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.
- Pay lots of attention to the grandmother. She is key to getting in good with the family.
- Don't be startled by the shouting and yelling. This is a typical conversation. Get used to it.
- 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.
- The green soup? Go ahead, try it. It's good.
- 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.
- Better to save all public displays of affection til you're out of eyeshot of the family.
- What? You're Episcopalian? Even if his family isn't religious, they're Catholic. Here, tuck these rosary beads into your coat pocket.
- When the guys start talking football, they mean futbol - as in Benfica, not the Superbowl.
- Better arrive on an empty stomach. Be prepared to consume enormous amounts of food. You don't want to mortally offend your hosts.
- 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?