One of the things I love about Brazilians in general is their friendliness and hospitality. So it was not a surprise to me when I found out that the owner of The Boston Bakery was American. Not that all Americans are rude, but what I find is that in America (despite the saying) the customer is not always right and the employees treat you badly. This was exactly my experience at this particular establishment. I had a friend visiting from the US and she happens to have lived in Boston, so when we say this place we thought it sounded perfect. We had dinner and dessert and spent a considerable amount of money, around R$130,00 ($65.00 dollars) and as we were leaving there was two extra charges on our bill. My infant son had gotten ahold of two pieces of candy and then dropped them on the ground. As responsible parents we told him no and put the candy back unharmed. The manager then went behind our backs and charged us for the candy without saying a word to us. When we questioned the charges (R$12.00) each, the manager said that we let our kid run wild and that we were irresponsible parents. We even showed him that the candy was unharmed but still he would not budge. Finally after an argument at the counter he took the charges off begrudgingly. I have never been treated so badly in my life. I mean come on who hasn’t accidently dropped something on the floor, do we expect to then pay for it? And then to not saying anything but just charge us behind our backs, what a jerk!In contrast, we often go to a little video store near our place called Imagens & Letras (http://imagenseletras.com.br/). It is owned and run by a Brazilian mother and daughter. The are the sweetest ladies on the planet! My son does often reek havoc in that place because all of the videos and candy are at his level, and I follow him around putting things back and telling him no. But instead of telling us that we are bad parents the ladies understand that my kid is only one and that he is learning. The Boston Bakery Bully should take some tips from these ladies and try not to be such a jerk, he does live in Brazil after all.
I recently traveled back to the United States to visit family and friends, especially before I get too far along in my pregnancy and can’t travel anymore. What I realized while I was there is that there are several things from both the Brazilian culture and American culture that I love and things that I don’t like. Sometimes I wish there was a way to mixed these to cultures to create a perfect blend of their strengths.
For example, one of the things I really appreciate about the Brazilian culture is that they have preferential seating and lines for the elderly, disabled, pregnant women, and women with a lap child. This has been very beneficial to me now that I am pregnant. What people don’t understand is that standing in lines for long periods of time while carrying extra weight as well as fluid in your circulatory system is exhausting. I never realized what a benefit this was until I came back to the US. On my layover at O’Hare airport I had just enough time to take the train to another terminal to catch my flight. I was already exhausted when I got on the train and of course there were no seats. Except… there were two seats for the elderly and disabled which were occupied by two middle-aged, overweight men. So I stood there exhausted and realized there was an elderly man with a cane standing beside me. Come on Americans have a little respect.
Not to say that Brazil doesn’t have it’s problems. I think the hardest adjustment in living in Brazil has been the fact that everything takes twice as long to get done here! When I first arrived here I had lists of things to get done and my plan was to get them all done in one day like in America. I quickly realized that this was never going to happen because everything takes soooooo long. Now when I make a list, I plan to get everything done in one week! For example, going to the bank seems like it shouldn’t take that long, right? Well first you have to find parking which in São Paulo can be complicated and may require you to park several blocks away. The once you get inside the bank you have to lock your purse in a locker, go through security, and take a number depending on who at the bank you need to talk to, then you stand in line and wait for that number to be called, and finally you get to talk to the bank teller who may or may not be able to help you in the first place. Needless to say efficiency is not a part of the Brazilian culture.
My husband and I often joke about what our child will be like, we call him Californista or Paulifornian (Californian + Person from São
Paulo or Paulista). My hope is that he will be able to learn from both of these cultures and extrapolate the good from the both of them.
Living in another culture is a funny thing because you find things in that culture that don’t exist in your own. This can be difficult to understand sometime. When my husband and I first moved to São Paulo, we went out to dinner with his boss and his boss’s wife-Marianna. His boss’s wife gave a good example of this, she is Brazilian and lived in England for a couple of years; every time she would check out at the grocery store the clerk would ask her “Do you want cash back?” At first she didn’t even know the word “cash back” because they said it so fast, so every time they asked she would just say “No thank you.” Finally one day she saw another patron get cash back and realized what the clerk was asking her.I think that it was not only the language barrier that prevented Marianna from understanding what the clerk said but the fact that in Brazil “cash back” does not exist. The only way you can get cash in Brazil is from the bank.
Before moving to Brazil I had visited several cities like Rio and Curitiba. I had also purchased several things in stores without a problem, but when I moved to São Paulo I quickly realized that the checkout people were asking me something that I didn’t know what it was. And like Marianna I would always say, “No thank you.” Now living here for a couple of months I know what the clerks were asking, they are asking for my CPF number or Nota Fiscal Paulista. My CPF number is basically my social security number in Brazil. The reason the clerks ask this is because in the state of São Paulo if you registered your CPF on the state’s website and give it to the clerks every time you purchase something you can get a tax refund on the goods you purchase.
This is something that does not exist in America. My husband explains the reasoning for it is because corporations in Brazil have a tendency to not pay taxes. So when a person gets the refund it comes out of the corporation’s taxes? I’m still not totally clear about what Nota Fiscal Paulista is and why it is only in SãoPaulo, but if a clerk asks you for your CPF, feel free to say “Nao, Obrigado.”
The morning before my husband and I left for the gym to sign me up I read this article in the NY times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/arts/brazils-leading-arts-financing-group-shares-the-wealth.html?_r=2&ref=americas
My husband had been telling me that he had joined the gym with the union for free and that I could also join for free. As we lay in bed reading the paper I showed him this article about SESC Serviço Social do Comércio (Social Service of Commerce). “That’s where we are going today.” He said. “But it’s not really cultural.”
As we entered the building I totally disagreed with my husband, this place was nothing but cultural. As you enter the main lobby of the modern building you can’t help but notice the furniture that lends interesting architectural additions to the space. For example a long curving wooden bench that resembles a vertebral column winding its way across the floor. When we arrived, there was a line of people waiting for lunch. Two musicians came in and set up in the middle of the lobby and played Jazzy little numbers with their guitar and accordion as the people waited.
In the back section of the lobby there was a placed to sit and read with various books, magazines, and news papers available (All in Portuguese). The sitting area had geometric tables with modern chairs and benches to sit. And against the back wall there is a row of comfy chairs with CD players and head phones to enjoy.
Before lunch I had to sign up and get my ID card first so we went to the third floor to the administration offices. We stood in line next to a red wall with several portraits and a description of the artist that painted them. On the same level of the administrative offices was a gallery of photographs displayed like a museum and again modern artistic furniture that could have been in a museum by itself.
Before heading for lunch we decided to tour the rest of the building. The second floor is where the dining room is and just below it you can see the pool. The fourth floor is the actual gym itself with treadmills, bikes, and weights which was no different from any other gym except that fact this place is so busy that you have to sign up for specific days and times that you can use the equipment, and there is a waiting list. The fifth floor is a soccer court. The sixth floor is the dental office, just in case you need a cleaning inbetween working out and dining. And finally the seventh floor is (no surprise here), a soccer court. Also in the basement they have a theatre to perform plays but this was not included in my tour.
As we headed to lunch I confronted my husband on his observations, “Why don’t you think this place is cultural? It seems very cultural to me.” He really didn’t have an explanation but in the end like the smart man he is he agreed with his wife.