A Nation of Older Siblings

Yesterday our cousin told us this story:

It was a church event and we had bought some fireworks to celebrate.  We set them up outside the church and everyone lined up outside to watch.  Unfortunately the fireworks flopped over as they were going off and started shooting into the crowd!  WHOOSH!  WHOOSH! People scattered; the old ladies couldn’t move fast enough!  Then the fireworks started spinning–ZIZZ! ZIZZ!–and there was no safe direction to run.  Finally the old ladies took refuge in the church.  Desgramou….

If you read that story with American eyes thoughts of lawsuits, liability, and burnt limbs flash through your mind.  Oh the poor church grannies!  The horror!

This is Brazil, though, and that story was just an amusing anecdote of a church fair gone wrong.  Everyone was laughing.  It doesn’t hurt that our cousin the storyteller has an unruly, mischievous sense of humor and a booming laugh.  You couldn’t be mad with him for a second.  He has a similar, extremely graphic story about his entire wedding party that got food poisoning and swamped the local ER.  In America it would be a tragedy, here it’s divine comedy.  I’ve heard the story three or four times now from different attendees and each time everyone breaks down crying; the tears are ones of laughter.

This is Brazil where people play hard.  It’s like having a whole nation of older siblings.  You had better get used to being razzed.  To avoid being trampled you’ve gotta dish it out as good as you get.  This is a tough thing to do when you only understand half the conversation.  I hesitated at first then leaned out and winked and patted a friend’s buddha-belly when he teased my husband about his state-side weight gain–voila! instant street cred.

You also had better get used to laughing at some seriously wicked practical jokes.  To wit, take a glance at this video from the Programa Silvio Santos.  This is not the first time this show has done gags like this, but this one went viral with the USA audience who were 50% horrified, 50% amused).

What I find most fascinating is that one of the biggest insults in Brazilian Portuguese is to call someone “chato”  (feminine: chata). That person isn’t a bitch or an asshole, they’re chato.  In any dictionary you may pick up chato translates to “boring,” although I find it also has connotations of a negative attitude and lack of generosity.  That’s right, to a Brazilian the worst thing you could be is a wet blanket.  If you’re not helping the party along, there’s just something wrong with you.

I’m mouthy and improper by nature and have a hard time giving authority much gravitas.   For the past five years I had wedged myself into a supervisor’s position with a very public presence within my field (a job that I adored by the way, but me? an authority myself? please.).  Brazilians’ raucousness is aloe on my human-resources-chapped hide.  I’m still learning to not take myself too seriously.  It’s nice to have an entire nation of older siblings to help me along.



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