August 15, 2009

Just Because You're in Another Country Doesn't Make it a Cultural Thing

When I was 19, I took a year off school and went to Brazil as a student missionary. This meant that I went there to teach English which helped raise money for the orphanage and various daycare projects that my church operates over there. So to help keep down expenses, they get people to volunteer to put the various students that come up in their house, providing room and board for them.

My particular family had 3 kids, one of whom was away at college most of the time. They decided to house 2 of us. We were exited to be there in a new place and they did a very good job of making us welcome and introducing us to people at church, etc etc. There were quite a few things happening in the house that we chalked up to cultural differences, that we found out later weren't necessarily cultural. Remember I was in a 3rd world country that I knew nothing about, and this was my first introduction to the culture. We were not placed in the slums, we were in a regular neighborhood in a regular house. It wasn't a mansion, but it looked nothing like the slums either.

Much to our unpleasant surprise, one day we come home from teaching and the mom of the house is walking around naked and her 12 or 13 year old son is there. And she wasn't phased when we saw her stark nekked. Awkward.....for us....We didn't think it could get any worse, but it did. She kept doing this on a regular basis and she wanted us to teach her English while she was naked!!! What?!?! I have a strict personal policy that I only teach English to those that are properly covered up. But how do you say that to your hostess? I know it's hot there, but it wasn't any worse than it is in Texas and we wear clothes. Especially in front of guests. (Austin can pose the exception to that at times)

We were stunned and it was really really really awkward. How do you politely excuse yourself from such a situation without seeming ungrateful for their hospitality to you? After all we were eating their food (which incidentally waned away shortly after our arrival) It's not like she made an effort to be less naked in front of us either. Though to her benefit, she never asked us to get naked. Though it's possible that she did and we just didn't understand what she said. We were especially disturbed by this display in front of her son. We had no choice, we talked to our director about it, and eventually we were both placed elsewhere. We were probably exposed to it, pun intended, for maybe a week or two longer after talking to the director about it. I'm sure it seemed we were there longer than we actually were after these naked episodes started, because neither of us were the type to parade around naked in front of anyone else, let alone strangers.

Tell you what, had her husband ever done that, we would have been packed and out of there that minute. But because it was her, we were confused as to whether or not this was normal behavior in that country. We soon found out that it was NOT normal Brazilian behavior to parade around naked in your own home in front of guests, as well as some of the other things we let go as being cultural. It was just the culture of that family. What an awkward lesson to learn. Some things your mom just can't prepare you for even if she tries.

That aside, my experience in Brazil was a great one and I really love that country and their food. If you've ever been to a churrascaria here in America, just know that you are getting ripped off out the wazoo. We can't justify it, though we just found an alternative Brazilian restaurant that isn't nearly a rip off and had all of my favorite foods on one appetizer dish.


Erik said...

I've not been to Brazil, but it is common practice to walk around naked in Texas. Of course, when people do it, they typically make certain it is not disturbing their neighbors.

I wouldn't be naked around someone who is not comfortable any more than I would eat sugar in front of a diabetic. (But it doesn't mean I think there is anything wrong with sugar in moderation.)

I don't think seeing people naked in public is awkward and I don't think being naked in public is awkward. What is awkward is when someone is uncomfortable with it. Always ask before disrobing in front of guests. :D

Amber Sunshine said...

That's funny, I haven't seen anyone walking around naked in my various neighborhoods in Texas...just downtown austin :)

Though i used to work with a lady that claimed to mow her lawn naked...maybe it was in her bathing's been so long I can't remember...either way that doesn't sound very safe..but at her age i suppose it doesn't much matter anymore.. :)