assigning chores!

No, this plate does not fly
But let's drop this topic before I end up telling the story of the Brazilian family from São Paulo that spent a weekend with us during our first year here. They brought two adolescent daughters and an adolescent niece, which made for quite a full house. But that was no problem. After all, three girls gives me plenty of extra hands, no? No. For example, these girls thought that plates have wings, and somehow fly into the kitchen after you've eaten. When they were encouraged by their strange American hosts to help carry the dinner plates to the kitchen, they looked at their mother, stood up uncertainly, picked up one plate with both hands and walked with it into the middle of our kitchen, where they stopped. "What do I do with it now?" asked the eldest. Ugh, I simply can't talk about this. Except to mention that we have never invited them back.

Tiny apartment, tinier maid's room
Look, I know plenty of Brazilians who know how to cook, shop, clean, wash and iron clothes, in short, keep a household running smoothly. But I also know an equally large number for whom all of the above tasks are challenging, if not out-and-out daunting. These are the Brazilians for whom live-in help was created. Which is another topic I will not broach, the different attitudes between our two countries on the subject of domestic help. I've never been in a Brazilian house or apartment that didn't have "dependências," one or more rooms stuck away behind the kitchen, earmarked for use by the live-in staff. Now, I know we have maid's quarters in the U.S., and I know the concept exists all over the world. But the tweak here in Brazil is that these rooms, these dependências, don't just exist in the larger houses and apartments. They exist in the smallest of bungalows and even in a one-bedroom apartment. Everyone, absolutely everyone, is expected to have live-in help. And that expectation goes a long way to explaining why kids don't have any chores to do. Don't get me started. I know, different strokes for different folks. Mark and I have one cleaning woman who comes in just twice a week to do the heavy stuff and our friends consider this a flaw in our character, some strange American quirk. Well, some cultural differences run very deep. So I won't mention them here. Frankly, I don't know what I'll write about this week.


  1. Hmmmmm--I know some Americans, one couple in NJ in particular, who are great house guests. Who help cook, clean and fix stuff; who are game for any outing or adventure; who can be both entertaining and get out of the way, when necessary; who clean up after themselves in the bathroom and even help with a host's website in case of an emergency. Just sayin'.

  2. If I remember correctly, back in November you were going to "make it a point of honor" to get down here, an idea with which I heartily concurred! Now you're making it sound too good to be true! The perfect guests! (By the way, I especially like the "fixing stuff" part!) SO COME ON DOWN! Your room is ready . . .

  3. My dear,

    You din't have a topic this week, but at least knew what to write about. What to say about me, that have so much to say and don't have the guts you had not to write?