February 14, 2008

This is our regular column called Ask a Brazilian”, the idea being that you can quite literally ask a question of a Brazilian – for those issues you aren’t sure about but perhaps dare not ask someone else. It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.

I am currently living in Brazil with my Brazilian boyfriend and his family. As I am a 24 year old gringa and have always been quite independent from an early age due to my culture I have the odd day where I have a few difficulties with my new family, for example: if I don’t eat lots for dinner, or if I don’t eat rice one day, or if I decide not to eat when everyone else is eating, or if I add water to my juice (because I find it ridiculously sweet) my mother and father in law think its the end of the world or constantly question “why I’m not eating”!?, “why I’m adding water”!?, “why I’m not putting rice on my plate today”!?. and no matter how many times I answer with a very sound reason in my opinion, and because I thought I had choices, they keep asking or nagging in the same way the next time I don’t put rice on my plate! sometimes this is quite full on for me and I get quite frustrated because I don’t know how to deal with it, I’ve never dealt with anyone constantly monitoring my eating habits or thinking its the end of the world if I skip a meal or am not eating a monstrous sized plate of food. Why are Brazilian parents like this and how do I tactfully deal with this without offending?

Also why do Brazilians, meus sogros, add sooo much sugar to everything? coffee, juice etc. for me it just ends up tasting like sugar losing the flavour of the coffee or juice, not to mention increasing the risk of diabetes. and this leads into my first question when I decide not to drink coffee or juice because it has 2 tonnes of sugar in already. I have tried telling them that I want to add my own sugar but still the coffee and juice gets made with heaps of sugar.

— Mel

Dear Mel,

I am so sorry for what you’ve been through. Brazilians tend to be very invasive, I know. As they usually view themselves as a group, it’s common to be questioned about most everything that is going on in your life: “Where are you going?”, “What are you doing?”, “Why are you sad?”, it sounds like an old song in my ears. It’s like you have to report about yourself constantly.

I’m speaking generally, but this goes on and on, especially when people report themselves spontaneously all the time, everywhere, at work, with friends and when it comes to a family that gets even worse, of course.

Unlike other countries where you leave home by the age of 16, in Brazil most people stay with their families until they marry or have money enough to pay for rent. That might explain why parents continue to treat their children like children, especially when living under their roof.

It’s also a very maternal society, Mel, it’s important for you to understand that. Try not to be terrified, look at the bright side, it’s just a way of showing they care about you. If you don’t feel like talking, don’t! Be nice, change the subject, pretend you didn’t hear, use the language excuse, run!

That said, let’s talk about your specific situation.

Brazilians inherited from the Italians that you must eat to be healthy. They might think you will be sick or something (at least I’d understand your host family is just worried about you).

As for the sugar thing: sugar is a working class addiction and as most Brazilians are working class…

Try to talk with them. Say you really appreciate their concern, but you’re not used to eating that much, especially rice, or sugar. Explain how you would love them to share with you the experience to learn a different culture, respect them as they are, and that it would be great if they could do the same, great for both of you. That is what this is all about, isn’t it?

If talking doesn’t work, I’d say perhaps you need to move elsewhere. Please don’t take that as a Brazilian thing, this is just rude and very discourteous. What are they if they can’t understand that?

I hope things work out for you, Mel.

Boa sorte,

Vanessa T. Bauer

Are there any burning questions you have about Brazil, or other issues that you’re curious about, such as Brazilian culture? If so, send your questions to gringoes@www.gringoes.com with “Ask a Brazilian” in the subject. We will forward to our Brazilian experts, and publish the best questions (and replies) on the site.

Previous questions in this article series:

Ask a Brazilian: Hotels and Bank Transfers
Ask a Brazilian: Swimming, Showers and New Year’s
Ask a Brazilian: Making Friends
Ask a Brazilian: Female Etiquette
Ask a Brazilian: Washing Machines
Ask a Brazilian: Picking Teeth
Ask a Brazilian: Lozenge or Candy?
Ask a Brazilian: Liberal or Jealous?
Ask a Brazilian: Truck Wheels
Ask a Brazilian: Tolerance
Ask a Brazilian: Screens
Ask a Brazilian: Brazilian Wax
Ask a Brazilian: Flashing Lights
Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Ask a Brazilian: Shocking Showers
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