Thursday, December 14, 2006

Drastic Changes

I have a good childhood friend from Mexico who until recently, lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil for six years. Yesterday I got a holiday card from her, saying that she and her family have moved to Switzerland. Zurich, I believe.
Now, is that a drastic change, or what? I think it must be fascinating to go from the tropical, lush, sexy, disorganized, warm, unsafe, joyful, chaotic life in Brazil, to exactly the opposite; alpine, super regimented and organized, chilly, super safe and super methodical, like a Swiss watch.
She has three young kids and apparently they are adjusting well. They are very cosmopolitan and speak Spanish, Portuguese, English, some French and now they must learn German. All kids should be like that. Her husband works for a big company, and not to diminish his merits, but if you've seen one big company, you've pretty much seen them all.
As for my friend, well, she bemoans two things:
1. She was used to the friendly, helpful culture of Brazil, not to the do-it-yourself culture of the Swiss. This in translation means: No more maids. No more cheap labor.
As I was in Mexico recently, where anybody who can have a maid has two, I was thinking that people who are used to having maids (and this includes myself in my former life) become very lazy, or they expect the maids to do absolutely everything for them, to sometimes ridiculous extremes. Now, I'm sure that is not the case of my friend, who is a very sensible, decent person. This thought crossed my mind the other day, as I was lugging a bunch of very heavy supermarket bags all by myself. In Mexico nobody lugs anything unless they are poor and they are doing it for you.
I imagine that there must be maids in Switzerland but they must be outrageously expensive. I think it's going to be good for her kids and hubby to learn to pick up after themselves, something that many Latin Americans have no concept of. In Mexico, there is even a saying, "maids are the happiness of the home".
2. There are, apparently, a lot of rules in Switzerland. I'm going to have to ask her what they are.
Too many rules can be exasperating.
In Latin America, rules seem to exist so they can be broken; and broken, bent, circumvented, reinvented and ignored they are every single day. Latin America is a marvel of improvisation. When it works, it's called flexibility; when it doesn't, which is often, it's called chaos. I bet that once she vents her frustration at the unbendability of Swiss rules, she may actually enjoy the cleanliness and the order. Say what you will about the Germans, but it is lovely how everything is spic and span and runs on time.
She also sounded relatively astounded that she can send her kids to school alone on the train without fear of losing them to robbers or kidnappers. They can actually walk the streets without fear. That is a concept that is totally unknown to most children south of the border. For children in cities like Mexico or Sao Paulo or Caracas, fear and insecurity are as natural as breathing.
I am very curious as to how my friend eases into such a completely different culture. I'm sure she will miss the warmth of Brazil, not only its weather, but its people.

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