« The Fall Out: Goldman Kidnapping Case | Main | A Brief History of Brazilian Music »

February 02, 2009


Marcio Goncalves

Rachel, Eli's family seems much more intrusive than most brazilian families. Yes, brazilian families are more intrusive than americans in general, but not in this way that you describe.

You should just say no when she comes to clean without permission - just be very polite, but say no. Brazilians don't like to say no but they do understand it.

It seems your boyfriend doesn't know how to say "no" to his mom and you interpret this as a brazilian characteristic. It is not - it's Eli's characteristic.

Bruno Barbaroxa

Hahaha! No, not everyone goes clean houses "just because", but I'm assuming the two of you don't have a maid? In which case, Eli's mom is just being helpful --- in a very no-big-dealish way, as far as I see it. Some families are a little more communal than others, though, and sometimes it does get weird, from my point of view at least. For instance, the "waldorf" kinds of families (you know the type, people who put their kids in Rudolf Steiner schools --- or worse, one of those anarchist, experimental schools, like Ágora) seem to every once in a while gather up to make new furniture. This, to me, like that, done in family and as a family event, is kind of weird.

But the point is: urban Brazilians tend to have, and desperately rely on, someone to take care of their houses. If for some reason you don't have a housemaid --- or if you don't usually call someone to clean your apartment for you --- people will assume they're being nice to come and help. And hey, they are. As for wanting you to eat better, that's a mamma thing, just smile and nod. Also, if you make an effort to learn how to cook those Brazilian dishes her style, she'll be flattered --- but don't expect her to stop cooking for you because you now know how to cook things yourself.

Also. Mind you, if you did have a maid, your in law --- and wherever appliable, your mom too --- would probably be trying to govern your house by proxy, which is also relatively common, and perfectly normal. It's not a universal rule, but it happens with every other family. One of my grandma's is like that, calls the maid, finds out if we have something, or if we're missing something, comes here, fixes the issue, brings along whatever she had in her house that has no use to her anymore. (Real life examples, for the fun of it: a dress that doesn't fit, homemade bread, a Maria Aparecida statue, plastic tupperware, grandpa's shirts,a knife sharpener that she noticed we didn't have and "happened" to buy one extra the other day --- you name it). So there's a whole funny, slightly out-of-control economy behind many Brazilian families.

Bruno Barbaroxa

Márcio: daonde tu é? Em Sampa eu vejo isso com uma boa frequencia, e mais que em Sampa, no Sul, que quase ninguém tem empregada e absolutamente ninguém se mete com a própria sogra, é assim e pontofinal. Lá em Bagé e São Gabriel, que eu tenho família, a regra é isso! :-D Já em Sampa isso é definitivamente comum entre famílias italianas e japonesas, especialmente as de imigração recente. Uma nonna italiana chega a ser --- aí sim eu acho meio invasivo --- bastante explícita sobre a intenção, já entra na casa dizendo "ma guarda questo: che sbrodaccio!", e começa a enumerar coisas num tom bem humorado, mas que te faz se sentir um "mongolo acefalo", além de um "sporco".


yes, I agree with Bruno: here in the South this is fairly common. I have aunts and "grand-aunts" (is it a word?) who'd used to do this to one another and to my grandma on a regular basis. BUT I also agree with Marcio: you should make it explicit that you don't like it, and say "no". they will probably not like it very much, and there's a possibility they'll be talking nasty things behind your back, of course, but what do you prefer: being badmouthed, or having your house invaded?

you know, Rachel, every time you talk about Eli's family here it reminds me of my own extended family, and how I always felt like a gringa my whole life too, even though I was born and raised here, because I simply cannot (and could never) stand this kind of invasion to my privacy that seems to be so pervasive here. hence, I have been regarded as the family's freak from early on. but I don't know, I prefer to go my whole life feeling as a misfit than to actually fit in this crazy Brazilian dynamics. especially because, as a result, no one has ever tried to clean my house in return, heheheeh ;-)


Rachel, I couldn't agree more with Marcio!!
Don't blame the Brazilians in general. This is not a polite, normal thing. This is really invasive.

Bruno e Marcio, o que que é isso?? Nunca vi isso na minha vida! É surreal. Sou do Rio. Será que é algo comum no sul mesmo? Tenho família em Blumenau e nunca percebi coisa igual.
Graças a Deus eu conheço raríssimas donas de casa. E mesmo assim, as poucas que conheço não têm essa ousadia.

Minha sogra é um pouco intrometida, talvez se eu e principalmente meu marido deixássemos ela faria coisa igual. Ela sempre se meteu muito na minha vida e, por exemplo, no meu casamento quis até escolher o vestido que eu deveria usar (!?) e achava minha família distante, mas é que meus pais estavam apenas respeitando meu espaço. Se eu fosse seguir o raciocínio de algumas pessoas que gostam de generalizar, como já vi em outros tópicos sobre a falta de privacidade que a Rachel sofre ocasionalmente, deveria dizer que minha sogra é assim porque ela é mãe judia ou brasileira típica? Eu acho que ela é assim porque é simplesmente mal educada e ponto final.


I must say that this isn't very Brazilian. My grandmother in the netherlands used to do the same with my parents house when she visited. Less than here in brazil maybe. My mother in law does this too and I can't say I mind. It's a mother daughter thing I guess. It would be offending if she sent her maid to do the cleaning. That would be a clear indication of "you should clean more/better".


I'll agree with the other commenters that you can't generalize, your Brazilian family's behavior seems to be more intrusive than the average (a lot more in my experience)... But I do think that Brazilian moms will always try to organize their little baby's house. I can't imagine my mom coming over to visit me without at least trying to check if anything in my apartment needs fixing, organizing etc... But she wouldn't just call me and tell me she would be coming over to clean in spite of any plans I could possibly have for the day. I actually find that my Canadian family is more inclined to inflict me with those "schedule interruptions" than my Brazilian family is.

It probably just happens that you're there with her son, she would do the same thing regardless of your presence or how well kept your place may be. I'd be annoyed too if I were in your shoes, I'm not trying to justify what your mother in law is doing in any way.

alex castro

rachel, a questao nao eh de brasilidade ou nao, mas de boundaries. minha mae tb adoraria q eu deixasse ela fazer isso, mas eu nao deixo. imagina! é um absurdo! mesmo se TODOS os brasileiros fizessem isso, eu nao deixaria minha mae avisar que está aparecendo pra limpar. Completely unnaceptable. Vcs dois é que tem que conversar sobre boundaries com essa familia, dizer o que pode e o que nao pode. Agora, eu morando nos EUA, estou subletting o apt da minha mae no Rio: o nome no lease é dela, mas quem mora lá sou eu, e o apt fica vazio 7 meses por ano. Como está no nome dela, ela tem a chave, mas é a MINHA casa. Quando soube pelos porteiros e pelos vizinhos que ela ficava indo lá sempre, sem eu pedir e sem me avisar, eu simplesmente troquei a fechadura e paciencia. Ela ficou ofendidissima mas e daí? Eu não posso morar fora e ter alguem entrando e saindo da minha casa o tempo todo. Agora, meu pai tem a chave. Que eu saiba ele só entrou lá uma única vez, quando houve uma inundacao e eu *pedi* pra ele ir e me ajudar a resolver.

Ou seja, essa questao nao tem nada a ver com choque cultural mas sim com vc e o Eli nao estarem sabendo set boundaries.


Rachel, there's somebody cleaning your house for free. Enjoy it! I don't know any brazilian woman who does that. I should be so lucky! The urges to eat more, I'm more familiar with, but that does irritate me a little.


This happens in India lot too, it can eb ahrd to get used to if you grow up in the States.


I totally agree with Marcio. This is not a Brazilian standard behavior and since Rachel's posts about their trip to Região dos Lagos I've been wandering if Eli is so used to his relatives excentricities that he doesn't see it can be very annoying for anyone out of the family.
I'm carioca, I've lived some years in São Paulo and my husband is from Porto Alegre. I've never seen this in my life -- Mom and Dad and Sis showing up on Saturday morning to clean up the house and make lunch? Dad invading my room to film me and my girlfriend asleep? Come on! I would be mad at anyone who did things like that!


Wow! I wish so much my mother-in-law could come up and clean and cook sometimes hahahaha! But, speaking seriously...some people commented that it is common, and you said that you don't feel alone when you talk to other gringas...and I am really not saying that any of you are lying, but maybe the cultural differences in different regions of Brazil are way bigger than I though!
This is definetely not a "Brazilian" thing in my opinion...at least never in my family. And I agree with Eliane. This is not a Brazilian thing to open a couple's room without advice like your father-in-law did. Don't think that it is just a culture thing and you have to accept. I would never accept my father-in-law opening our bedroom door or my mother in law replacing things in my own house. Seems like Eli's family is very intrusive, and I would have a conversation about it as soon as possible!

Rio Gringa

I made a point of NOT generalizing about this, but rather saying I know it's not a unique case and that it represents, although in the extreme, the liberties Brazilian families take with family members compared to ones Americans would.


my mom comes from an italian family from the south of brazil, but i never heard something about this "cleaning mom" before.
actually my mother in law is an italian as well, but she or my mom would never come to our house to clean it or even to cook something for us, but sometimes i hear some stories about "sogras intrometidas".
fortunately, my mom and my mother in law mind only their own business.


You may not mean to generalize Rachel, but in quite a few of your posts readers have been feeling like you did generalize to an extent. When you say something like "Family ties in Brazil are much different than in the States, and this includes taking certain liberties with relatives", this does imply a certain generalization of the overall family behavior in Brazil. On the other hand it would be quite impossible to write anything and avoid generalizing at all, so this isn't really a fault.

Anyway, I don't think that we are trying to attack you, we're just trying to emphasize that this seems to be a particular case, probably because no one wants to think that their families are (even remotely) like that! hehe


My WASP mother would come over to clean my house every other weekend, and my Italian-American mother-in-law invited us over for dinner twice a week and made us take home leftovers. I don't think it's a Brazilian thing so much as a mother-who-has-no-other-identity thing. These women spend decades of their lives being mothers, taking care of another person, and when that person leaves, it's like they've lost their purpose. It makes them feel useful to contribute to their children's household in some way. I liken it to if I lost the use of my hands and couldn't write anymore. I'd feel empty, and my life wouldn't have as much meaning.

HOWEVER, I think this is more common in Brazil because for cultural reasons, motherhood is viewed differently in the US and in Brazil. While American mothers, for the most part, are expected to have something else going on in their lives besides being scrapbooking mommies, it seems to be expected that motherhood for a Brazilian woman will become all-encompassing. Like on Orkut, there are tons of communities for "I dream of being a mom," "I want to be a mom," "I love to be a mom," etc. and with tons of members, but on Facebook, you're not going to really see that as much. So, I do think (oh, God, I know, generalization ahead) that motherhood is wrapped up in a Brazilian woman's identity far more than in the US, which can lead to major invasions of privacy.


Jen, I do agree with you but in the USA it's much more common for a woman to be a housewife than in Brazil, isn't it? In my group of friends, almost everyone's mom works full time (which is usual since most middle class people can afford maids, nannies, etc) while in the US it's quite common for women to be housewives since it's not as easy to pay for help.


....Everybody loves Raymond!

Ring any bells?


In the northeast, I never heard of such a thing. Don't know of any mother-in-law (or any family member) that invades anybody's space and privacy like that. Also, cleaning up is not really a middle class, upper class kind of thing. Not very "chic", you know, because most of those people have maids to do that. But since you said she "vaccuumed" herself, which is definetely not a lower class thing( people are more likely to be seen sweeping or mopping), but not upper class either(although she used a vacuum), I am wondering in which group she is.


What is happening is not because they are typically brazilian but because you are a gringa that is allowing them to do what they want. A brazilian girl will never allow such behavior from their "in law". Outrageous.

Eduardo Sant'Anna

I think this is the typical stereotyped mother-in-law stories that every comedian in every country talks about.

"Everybody loves Raymond" is a great example, but many sketches from "Casseta e Planeta" and others would show similar situation.

Unfortunatelly I think you missed the chance to stop these things right in the begining because you were still trying to figure out if this is a Brazilian thing or not. Good luck now trying to draw the line.

Eli is really to blame for a major part of the problem. However, I'm pretty sure he doesn't even realize this is a problem, because the family has always been like that with him (and he's ok with it). What he has to realize is that he's living with you now, not them.

And worse... maybe HE (wrongly) thinks it's a "normal brazilian family thing". Then you are really in trouble. :-S


After being in NY for so long, and seen the hygiene standards here, I gotta tell you, maybe she just heard about how you guys (americans) are. I'm no Martha Stewart, don't get me wrong, but the apartments of the americans I've know throughout my time here, are not clean enough, not even to my standards.

isabel hummel

Hey Rachel, I came across your blog and I love it. It's so weird to see through your point of view. I lived in Rio for 20 years and never saw how you do... it makes me miss my country.

Gisele Moura

I agree with many of their comments that say that it is not a Brazilian´s thing. Maybe she don´t have nothing more interesting to do, or want to keepping protecting the little baby. I don´t know. But it is a case to say no to her. A BIG FAT NO.

I am Brazilian, also carioca, and I had lived in Brasilia for a long time with my parest and also alone my parents only come to see me when invited . Now I live in Austria now, and I have the same problem as you. The problem is that my man is a little bit sexist. Althoug he does not admmit. I had said her mother NO thousand times but she pretends not hearing. So I let her doing te things alone. An the best thing is that she never do on my Brazilian cleaning standard, after she goes I must do the thing again. So it is annoying me more. And there are time she is too atacked that she tells me what should I do. Nobody deserves it. And it is the reason of many discussions here. So please say NO to her. Politelly but say it. And that the house is yours and you need some one to do this service you do or pay for it. And in the same time she will have time to clean her house or go to the hair stylist!!! In my blog under the tag Sogrinha I have many stories about this. Anyway I could have fun with her cleaning syndrome. Good Luck!


Hi! As a carioca and someone that has its own small family (husband and daughter), I think it's a mistake to allow that kind of "intervention". This topic is not about cultural differences, it's all about privacy. So if you are not satisfied with all this "help", make it clear from the very beginning. After some time, you will start thinking that you are not good enough to take care of your own home. Or (which is worst)you are going to start hating them. Make them happy accepting some help sometimes, and that's it. Regarding the cleaning subject, after living 3 years in Toronto, I do miss the Brazilian way to clean stuff. I'm not a limpeza-freak, but here people just don't mind if it's clean or dirty. When my neighbors come over, they always praise me about the way my house is, and I have the feeling that I did a good job...:)Kisses to you and good luck with your in-laws!!!

The comments to this entry are closed.