So. I’m proud to report that my cultural competens is developing nicely. I’ve already learned several important things here in Brazil: I can now order a coffee (with milk!) without Ivander, my faithful guide and translator. I have learned not to charge ahead and walk three metres ahead of my host and, more importantly, the man that knows where we going (let’s just say that the walking speed is different in Santos than in DC). And I have mastered the always difficult hug vs. cheek kiss greeting ritual.
Those of you who follows this blog knows the huge difficulties I always have in France. In Sweden, we go straight for the hug. In France, they kiss each other on the cheek two or three or possibly four times, and if you combine these two ways of greetings chances are you’ll end up kissing new acquaintances on the mouth. Just saying. Brazil is easier. They seem to go for the very straightforward one cheek kiss. In theory, this is not a problem. In practice, it still makes for interesting situations when combined with a hug. For example, this was how I greeted Ivander the first two days:
He went for the cheek kiss. I was already on the way into a hug. His cheek kiss hit me on the way in, very normal, and easily followed up by a hug. I unfortunately remembered the cheek kiss to late, so my kiss always hit him on the neck. Which was fine with Ivander, although perhaps surpisingly warm and intimate for a friendship that’s only existed for a day. It was slightly more awkward when I also kissed the Bookseller who’s organizing the bookfair on the neck the very first time we met.
But I’ve learned now, so this morning when I met Ivander I managed to just keep a cool, normal distance and kiss him on the cheek like a normal person. I kept this up the entire day. No matter what Brazilians the world throw at me, I just gave them a cool and very normal cheek kiss. I was so proud of this new development that I even bragged about it to a friend.
I should have known better. Today a Portuguese woman entered the stage. She was a charming woman in her fifties, beautiful in that relaxed yet sophisticated southern European way, and she was in the middle of the worst stage of jet lag. I had just got through a long day of listening simultaneously to a language I don’t understand and the translation of it, nodding my way through lunch and dinner and smiling in a vague but hopefully friendly way everytime I heard my name. She was dead, I was dead. We were outside of our hotel, and the only thing that stood between us and freedom was one little, relaxed cheek kiss.
Or so I thought. Apparently, in Portugal you go for the double cheek kiss. We managed the first one just fine, but then when I started to pull away I noticed that she still sort of stayed close. So I paused. And there we are, standing outside of a hotel, with our faces close together, gazing into each other’s eyes, and involuntary sharing one of those slow, drawn out, hesitating, will we-won’t we-moment.
I really feel I should have at least bought her dinner first.