Monday, January 3, 2011

The kindness of Strangers

Brazilians are generous and accommodating people. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for them. They are happy to help you out whenever possible and their hospitality is both spontaneously offered and lavishly provided. And speaking as an often-confused and linguistically-challenged foreigner frequently splashing around out of his depth in a life he doesn't fully understand, this is a most reassuring and pleasing character trait.

But foreigners be warned. A Brazilian's generosity is a subtle thing that must not always be taken at face value. It may well be that an offer is being made more from the need to be seen to be generous, than from any real desire to do whatever it is that's being offered. For example, if someone you've only just met invites you for a coffee the following afternoon, they probably mean it. But if he invites you to spend the weekend with him and his family at their country house, it's fairly safe to assume he's merely demonstrating his generosity in the safe knowledge that you'll be impressed and touched but never actually take him up on the offer.

Sadly, not all foreigners possess the mental agility to successfully weave their way through the various subtle layers of Brazilian social etiquette and I have been told several entertaining stories of Brazilians hoist with their own petard after being too spontaneously generous with foreigners who have taken them at their word. And believe me, being on the receiving end is little better. I can, rather embarrassingly, think of two occasions where I've accepted invitations which, on hindsight, were clearly not intended to be accepted. I may be socially useless, but even I can tell when I've turned up somewhere I'm not really wanted.

All of which will hopefully explain why Helen and I were somewhat cautious in our acceptance of the various invitations we were presented with over the past few weeks. However, I'm pleased to report that all invitations were completely sincere, all events were lovely and friendly and thoroughly enjoyable and I'm fairly certain that no welcomes were outstayed.

We ended up being invited out to supper on Christmas Eve, lunch on Christmas Day and dinner on New Year's Eve. We were treated to a children's talent show - featuring our own, as well as our neighbour's children and their cousins singing, playing guitar and recorder, as well as performing a fabulous mime in costume, wigs and makeup to Lady Gaga's Poker Face. We were given some thoughtful and most-unexpected presents. We were able to watch the New Year fireworks from a ninth-storey balcony with a view over half the city. We met a lot of really nice people, ate a lot of really nice food and forced our children to wear a lot of really nice clothes and now we really, really have a lot of reciprocal hospitality to arrange.

Just as well we're running off back to Ireland and England in a few days!

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