If there is a connection between cleanliness and public affection, it is being played out on the streets of Brazil. Here people continually exhibit their passion for both rituals.
Brazilians shower twice a day and brush their teeth after every meal, which might be five or six times every day. They power wash their sidewalks and store fronts and keep their homes fastidiously clean and neat, thanks to the powerful hands of the family maids.
In Curitiba, a stroll down the street, at any time on any day, reveals another task-force consisting of hundreds of men (and a few women) employed to sweep the streets by hand. Orange-suited cleanliness heroes pick up trash, fallen leaves, and even scrape weeds from between the cracks of the cobblestone sidewalks.
Likewise, public affection is the everyday norm. Although most often practiced by the young, it is not their exclusive domain. Few couples refrain from a romantic moment: witnessing the likes of rainbows in waterfalls or seaside sunrises.
One night I went to the movies at the local mall and discovered a discount promotion. My wife and I could obtain half-price tickets if we kissed in front of the ticket counter.
I learned discount kissing was a success, as it wasn’t restricted to this one mall. Perhaps movie theaters were assisting in the flowering of new relationships by encouraging the people at the back of the line to enjoy enthusiastic bursts of romance. I’m still wondering if the promotion was endorsed by the Valentine’s Day committee or the numerous chocolate stores.
Along with a heightened awareness of cleanliness, and public displays of romance, there are a few other customs in Brazil I wouldn’t mind seeing in the US. For one, the hotly debated topic of universal health care, which already exists in Brazil, has only recently come to fruition under President Obama, and still faces a fight in the courts from some conservatives. Additionally, Brazil has advanced beyond the US in electronic banking.
I’ve been equally impressed in Curitiba by the regulations regarding recycling. Not only does recycling promote environmental awareness, but it provides valuable income to some of Curitiba’s poorer families.
Recycling is so advanced in Brazil that even cemetery plots are recycled. After several years, the remains of the departed are exhumed and placed in smaller containers above ground, allowing the original plot to be re-used.
I have never seen valuable items sitting on a street corner here waiting for the garbage collector. Americans are fond of replacing household items that are still in working condition because they’ve grown tired of them or they don’t function as well as they used to.
On the other hand, Brazilians recycle, re-use, and repair their old possessions. I had an experience of this firsthand when I came to Brazil with an antique typewriter that belonged to my grandfather.
This typewriter had great sentimental value because it was the only possession I owned of my grandfather’s. It was built in the 1930s and fell into disrepair many years ago.
When I was living in New York City a few years ago, I had searched for a repair shop but couldn’t find a single store that even sold typewriters, nor less repaired them. Had it not been for my grandfather’s memory, I probably would have thrown it away.
Wisely, I elected to bring it with me when I moved to Brazil, where a glance in the phone book provided a list of numerous typewriter repair stores. Today, my proud possession sits in my apartment, well-oiled and functioning, dressed smartly in a new two-color typewriter ribbon. I can’t imagine where the repair shop found a ribbon for this 10-kilo relic of a bygone era of communication.
Despite Brazil’s eagerness to join the fast-paced, replaceable world of advanced nations like the US, there is something to be said for honoring the past. Repairing an old typewriter isn’t so different from taking care of an aging family member.
In Brazil, widows are invited to move in with their grown children while they are given priority on bank and supermarket lines. They ride the buses free, get half-price tickets, and don’t even have to vote.
In the US, senior citizens often end up living alone in nursing homes or retirement villages where they are surrounded by strangers and visited by their families once or twice a year. They never have the opportunity to ride a bus or go to the movies.
Perhaps before Brazilians eagerly embrace the 21st century, dreaming of huge homes and massive cars like they see in Hollywood movies, they might take a moment to appreciate their own country, which has the sound judgment to care for antique typewriters. Maybe they will confess they enjoy watching couples kissing on the movie line, even if it takes a few extra minutes to enter the theater.
Before leaping into the future too quickly, we can stop and admire those who realize there is much to be learned from the past. The advice and experience of history is available to everyone – we need only to slow down and listen carefully to the grandparents and great-grandparents among us.
As with cleanliness and affection, listening takes time. It’s not as effective if you are in a hurry. Like the considerate hands of the artisan who brought new life to my grandfather’s typewriter, the wisdom of the ages is open to those with patience.
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba, Brazil. He can be reached at email@example.com.