Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rio de Janeiro: A City Full of Advice

This is a city where people care. They care in a way that makes you sometimes want to run away screaming.  But you learn a lot with all this unwanted, but adored, advise.

Today I was scolded because my long legged toddler's feet were somewhere near the ground while sitting in his stroller. Shocker.  I was told I should do something about that because he was going to hurt himself. Being tired and cranky I just mumbled, rather loudly, in English and went about my way. His feet were a decent distance from the ground and no where near the tires! What was I supposed to do, cut them off?

What did I learn from this? I learned it's best to smile and speak in English when people are being overly anal.

That got me thinking about some other life lessons I've been taught by nosy-ish people on the street.

When my oldest was a baby, I would take him out for morning and evening walks to avoid the summer heat. I was constantly harassed for two things: 1. taking my son out in the heat and 2. not putting socks on him.  It made me wonder: if it's too hot to take him out, does he really need socks?

I learned that you can apparently get frostbite on your toes at the same time as heatstroke.  Only in Rio de Janeiro.

This last experience was rather charming. I was walking with my two boys to the pool one morning and a man selling globo in the middle of the street yelled to me. I turned a little warily. In my experience, these guys aren't usually complimenting my shoes, if you know what I mean.  But he surprised me by calling over "Miss, it's very hot today! Make sure you give your boys A LOT of water. They need a lot of water on a day like this!"

I learned that water is good and that most advice is actually coming out of concern. It was very sweet of him to make the effort.

I could go on and on but I think I'd start to sound cynical and I'm make some of my dear Brazilians sound a little crazy.  What experiences of unasked advice have you had? Which ones have stuck with you?


  1. An old lady tried to convince me to put a plastic shopping bag on my toddler's head when it was raining! Now, I had always thought that plastic bags and small children do not mix - but here in Rio a little bit of rain is a far greater worry than the risk of suffocation!!

  2. I was scolded by what I guess was a well-meaning woman once for giving my 4 month old ONLY breastmilk and no solids. I tried to explain that it is recommended to breastfeed exclusively until 6 months before introducing food and that even his Brasilian pediatrician had recommended this, but no, I was wrong, wrong wrong in her mind and she was quite comfortable in telling me so in front of a lot of bystanders, I was almost in tears. After many of these types of encounters when my son was young, I decided best to play dumb and pretend I didn't speak Portuguese...saved me some stress.

  3. Oh one more thing I thought of that Sarah's comment reminded me of...when my son was between 6mos and 2 years, it seemed like everyone around me thought that having balloons around for him to play with was absolutely fine. I informed my husband that it is one of the top choking hazards and that absolutely no balloons were to be allowed into our house or around our son as a type of play toy, no way! He, along with several others, said in a sort of resigned way "uh, ok...whatever you say" ...you crazy, paranoid, sleep deprived freak who is denying her child of balloon fun.

  4. Rachel,

    Reading this post reminds me that these things don't happen in Sao Paulo and I am starting to undertands why other Brazilians usually call us "cold"...I like to think we are reserved...a little bit more individualistic if I may...but not cold, come on, we are not cold, we just mind our own business more than most people ;)


  5. My husband's aunt gave my oldest a plastic bag to play with when he was about 6 months old. I was like, Uh NO! and took it away. I was deemed overbearing from that moment on.

    And Stephanie, I did the same thing with balloons. For years they could not come into my house. I still hate them in the house. They should be left at the party!

    Ray, I think it's because you guys drive everywhere and we walk. I'm sure Paulistas are just as sweet at heart.

  6. Ahhh I think everyone has gone through this at one point or another. When my son was a baby, people would tell me that he needed to wear a hat,, even though I live in Miami and it was like 100 degrees outside and I had just taken it off because he was sweating! oh well, I used to just smile and say thank you. what else could I do..

    Cute post. I'm a new follower.

  7. The Brazilians and Serbians have a lot in common (who knew?). My husband's family demanded that I not leave the house with my baby for the first six MONTHS of his life. One aunt also suggested that I carry him around on a pillow (like a wedding ring going down the aisle) and have him swaddled in 2 blankets at all times. Granted, we live in Canada, but this was August. Gotta love the well-meaning, and totally wackadoo, advice!

  8. Not to contradict Ray, and maybe he means just in the city of SP, but I've had a few experiences here.

    One, the gardener at our apartment who *every.single.time* I took the boys to the pool would hover over the littlest and make sure I sat right.next.to him. so he wouldn't drown. In the 15 inches of water he was walking in.

    I was never able to convince the gardener that my boy was okay, even once we bought him an actual life jacket and he started swimming in the big pool. Oh well.

    Also the time it was NOT raining when I left my apartment, on the 10th floor, to walk my boys the single block to their Portuguese class. But then it was POURING by the time we got downstairs and exited the gate. Nothing to do but run the block, and by the time we arrived at the school, the maid crossed the street with an umbrella to escort us the rest of the way and physically dried off the boys with a towel before letting them go to class. I got tons of bad mom scolding for that one. Oh well.

    But, yes, I got tons of crazy advice even in the US. It's a problem the world over, really.

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  10. I used to get a lot of "advice" back in SP too; having lived in London and married to a Brit, I didn't see the point of putting on hat, mitts and jacket on my toddler when the weather was between 20 and 23C, a sweater would do... apparently not. Oh and socks for babies/toddlers were de-rigueur too no matter the temperature.
    Then here in Rio I was taking pictures of my toddler jumping in puddles at the park and 2 women actually came to me and informed me that my kid was jumping in puddles - I'm pretty sure they thought I was some blind modern photographer and was unaware of the situation.
    But my favourite was the old lady who was pushing sweets on my girl after she fell and scraped her knee, she insisted my kid needed sugar (which was probably the cause for her hyperactivity and hence the fall), and really wanted to get her to have some sugar-free menthol lozenges. No comment.

  11. "advice" isnt so overwhelming here. My family are all control freaks so we cant call it advice.

    No one speaks to each other on the street. No hi, nothing nothing. I am dying for some advice that I could smile and say something in English. Sometimes is seems as bad as the U.S. here, everyone is walking zombies.

    Dont worry Rachel, I´m next in line for the overbearing label. Its just the culture difference, your not really overbearing. Really its a word that was created. Its all relative.

  12. hahaha, you guys are making me laugh so hard with your experiences!

    Nina, you are lucky ;) And you are all right, I think it does happen all over the world. OF course, I think Brazilians have the corner on this one

  13. I have a good one- The other day a Brazilian friend of mine told me that when I schedule my C-section to write down what else I want the surgeon to do that way I come out of the hospital perfect. Then she told me put down a tiny piece of chocolate I picked up :) I didn't have the heart to tell her that I wouldn't be scheduling a C-section and that the tiny piece of chocolate was probably the only form of caffeine I had in a long time. I know for sure that if I was back in the US I would have so other story to tell about random pregnancy advice. Everyone has an opinion these days :)


  14. I know I'm commenting months after the fact... but this post reminded me of some helpful advice I received here in Salvador:

    I was walking home from work at around 3 PM; the sun was strong and it was hot, so I decided to get an ice cream cone along the way. Since I dislike walking while eating, I stopped momentarily to hang out in the shade and eat my ice cream.

    This random guy comes up to me and goes, “You shouldn’t eat lots of sweets, it’s bad for you.”

    “Excuse me?” I reply.

    “Sweets,” he says. “You know: cake, ice cream, candy – it’s unhealthy.”


    “It all goes right into your bloodstream. Have you ever taken a blood sugar test?”

    “No,” I say.

    “Well, you should,” he announces, then continues to stare at me, smiling.

    ...not sure what the socially acceptable response was, so I just shook my head and walked away. Was he a doctor? Was he attempting to hit on me? Was he just offering helpful advice? I'll never know.