Welcome to the Family

The old cliche never seems to lose its power – Blood is thicker than coffee, or water, or wine, or whatever suits your liking, but the meaning is quickly understood. Family/blood ties trump it all.

This was last brought to my attention by my 9-year old nephew (on my wife’s side) when talking about a “family-only issue”  he proclaimed: “Michael (his aunt’s fiancé) is not invited because he’s not part of the family”. Back in January I was the target of this “not-one of us” approach and it still stings.

It’s amazing how this “cosa nostra” feeling permeates the psyche of many people. One of my students planned a trip with her siblings to Italy and loved every single moment and experience with them (all in their 40s and 50s). All spouses were politely excluded because their additions to the family represented only appendices that may come and go. Family stays forever.

Family members only, please
Family members only, please

Maybe because my family was not very united and a little bit atomically disperse, I never shared this feeling of “only family cardholders allowed”. I’ve always felt ready to embrace people from other families, and even wished, heaven forbid, to belong to some other families when growing up. Who hasn’t?

This extends to some nationalistic feelings. Once you’ve been made a citizen of a country with all the same rights as any person born in that country before the law, you may still find yourself stigmatized by someone who claims that only true red, white and blue American-born people are real Americans. This would extend to any number of countries or flag colors.

But it brings me to the Language learning issue of the day: native speakers of English (or any other language for that matter) like to bask in the fact that they were blessed with a mother tongue that no foreigner will ever be able to perfectly replicate.

Whether that feeling is real, or just perceived as real, is not the heart of the matter. Foreigners who need to learn that new language for a thousand different reasons and who apply themselves, will, to a certain degree, accomplish their goal. If they will speak it with or without an accent or the most accurate triple phrasal verb is immaterial if they succeed in conveying the message and being heard, understood and respected.

Embrace the outsider.

Cheers,

Mo

The Elephant in the Manger

Well, … the long-awaited, dreaded, expected Christmas has come and it’s almost gone; already getting ready for 2015. This late afternoon while I’m listening to Christmas carols on Ireland’s RTE1 http://www.rte.ie/radio1 I’m taking a quick balance of this year’s Christmas in Brazil for our families of course. Oh by the way, this morning we listened to a great African Christmas song on RTE1 – you gotta check it out on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pY_7RBn00Es

Well, Christmas eve started off even better than I expected – this year, my brother and sister-in-law decided to join her family in her sister’s home – so there were just the 4 of us – silence and opportunity to talk despite the continuous mumble of the TV (always on – see previous blog on Christmas). The latest news was that a burglar or burglars had climbed up their upstairs front window last Sunday afternoon – while everybody was gathered downstairs, my brother lives in a 2-story house. But thank God neither the burglars came downstairs nor the family went upstairs while they were stealing with their filthy hairy hands any fake or real jewellery, watches, notebook and anything else they thought of value.  Unfortunately their traditionally quiet neighborhood in São Paulo’s Ipiranga area has become a magnet to low-burning crime. IMG_1142

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But I had said that Christmas is all about family in Brazil – I should correct myself – Christmas in Brazil is all about FOOD. My sister-in-law had prepared a wonderful Christmas dinner for us. Lovely!

After dinner, we left at around 9.30pm – as scheduled – to go to my mother-in-law’s where my wife’s family would get together around the Elephant in the manger. Yes, let elephant-in-the-room-audialtempartemme explain: one of her brothers, Paul*, has quite often been cheating on Marilou*, his wife – she knows about it, but is always willing to forgive him. Detail, Paul* has never held a steady job so Marilou* has always been their family’s breadwinner.

This time, Paul has said that he has finally found a woman who understands him and he has decided to leave Marilou. Of course, he has not said it outloud, but whispered the idea to one of his sisters. However, Paul* does not have a place to stay IF and WHEN he leaves home, his dad has already told him he can’t check in at his home. So… last night, did I mention it was Christmas eve? – we got to my mother-in-law’s and Marilou* was there with their son, Tiny Mark*. Where was Paul? “Making company to his divorced dad who was alone” – actually, spending time with his new witch with a capital B. And the elephant continued sitting there right in front of the TV. Of course, Brazilians love their soap opera so Marilou* had to push the elephant a little aside so she could watch the latest episode of the 9pm soap. Presents were exchanged and we left at midnight.

Today we went back for lunch – at my mother-in-law’s – who was there among the family? Paul* – cooking a roastbeef and turkey, Marilou* – sitting with a little drool in the corner of her mouth and Tiny Mark – as a “happy family” – and the elephant? As the main decoration on the table, naturally.

Marilou* had prepared a delicious chocolate and coconut pudding for dessert – but my wife and I decided to pass – even though it looked delicious. But one never knows what one can get out of food prepared in anger, tears, grief, desperation, and a tad of madness.

Anyways, we left at 4pm and returned to our peaceful corner.

Hope you had a great holiday. And ready for the New Year’s celebrations?

Cheers,

Mo

*All names have been changed to protect the elephant in the manger