Now that I’ve been promoting Quirkyalone in the Brazilian press, the question of aloneness has come up several times, as reporters and I wonder to each other, why is aloneness so threatening in Brazilian culture? They’re asking me the question, too, it’s as if both of us are curious.
I’ve actually found it fine to travel alone in Brazil-partially because people are so friendly. But it’s clear that a woman alone is odder here in Brazil than she is in the US. Being alone still sets off alarm bells.
The more time I spend here and get to know people better, the more that the resistance to being alone seems rooted in the centrality of the family. (As a side but related note, I have never seen witness such mother love as last Sunday, Dia Das Maes, Mother’s Day. I met people who traveled two and a half hours by plane to see their mothers and the advertising was just over the top–My Mother, My Life.)
My friend Josemando, who is from Recife, in the Northeast, tells me that in his family’s home, no one family ever knocks on his door when they enter his room. The concept of personal space in a family home does not exist. I can’t even imagine never being alone in that way and the doors being so permeable. My parents and siblings generally knock. I knock too, if memory serves, though my mother does rightfully accuse me of stealing some of her clothes when I’m home without asking. In general, I grew up in a household where I could retreat into my own little world in my bedroom, and I could count on being alone.
My body is accustomed to the silence of privacy, to knowing that I can lie down uninterrupted. I just read a book called Three Junes in which a Greek character said the word privacy did not exist in his language. I’m not sure that’s true, but certainly the desire for privacy is cultural. I am not sure that my dependence on quiet is the best thing in the world for my happiness. Being an atomized individual, a free radical let loose in the world, can be unsettling and many times during my travels I have craved a companion to help me figure things out. The human touch of another person can be very emotionally stabilizing. Talking things through with others helps.
Brazilians are famously “alegre”–joyful. And I wonder if part of that joy is rooted in the fact that they are so rarely alone. Perhaps if you are never alone, you never have to think too deeply, and perhaps thinking a lot when you are alone can also get you into trouble.
I can’t help but wonder if Brazil will march toward a more quirkyalone future as more women become economically independent and marry later in life. Will the family continue to be as strong here when women have other options? Will that tight-knit bond continue if more women and men could afford to live on their own? (It’s more common than not for Brazilian adult children to live with their parents until they marry. (Thus the omnipresent love motels.)
There’s something very sweet about the closeness people feel in their families here. I envy it. If you like your family, and get along well with them (that’s a BIG if), why not continue to live together? It’s certainly easier to have built-in babysitters. Maybe it really adds up to a happier life. But at the same time I don’t envy the lack of freedom. I like the fact that I can choose to live apart from my family and can’t imagine never having left my hometown.
A Brazilian just peered his head into my room to ask me a question and it startled me. I was in my own little bubble of solitude that I like to construct every so often. It bothered me that he popped in without knocking, but it bothers me that it bothers me. I would like to be a little more flexible; I wonder, what will it be like if/when I become a mother? At the same time the extreme extroversion of RIo makes me crave solitude even more. When I’m alone, that’s when answers come to me. Things settle inside and I start to feel like myself again after being jostled around on a bus or at a party. The recipe for happiness must be individual to every person and be influenced by the cultures in which we were raised. For me, I can’t imagine living without some quiet and solitude.
And why being alone more foreign in Brazil than in my world. . . well, these are just the beginnings of my theories. I’m very open to others! I like being alone, and I also like thinking with others.
Sasha– I remember this Brasilian fear of aloneness very well. The times that Daniel traveled and I was alone, I was relieved to have some alone time. But people wouldn’t leave me alone! To them, being alone was the worst thing that could happen to you. I also need my alone-time to collect my thoughts, and was amazed how Brasilians not only didn’t need alone time but seemed to fear it like the plague!