As a little girl, I envied classmates who could trace back their families for generations. The blond with silky long braids lived in a brick house that had been in her family for centuries. She boasted that it was haunted. I would sit at my small wooden desk, chin braced against my palm, and wonder how one person could get so lucky!

All I wanted was to claim a little history of my own... a little American history that is. I could care less about the Portuguese folklore and traditions and festivals. I wanted none of that heritage... what with the shiny shoes, the statues of Mary, the funny food, the heavy red capes worn in processions. I longed for silver tea sets and Pilgrim ancestors, yellowed charters and a past with a lurid tale of passage to the new land on the Mayflower.

Sometime around puberty, I got over it. I had more important things on the brain like boys, cars, parties and getting into college and far, far away from my small-town life in Massachusetts.

One of my colleagues is dating a Portuguese boy. She's meeting his family for the first time and popped into my office for some advice. I called an old friend, put her on speakerphone, and we proceeded to give this poor girl some advice.

Advice like:

  1. Pay lots of attention to the grandmother. She is key to getting in good with the family.
  2. Don't be startled by the shouting and yelling. This is a typical conversation. Get used to it.
  3. The family is close. Trust me - I moved 500 miles away and they STILL manage to know whether I'm having a good day or bad.
  4. The green soup? Go ahead, try it. It's good.
  5. Do not mention that you're an independent, educated, Americana. Instead focus on that time you spent in Portugal when you backpacked through Europe after college.
  6. Better to save all public displays of affection til you're out of eyeshot of the family.
  7. What? You're Episcopalian? Even if his family isn't religious, they're Catholic. Here, tuck these rosary beads into your coat pocket.
  8. When the guys start talking football, they mean futbol - as in Benfica, not the Superbowl.
  9. Better arrive on an empty stomach. Be prepared to consume enormous amounts of food. You don't want to mortally offend your hosts.
  10. When in doubt, smile, nod and keep quiet.

Part II of roots to come tomorrow.

Do you have any quirks that are peculiar to your family or culture?


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