Wednesday, December 7, 2011


A few weeks ago, I was doing some baking, and I had the pleasure of hearing my downstairs neighbor talking on the phone.  Very loudly.  For over an hour.  At 10 pm at night.  As I was overhearing her stories about jelly, doctor's appointments and many, many other things, I got to thinking about neighbors (and I remembered Danielle's post ).  Getting to enjoy all the idiosyncrasies of your neighbors is not an experience unique to Brazil.  The thing that I find unique is that most Brazilians living in cities live in apartments, which are surrounded by other apartments and other apartment buildings full of other people.  We live in very close proximity to people, so we get to know all their odd behaviors and hear their weird noises and arguments.  I'm sure that the crazy American family with the cellist and screaming children offers lots of fodder for conversation for our neighbors.  And we have had the opportunity to enjoy some of the following:

-Papa Bear.  In our old apartment, we had a good view into the neighboring apartment building's kitchen windows.  We were on the 4th floor, and we had a very good view into the neighbor's 3rd floor apartment.  There was a nice family of 4, and we liked to call the father Papa Bear.  Why?  Well, Papa Bear was quite a fuzzy wuzzy kind of guy, and was a little on the stocky side (not fat, just broad).  And Papa Bear enjoyed the comfort of his own home by usually walking around without a shirt on.  So, we had the privilege of seeing Papa Bear do all sorts of domestic activities without his shirt.  For Brazilian standards, he was quite helpful around the house (he did dishes, sometimes laundry, fed the kids, cooked pasta).  There were a few occasions when he would walk around in his underwear--yikes! 

A few weeks before we moved out, Bea's friend Julia (from our old apartment building) had a birthday party.  It was a big birthday party, held in the salão das festas (party room) of our building, but complete with bouncy toys, lots of food, and lots of beer.  Beer is the way the adults survive the birthday parties here.  We were sitting at a table with some other neighbors, enjoying our salgados and beer, the kids were running around in a sugar high mania, and I suddenly saw someone very familiar.  I felt like I really knew this person, I'd talked with them before, someone I saw on a regular basis.  Our eyes met, and I could tell that he didn't know me at all.  And then I saw his kids and his wife, and I almost yelled it.  "Papa Bear!"  I hadn't initially recognized him because he had his shirt on.  I thought about introducing myself and striking up a conversation, but I just couldn't get over the awkwardness of it. 

-Farmer blows/hocking loogies/excessive nose blowing.  Someone in our new apartment building must have a SERIOUS congestion problem.  Or maybe it's allergies, and they live with a cat or dog that makes it worse.  Because we hear them clearing out their nasal passages MANY TIMES A DAY.  And it's not a gentle little blow into a tissue.  It's a full on honking, coughing up mucus, disgusting, farmer blow.  It sounds like this:

-The Smoker.  Our downstairs neighbor is always so nice when we see her.  She ogles over the children, asks us if we like Brazil, and is so friendly.  And she smokes.  I'm not opposed to smokers, I have friends who smoke.  It's not a bad thing in and of itself.  But our neighbor likes to smoke in her courtyard, which is at the bottom of the building, underneath everyone's laundry areas and kitchens.  And because she's at the bottom, the smoke rises up and comes into everyone else's apartment and makes our apartments smell like smoke, including the drying laundry.  Not very nice.  Our sindica (the person in the building who helps resolve problems) came over one day, and I said something to her about, and the sindica said she's lived there forever, and she's always done it.  Now, the American in me thought that I should just go downstairs and politely ask her to stop smoking in her courtyard.  But this is Minas Gerais, and people don't do the direct confrontation here.  So, my husband came up with another idea.  We decided that every time she smoked in the courtyard, we would talk about the smell, the danger of smoking, the risk that second hand smoke poses to our children, and about the importance of being polite and thinking about others.  So passive-aggressive, yet so effective!  She doesn't really smoke there anymore!  And yet she's still polite to us!  So strange, but it got the job done. 

The thing that amazed me about this situation is that our other neighbors have been suffering and quietly complaining to each other for years about the smoke, and yet they never did anything.  I think that is what happens far too often here.  There are problems.  People don't like the problems.  They want something different.  But for whatever reason, they feel helpless or unable to solve them (because of past experience, because it's far too often the reality).  So they just learn to live.  They suffer through the stink, and resign themselves to living with second hand smoke.  I feel like a lot more could be written about this phenomena.  But I've got to go bother my neighbors...


  1. In my in-laws apartment they have the courtyard in the middle that all apartments face into (and it is quite small, like bathroom in America size) and the guy downstairs below the guest room AKA our room spends his evenings smoking and belching. All. night. long. Of course, we can close the windows (they live in Ribeirao Preto and there is no such thing as cold there) so we get to listen/smell all that he does. Luckily for us we we are there one month max, but for you to have to deal with it everyday, I can see how it could be incredibly annoying. Let us know how this passive-agressiveness turns out!

  2. *CAN'T close the windows... oops

  3. HA oh my, Papa Bear! How awkward! Thanks for sharing.


  4. It's crazy. My experience here is just like my NYC experience. I don't know any of our neighbors. Sure, I'll acknowledge someone I recognized in the elevator (usually I recognize them FROM the elevator). But that's really it.

    Maybe it's ME!

  5. The Smoker. Ugh. There's at least one in this building and it feels like s/he is right in our apt. Neither of us like smoking at all so it's especially annoying. Then we have the kid below us who plays loud music when his mom is out.
    And my next door neighbor (who's door is RIGHT next to ours) is old an deaf and talks loudly.