One of the things that this trip has highlighted — I’ve now been in the US for 30 years, and functionally, although with some “window” into Portuguese culture, I’m now American. But there is that window.
This means I spent a lot of time in this visit telling my kids/husband stuff like “no, you can’t do that/ask that” and when they say “why not?” I say “because it would be a social solecism, and I can’t explain why to you.”
I run into this in a lot of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. In modern regency romances, when you say “she did something unforgivable” it usually is something that you can understand, like sleeping with some guy she’s not married to or showing up naked, or something. But if I understand Jane Austen and her contemporaries, you could end up disgraced and essentially exhiled for doing much less. A question that none of us now would dream of not asking. A refusal to show up some expected place. wearing the wrong color dress. It wasn’t and isn’t clear to us because the books were written for people in the same culture the writer came from and to them it was invisible.
That is one of the characteristics of culture: it is invisible to those who are in it. It is just “logic” or “common sense.”
I remember, kind of, the bumps in a road in coming from a culture where things were assumed to be much different. Of course, the ones I really remember are not the real ones. Well, not the big ones. I remember being shocked two aspirin at once don’t kill you, and neither does drinking water at meals (there is a list of things you can’t drink water with and its extensive, and because in Portugal most people drink wine with dinner, I guess no one ever tested if you die of drinking cold water over melon, for instance. But I believed it implicitly, and it was a shock.) Everyone knows, also, that cold “currents of air” can kill you (so did your ancestors) so even in a stifling hot summer day, you can’t have a fan pointed at you (this makes a huge difference in comfort, particularly at night.)
But there are nuances I never noticed, but my son did. “If you open a door for a woman, she’ll almost hit you, and it’s not feminism, it’s that you’re shilly shallying and not going through. The possibility you’re opening the door for her and don’t mean to go through first, as is your right, never occurs to her.”
This ties in with two things: first, Portuguese culture is a culture in a hurry. “Ser despachado” more or less translated as “doing things fast” is highly valued, even if you objectively don’t know what you’re doing. Or as my brother used to put it when I was young, “Shove in, and let the ships fall where they may.”
The other thing is sexism so bone-deep that even women who call themselves feminist don’t see it in every day life. It’s the assumptions that get you, like, of course, the woman will tend to the table/guests at any time, no matter what her real job is, or her husband’s.
I’m not running Portuguese and Portugal down, mind. It is what it is. And four centuries of moorish occupation left a mark in the culture.
I’m here to say when people squawk about “race” half the time (or more) what they’re actually talking about is culture.
But is it bred in the bone? I doubt it. All countries that came from Rome have certain dysfunctions (particularly where it pertains to government,) EVEN (particularly) France. And yet, they have no shortage of blue eyed blonds.
In fact were it race (which in Europe often amounts to nationality) the demarcation lines wouldn’t be clean. As I joke with Jason Cordova, whose ancestors come from a little village across the border from the one where some of my ancestors lived “We’re probably tenth cousins several times over.” But you can look at borders and see the culture, sharply, not gradually (like the US and Mexico border.)
Because it’s culture.
All countries occupied by the moors have the same dysfunctions. And yet you can see, by the look of people, etc, that it’s not a matter of how much they interbred but of how the culture was affected. For instance in the North there were only really Berber overseers and very few colonists, and yet until very recently Portuguese women covered their heads with a scarf after marriage, even though there was no religious reason for it, just a vague idea uncovered heads in married women were “indecent.”
The problem with culture is that it’s really hard to change en masse. Individuals can change their culture if they really want to, and really, really try. It’s not the same to change an entire culture, though. There is (sort of) a proven way of doing this: kill everyone over three years of age, and teach the kids to despise their own culture for that of the invaders. It sort of work, except it only takes one story, one “epic hero” to raise a rebellion 20 years later.
Cultures might as well be organic, bred in the bone, unless people are convinced to change. They’ve been trying to convince us to change for four generations — our very own invaders — and yet we still resist.
Immigrants, absorbed by a larger and confident culture can and do change. At least mostly. For others absorption is chancy and might take generations.
When the Western World takes it upon itself to import wholesale members of a dysfunctional culture whom local prejudices forbid being scolded, much less punished or made to integrate, the result is … what we’ve been witnessing across Europe.
That saying this is frowned upon as “racism” just shows how far the invading anti-western ideology has gotten.
And yet it’s true, and it must be said.