Saturday, May 12, 2012

...And how I've not become Brazilian

I  have changed.  And there are many things that I just haven't been able to do, and I'm not sure if I will ever really be able to accomplish.  I'm not saying that doing things of my list below "makes" someone Brazilian.  Nor am I saying that all Brazilians exhibit these kinds of behaviors.  But I speaking to my personal experience, and reflecting on situations when I realize that I do not "belong" here.  And with that, here's how I've not changed:

1.  I don't do my nails.  I would get pedicures in the states every once in a while, but I've never been a fingernail person.  I play guitar, I garden, I get my hands dirty.  I'm more of a person that sees my hands/fingers as a tool, and not a thing of beauty.  And I've been accused of having Fred Flinstone feet, and there isn't really much you can do to doll these stubby things up.

But I have to admit I was kind of excited before moving here about the idea of going to the local salon and getting pampered.  And then we moved here, and reality set in.  I realized that I'd have to hire someone to watch my kids so I could go and do that.  My husband offered one time, and I went and got a pedicure and a manicure.  And it hurt.  Really, REALLY bad!  They really dug into my cuticles and cleaned things up.  Ouch.  I know that many women believe that experiencing pain is just part of being beautiful, but I'm not one of them.

2.  I don't get things delivered.  I have never asked the bakery down the street (or our favorite bakery for that matter) to deliver bread.  I've never asked the grocery store or sacalão (fruit/veggie market) to deliver my order.  And I haven't even ordered pizza here (friends have come over and done it).  Part of it is that I'm cheap.  Part of it is that I (still) get nervous about making phone calls in Portuguese, especially those regarding specific instructions and time and money (numbers are hard).  And I think the biggest part of it is the American part of me that wants to do it myself and do it my way.  Or maybe that is just the Shelley party of me....

3.  I don't visit beauty salons nor have I had work done.  I have never had any of the following:  peeling, escova inteligente (I think this is the same things as a Brazilian blow out), laser, eyelash extensions, drenagem linfático (intense massage to rid your body of impurities), lightening, etcetera etcetera.  Getting pretty is big business in Brazil.  Heck, it's big business around the world.  But my informal survey of local business indicates that beauty salons and places to get beautified far outnumber bakeries.  Maybe that's why people in Brazil are thinner--there's more opportunity to get done up than to eat.

4.  I don't have my children's birthday parties at a "party place."  Renting a salão de festas will run you at least R$2000, and that's for a very basic party.  And in my experience, birthday parties at these kind of places really aren't about the kids.  They tend to be more about the parents and their ability to throw a great party.  It's kind of a status thing.  Because I'm not Brazilian, I just don't get how the status game works, and I know that even if I tried to pretend I was wealthy and had social graces oozing out of me it would come across as the "cold" American I am.  So we'll stick with sleep overs, family parties and snacks at school.

5.  I don't watch novelas (soap operas).  I'm not a big fan of TV.  I watch it because my husband likes it, but I can find many other things that I'd rather do.  I know that I'm missing out on a part of Brazilian culture, and an opportunity to practice my Portuguese.  But I just can't make myself do it.

6.  I don't know how to bargain.  I pay my fair share of the gringo tax.  We had dinner with some friends a few weeks back, and they were talking about just how good Mineira women are at bargaining.  She's married to an American, and she often will be at the store trying to buy something and she will send her husband away because she doesn't want to pay more because the American is in the room.  I sometimes will try, but even then I don't have the patience, finesse nor ability to form any kind of nuanced conversation ("me pay less, yes? This price too high, I find store there and it be less...").  I've just resigned myself to being taken advantage of.

7. I don't throw trash on the ground.  I carry around my candy wrappers, used kleenex, and I've walked blocks carrying an empty soda bottle until I find a trash can.  In our neighborhood, there are many "designated" places for trash (tree stumps, the base of a power pole, the little bit of grass that surrounds some plants).  But to me, it just looks like the ground.  I've caught my kids throwing trash on the ground, and I always make them go back and pick it up.  Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean that we are going to do it.

8.  I don't follow soccer.  I thought that when I lived here, I'd actually watch soccer games, and pay attention to what is happening with the number one sport in the whole entire world.  In our old apartment, I had the pleasure of hearing our neighbors have shouting matches before, during and after games (which I have learned take place on Wednesday and Sunday nights, and sometimes other days...).  But now I'm just oblivious.  I know who the two teams are in Belo Horizonte, and every once in a while I hear who has won or who is playing.  But for the most part, I'm absolutely clueless.  I still would like to go to a live soccer game someday, but there's this thing called the World Cup and there's this crazy situation with all the stadiums being built/remodeled...

9.  I don't let someone else do it.  A lot of Brazilian working moms take advantage of the opportunities that exist here to let someone else help you out.  It makes sense to me.  If you are working full time, how can you have time to go grocery shopping and cook for your family?  How do you have time to do all the laundry?  To help kids with their homework and take them to their school events?  Where's the time to take little João to soccer practice, and Maria Clara Julia to ballet class?  And also take care of yourself (see #1 and #3)?  Most women with the means hire help for the house, nannies, drivers to take their kids to school/music lessons, buy the kids snacks through the schools (that hire bakeries to make deliver healthy fried snacks, cookies and sugary juices....real healthy...) and eat out (or do #2).  I have a great job, that allows me to work mostly part-time, and work while  my kids are in school.  That means that I can be with them, go pick out my own fruit and vegetables at the store, cook for them, and make things like homemade cornbread, apple muffins and  bread for their school snacks.  And I wash their clothes myself.  And I want to do this.  I like it.  I think it's part of who I am (kind of earth mama, granola mommy) and it's that darn American guilt about having someone else do the work that I should be able to do because I should be able to do it all because I'm superwoman independence. 

10.  I don't do Brazilian clothes.  First of all, I'm cheap.  Secondly, I'm cheap.  And thirdly, I can stock up on good quality used and new clothes on trips to the US.  I've bought some clothes here, for myself and for my kids.  But I have such a hard time paying so much money, and for things that unfortunately don't last very long.  As a result, we don't look very Brazilian and we're not always very fashionable.  But then again, Brazilian fashion is different.  I will say that I've become a little bolder in my tastes since moving here, but I still don't think I can pull of heels, blouses with only one sleeve, jumpsuits, and backless shirts. 


  1. I think there should be a #11 in there: asking for a box (a.k.a Doggy bad) to take your unfinished food home from a restaurant. Big deal, you might think? When I did that in BH, the rest of the people at my table looked at me as if I had three heads. I was given the "OMG you didn't just ask if you could take home food." So much for being the "Americana chique". Hey, I'd rather eat leftovers the next day and appear "poor" to people than throw out food when so many people are going hungry! X-(
    Unfortunately, a lot of what you wrote above is true not only in Brazil but in Latin America. While I like many things about Brazil (and Latin America for that matter), I don't like the culture of "saving face" and "appearing to be what you're not." Manicures, Pedicures, expensive salon treatments, expensive birthday parties are just some of the many examples of "appearances". I could give a million more examples but... you get the idea.

  2. So true Caroline! We took our leftover pizza home a while back, but of course it was just a gringo family. I think the "appearing to be what you're not" is one of the things I didn't like about AZ, which may have been the latin interesting thought. I didn't mention it, but it's kind of assumed that husbands are going to be unfaithful, yet wives still try hard to "keep" their husbands by maintaining their appearance.

  3. Just when I thought YOU had become so Brazilian, you tell me YOU are still "just Shelley!" Love it....from your mom who is also a non-manicured, non-TV watcher, non-sports lover, and trash picker-upper! Mom

  4. Caroline - we always ask for a take home - no one questions us. sometimes they make them really pretty.maybe because we are older and our friends are older. I am like you I think it a waste of money for man /ped... I do like my feet to be done more than my hands. I work with weights and think it looks silly to lift them with painted nails. I do from time to time have my groceries delivered but only if the tab is over R$100.00 is it worth paying 10 plus tip. for them (in Rio) to come around the block. I buy cloths only in the USA - here not only are they expensive but I have broad shoulders and long arms, they just don't fit.
    My grandchildren have had parties in those party places more parents and nannies then children - silly waste of money. I have a maid and a gardener - not my choice they were in place before I arrived on the scene and would hate to take their incomes away. I cook / cam friuts / do the laundry and read a lot. if I had a family like yours there would be plenty of work for two (me and the maid)zi went on a hike to dois pecos. on the way up there was a liter bottle on the ground - I picked it up and carried it the whole hike before being able to throw it away - now that got me weird looks.
    great post.

  5. This is great! The trash thing really gets me. I took a little friend of my son to school yesterday and he set his trash down on the ground. I stopped and asked what he was doing and he said it was trash. I informed him that trash goes in a trash can and made him carry it until we got to one.

    As for deliveries... I always get my groceries delivered. I do everything on foot and it is a bitch to carry the big twice month purchase home... plus the delivery is free :)