Sunday, June 11, 2006

Unmentionable Cultural Differences

My “grandmother” who lives upstairs is this delicate wisp of a woman with a cap of purple-grey ringlets and a wavering, warbling voice that seems perpetually on the edge of emotional tears. She’s a sweet, sweet woman. I have brought her little presents every now and then, the sort of things I am accustomed to doing in the States: a sort of reverse “welcome-to-the-neighborhood” thing, little souvenirs because she’s a good neighbor and a lovely person.

Today, on my way out to buy food before the markets close, it being Sunday, she waves me upstairs. After chatting about her cataracts and husband’s need for new glasses and so forth, she gives me a little gift. Two pair of lovely, satiny, lace-embroidered, slightly granny-but-in-a-distinctly-Brazilian style...


You might find this strange, and even though I was prepared, having read about this phenomenon of giving incredibly personal gifts to friends and acquaintances in a book about cultural differences...even with this, I was taken aback for a second or two.

But she got my size right. Which is nice, because I’m not sure that I would have had the courage to exchange them, regardless of whether or not the vendor had okayed it in advance!

I encountered this phenomenon once before, when I helped a friend brainstorm ideas for her American host mom. The idea of a sexy bra-and-thong combo was quickly scrapped from her list...just imagine the nice suburban Baptist mother-of-three and probably Volvo-driving soccer mom opening her thank you gift...

Crisis averted.

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