Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A little note on Brazilian Mother in Laws

So I forgot a very simple Brazilian Mother in Law rule last night. My MIL called to ask if I wanted her to come stay with me these last couple of days Daniel is away.  I told her of course but if she didn´t want to or had things to do, she should feel obligated.

Wrong answer!  The right thing would have been to insist that she comes. She will question you 3 times and you must insist 3 times! That´s the game people. 

It´s really quite funny and I know I´ve offended my poor MIL a couple of times because I´m not very good at games, even in English. But it´s a cultural fact here. It´s the daughter/son in law´s job to make the MIL feel wanted. 

And don´t get me wrong, I´d love for her to stay here for a couple of days. I mean, we´re talking good company and help with the kids.  At the same time, I´m fine and I don´t want her to stay because she feels obligated but to stay because she wants to.

That is wrong as well.  It´s not bad to be obligated in Brazil.  You are supposed to be obligated. You are obligated to help the MIL, the Grandma, the Aunt, the Uncle, the Cousin, the Cousin´s boyfriend, the Cousin´s boyfriend´s doorman, the Cousin´s boyfriend´s doorman´s cousin... you get the picture.

It´s the beauty of Brazil and it´s best not to rock the boat doing what our culture considers polite, denying help. No no no, here you accept help with open arms and a big old kiss. 

I know I just did!


  1. I never understood all those cranky and crass mother-in-law jokes rude men always tell until I moved here. Now I get it -- but I still do not find them funny.

    I want to feel the love, really I do. It's just that there is so little air left in the room for independent breaths.

    It sounds like you hve struck a nice balance with your Brazilian MIL. I am still pretending I don't understand Portuguese so I can minimize contact.

    Don't get me started. But I appreciate the chance to vent a bit on your blog -- since speaking smack about my mother in law is against the rules on my blog!

    [My history with my mother was such that she regected me for 5 full years when I first came out. So we spoke hardly at all for a decade. I saw her in person perhaps three times in seven years. She would never call me by phone. This story BLOWS THE MINDS of any Brazilians I tell. It is unfathomable to go longer than a few days without face time with mom here -- Culture casm.]

  2. Not talk to their child, especially a son! Forget about it. They´d only be too lucky if mother isn´t pleased. A Brazilian Mom would call 3 times a day to cry or yell if they were upset lol. My brother in law stopped talking to his mom for a week and I thought she was going die.

    I have struck a balance... but it can be temperamental sometimes and it took years.

  3. LOL!!! You guys are hilarious! Never thought about this but it's so true! For the past 12 years I'm been eating "pudim de leite condensado" with grated cheese (!!!). Yes, it sucks, bc I can never refuse it as it would hurt my GIL. First time my SIL's boyfriend ate it he did not hesitate to make a horrible face and say YUCK! out loud, fololwed by "This is disgusting". I thanked him for freeing me from the horrible pudim com queijo ralado and never forced myself to eat that crap again. But I think it's even more complicated than that, bc with everyone, not only MILs, you kind of have to guess if the person is offering out of mere politeness or if she really wants to help but is expecting the "confetes" first. Mine is still a mystery to me. Heck, my mom is a mystery to me, when I think I'm taking the load out of her shoulders bc she's been complianing for a whole hour, she gets mad bc she really wanted to keep the kid. Go figure. Good luck to you guys. My MIL is happy and sad, willing and unavailable, with the same expression on her same and same inflexion on her tone of voice. Must have hurt her a thousand times, but I kinda gave up on the guessing, it tires me. Now I ask, if she says yes, I go for it, if she says no, I go for it just as well, no further trying to understand. Gladly she's one that hardly ever says no (probably out of manners) and is very forgiving with my lack of sensitiveness.
    Jim, I also restrict contact to minimum necessary, just to prevent trouble. But then, like last night, husband was on the phone with a grandma, a sister and his mom and I was sitting besides him on the couch. At the end of the call I got one: my mom, grandma and sister sent you a kiss... (3 dots meaning: and you sent nothing). Like an invisible slap on the face. I asked him if he sent my kisses back (which I knew he didn't bc I was sitting right there), bc for the record, I always, every single time, return those truly sincere kisses, so I don't have to mention it everytime, he should return them on my behalf automatically. No, "simpatia" is not my strong feature.

  4. My MIL is not Brazilian (she's Mexican) but I'm finding from living here that I understand her so much more now. Similarities abound.

    I do struggle with accidentally offending those who offer help. Still. I seriously offended a waiter once, when he offered two put two chairs together to make a bassinet for my sleeping boy. The boy would, I knew, wake up the second I tried to lay him down, so I declined the offer. He insisted. I realized this was not something I could turn down, accepted the offer, and dealt with the waiter's smug stare every time he passed my peacefully sleeping child the rest of the meal. Brat picked that moment to change his habits, LOL!~ (kidding; he's not a brat).

    Last night I did it again, helping/doing something for myself that someone wanted to help with. Ugh. I can never get it right.

    I will count my blessings that it's not my MIL and that she lives back home in the US so my chances of offending her are much, much fewer these days.

  5. As an American born and raised woman, I am quite happy and used to being independent and self sufficient. I'm used to the supermom role. I'm used to having to juggle kids/job/pets/cooking/cleaning/laundry/shopping, etc. all by myself...I'm used to offering my mother help after meals only to be told she didn't need my help and to go sit down and enjoy my coffee. So after I married a Brazilian and moved to Brazil can you guess what my first mistake with my MIL was? Well, since I couldn't speak Portuguese at the time and she didn't speak English...I skipped the whole asking to help routine figuring my husband would tell me I should help if it was customary...which he did AFTER my MIL got upset and accused me of being lazy. Me...lazy...that is something I never thought I'd be accused of in this lifetime.

    In retrospect I find the whole incidence somewhat amusing when I think of all the times she tells me to go sit down. Oh wait...am I not supposed to go sit down?...yeah, I certainly don't have the Brazilian MIL thing down yet, but at least I do know if she doesn't call she's most likely offended by something I may or may not have done.