Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Journal Entry #25 - 3/14/12

I am so impressed with the quality of the documents that we get to read for this class. I have to say I was very entertained by Lee's "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari", with his first-hand narrative that had a tone that sounded just like he were telling the story to a group of friends. It reminded me of my experience in Brasil when I had just arrived. All the sisters in the ward would be so concerned that we missionaries weren't eating enough, and they would constantly tell us "Eat more Elder, eat more!" as if we were purposely holding ourselves back from eating as much as we really wanted to. The truth was quite the opposite. I don't consider myself a man with a monstrous appetite either, so being told to eat more when I was quite full already was very uncomfortable. It was months before I had learned how to respond properly, and by that time my body had adjusted to a very large midday meal anyway, and I became rather proud of my ability to put food away at lunch time. (Alas, I have lost the ability) And it's funny to me now how I reacted with irritation when I would hear the same thing, day after day, from Brazilians that were members and nonmembers, male or female, old or young, that same phrase "Eat more Elder, eat more!!". What kind of cultural phenomenon could make an entire people obsessed with making their lunch guests overstuffed and sleepy every day at 2 pm? It took about a year to figure out that it was simply an expression of high regard for their guests to treat us this way. However, the truth was if our hosts hadn't cared much about two dressed-up missionaries eating lunch in their house, they wouldn't have thought twice to mention that we should eat more. By telling us to "make yourselves at home", and "eat just like you would in your own house" (i.e. eat A LOT), they were just telling us how pleased they were that we had come to their home for lunch. Once I realized the sentiment behind the practice, I became much more determined to eat my fill at lunch time. Eating a lot was a form of gratitude for the food they had made (and to be perfectly honest, the food was incredible, so I had no complaints about eating a lot). And, since we didn't have much time in the mornings to eat breakfast, the raging appetite that I had by lunchtime only made being polite even easier.

I don't know how the English act around mealtimes, or what startling cultural practices I may observe while I'm there, I do know that the faster you can learn them, the faster you can fit in among them. The Brazilian people love to speak with their hands, and they have all sorts of signs and gestures that they use to express certain feelings or meanings. What's so funny about it is that only very few Brazilians actually notice it about themselves. After about a year in Sao Paulo, I started memorizing different gestures and their meanings and doing demonstrations at lunchtimes as entertainment. I can remember one family in particular, rolling with laughter at the two dozen or so gestures I had memorized, not just because the signs and gestures were commonly used, but because here was this funny-accented American doing them all. It was a great way to help Brazilians feel like we were, if not one of them, close enough to be very good friends.

That being said, it still feels a little strange walking into London and just finding a place to stay and building up connections and friendships from what will be, essentially, nothing. It's also exciting though, and even though I'll only have three months, hopefully I'll be observant enough to catch on to little nuances that will help me get along well with Londoners while I'm there, and every time I go back and visit :)

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