Monday, January 26, 2009

Different Strokes

Yesterday, we invited over a man from our ward. He's 86 years old and joined the church just 5 years ago. I had never talked to him that much (I'm in the primary all the time), but would always see him around. I didn't know he was married or single or why he was living in Brazil (he's an American with horrible Portuguese that he's not shy about using which is really cute) Before we left on vacation last month, he missed a Sunday which never happens. Turns out he had pneumonia. When Guapo went over to visit him he met his wife and their daughter.

So, they all came over last night for dinner. They were very nice- I had always wondered if the guy was all there, being so old, but he is totally with it-up on all the current events in the world.

His daughter is 21. So, she was born when he was 65. His wife is obviously much younger than him. I'm thinking the oldest she could be is 66 (that would have made her having a baby at 45), but maybe she's a little younger. Anyway, they met and married while living in San Francisio where they had planned to spend the rest of their lives.

Until one day the wife decided she couldn't live there any longer. She wanted to go back to Brazil, insisting their life would be much better there. She told us she couldn't hack the lifestyle of an American woman. She grew up in a well-to-do Brazilian family that had a staff of 6 people (cook, maid, nanny, gardener, butler, driver) which is common even today amongst the wealthy. She told me she couldn't stand the constantness of chores that she had in the States with no help. Exasperated she told me, "I had to make the food, and then remember the laundry, and then clean the house, and then cook the food AGAIN! I couldn't handle it any longer! I don't know how you women do it."

So they moved back to Brazil, hired their staff and had their daughter.

It was funny to me because I feel the exact opposite. I can't stand the constantness of having extra people in my house, even if they are here for my benefit. As we laughed about our differences, I explained to her how I feel like I can never relax when there's a maid in the house and she said, "Well, just go in your room and shut the door!" The thing is, I still know they're here and I just can't relax, even if Pedro is napping. So she told me, "Well, just leave then!" And that is what I find myself doing-looking for reasons to leave my own house because I don't want to be in it while there's a maid around.

I know, you might me thinking, "Well, why don't you just not have any help then?" But, just like it was the norm for her to live in the States without any help, it is the norm here to have help, and lots of it. Life is harder here than it is in the States. It just is. If I didn't have a maid I would waste half of my life waiting for repair men to fix all of our Brazilian appliances that seem to break about once a week. They give themselves a window of 9 am to 5 pm to show up. But, even then sometimes they just don't show up and don't bother calling to let you know. And, instead of heading out to Target for one-stop shopping, you've got to go to about 5 different stores during the week to get everything you need. And everyone else has maids, so there's no "if you watch my kid, I'll watch yours" going on.

She did say one thing that I've always believed, and have always heard expat women say, but I thought it was just a way to rationalize having the help. She said that it seemed that houses in the States are just cleaner than houses here. I wholeheartedly agree! I don't know what it is, but we sweep the house everyday (ok, not we, the maid) and you wouldn't believe the pile of junk that accumulates in just 24 hours. Our apartment is always open to the outside, so I'm sure that doesn't help.

I just thought our conversation was interesting; do I not like having a maid because that's not how I grew up, or is it something deeper than that, some independent American gene that came from my temporally poor forefathers that crossed the Atlantic, staffless, in hopes of a better life? It's quite likely that my new friend descended from wealthy Portuguese who did arrive in their new land with a slew of people to serve them. It's got to be more to it than just getting used to it, because I've had almost 8 years now with a maid and I think I like it even less now than I did 8 years ago. I've accepted that I'm never going to get used to it.

I don't know. I just know that when we finally get the word that we are going back to the States, I will not lose sleep over not having a maid anymore.

(Speaking of the maids, the new maid is still working out well. Last week she asked me to buy her a ladder so she could clean all the fans and walls up high, she asked why Vanessa wasn't in the habit of ironing every article of clothing (she normally irons Guapo's shirts like once a month, if I'm lucky), and she moves all the furniture everyday to sweep and mop underneath. I am in awe...)


Calandria said...

I know what you're saying. The lack of privacy when you have a maid is bothersome. I found it that way too. And the houses are harder to clean, and life is more complicated. We NEVER figured out where to buy half the stuff we needed in Venezuela. Our maid or the office errand boy would end up buying so many things for us.

One time our maid in Venezuela ironed Jorge's jeans so they had a crease down the center! We couldn't get it out, no matter what we did. We finally had to throw them out.

Fabiola said...


I know exactly what you mean. I don't like to have a maid and I grew up that way. My mom had a maid until we were teens and then she got rid of them. She has a housekeeper twice a week now and that is it.
But about the appliance fixing window, one thing about living in Sao Paulo and in my hometown, it is different, we can even schedule the time when you want them to arrive. When I was living in Bahia, it was like in Rio too.
A while ago, you asked me about what brand of chocolate I use, it depends on my budget. I normally buy Nestle, but when I can get my hands on Belgium Chocolate, that is my choice.

Have a nice week,


Fabiola said...

Ah... and take a look at my last post and you will understand a little more about our culture ; )

Janet said...

I don't think I would like it either. I've had someone come clean my house 3 times and each time I feel like I am in her territory and end up leaving. I can't imagine having one every day.

No Cool Story said...

You know how I feel about maids. If I didn't just love the US and my sweet easy life here, I'd totally move to Mexico and have me a few maids and a cook.

Maybe it's because I was raised with maids that I don't get that feeling of my space beign invaded.
Or maybe I just like having the idea of not having to do anything around the house.

Ah, who knows. Anyway, I am glad the new muchacha is working out!

No Cool Story said...

"You know I thought up unicorns when I was just 5. That's how creative I am. I thought of a horse. that could fly. with a horn."

Who is that??

Maine Mom said...

Interesting. I have no idea how I feel about a maid being around because I've never had one and never will, but I can relate to the "I had to make the food, and then remember the laundry, and then clean the house, and then cook the food AGAIN!" bit and it IS exhausting!

Kari said...

Isn't that the best part of living in places outside the U.S.: recognizing that people have different perspectives & ways of life, and they usually are not wrong, bad, or to be pitied... Just different.

Ballerina Girl said...

For me, I like it both ways....I like to do some housework when they are not here, and I like it when they come like Jenec does, 2/3 days a week to help out! Who knows what I'll do when we move back to the States.
Yay, for school, right?!
Lets make plans so Guapo and you can see the pics...

Head Nurse or Patient- you be the judge said...

Due to various new babies or other health issues, I have had someone come every so often to clean my house- and it was akward. Even when I was so sick, I couldn't function, I hated the thought of someone else cleaning my family's mess. A could of times, it was one of my neices and I didn't mind that so much, we would work together in that case and have the house clean in a couple of hours.
Maybe this new maid- with great cleaning skills will change how you feel- since you seem to have a not so great one regularly.

txmommy said...

so interesting to see how different peoples lives are, and how many cultural differences there are. I think it would be neat adventure to live the life of an expat!

Glad the new maid is working out :)

lizzy-loo said...

i always thought he was there on his own. i agree with the cleanliness issue. you have to constantly scrub to keep everything clean. i also think that unlike many of us who stay at home most brasilians do not spend there days in house. they are constantly out and about so they are not at home.