So remember how I told you guys about all the changes to the apartment?
Well, they're pretty much done! Fun new apartment!
After the electrician left on Saturday afternoon, I tidied up (as Nanny would say), sweeping up the dust piles he made after mounting the TV on the bedroom wall and things like that. Then, because I wanted to procrastinate on work, I decided to do some spring cleaning-- the detailed stuff.
You may remember that, when we moved in, we invented The Closet of Forgetting-- the closet in the second bedroom (which I use as my classroom) that we just throw everything in that we don't want to look at or think about but don't want to throw away. Some more rational members of The Closet of Forgetting include winter coats, suitcases, and extra towels. But there are also some drawers that were filled with all kinds of junk. (If you're confused about why a closet has drawers, it's because it's not really a closet, in the American sense of the word. I guess the best English (well, really French) word for what we have is armoire, but The Armoire of Forgetting isn't as funny.)
Anyhoo, back to the junk drawers. A lot of the stuff was Alexandre's (old maps of Argentina, an electric toothbrush (gross), a TON of CDs, clothes that a certain someone hopes to one day fit into again...), so I decided to just take the drawers out of their hiding place (effectively Unforgetting them) and bringing them to the living room for proper inspection.
Yesterday, I insisted that Alexandre and I go through the drawers together and get rid of stuff. It went a little like this:
I was sitting on the floor with the drawers. Alexandre was laid on the couch a couple of feet away, evaluating from a distance.
I pull out an old computer mouse, so old that it doesn't have a USB plug, but instead one of those green mouse-specific plugs.
"Does this work?" I ask.
"I don't know," he replies. "We can't test it on our computers because it's too old."
"Ok, then let's throw it out." I decide to add it to the trash pile, which already includes things like broken burned CDs and expired electronics warranties in Spanish.
"No!" Alexandre sits up on the couch and takes notice. "You can't throw that away! What if it works? You can't just throw away a perfectly good mouse. Let's give it to Sonya." (Sonya is our maid.)
"I can offer it to her, but if she has a computer that has this kind of mouse, she can't be using it without one!"
I create a new "Sonya" pile and move on to the next item: one of those clunky original Nokia cell phones with no charger and no battery, circa 2001.
"Do you know where the battery and charger are for this?" I ask.
"Ok, trash pile."
"No!" Alexandre sticks his hand out to take the phone from me. "Maybe we'll need it one day!"
"Are you going to go out and find and buy a battery and charger for this?" I ask. "Do you even know where you could, besides eBay?"
Alexandre gives me a cute pouty face. "Maybe."
"No you're not."
Alexandre muses over the phone affectionately. "Ok." He chucks it to the trash pile.
Next item in the pile: A kangroo-shaped business-card holder from Australia. One of Alexandre's mother's friends went to Australia. She bought it for Alexandre's mom. In an attempt to avoid throwing things away, she passed it on to him. (I can see where the habit comes from.)
"Do you ever plan to use this?" I ask.
"Haha. It's so tacky," he chuckles.
"You don't even have business cards," I say, "and won't for at least another 5 years. Maybe 10. I don't want to carry this thing around with us for 10 years."
I start to throw it to the trash pile.
"No no! It's nice! It might have been expensive. Give it to Sonya."
"What is Sonya gonna do with a kangaroo business card holder?"
"Maybe she won't know that it's a business card holder, but she'll like the kangaroo!"
This led to a debate about whether or not it was offensive to just pawn unwanted things off to the maid all the time. "Oh, I was gonna throw this away, but then I thought of you..."
I say it is, and the giving should be reserved for things that may actually have value for her. (For example, we also unearthed an old and basic but working MP3 player in one of the Drawers of Forgetting. I got a new one for Alexandre for Christmas, so he doesn't use this one anymore. The maid has a 16-year-old daughter-- this is something she would actually like.) Alexandre says it's not offensive. Thoughts?
While we each made our cases for the fate of the rest of the items in the Drawers of Forgetting (my case usually being "toss it out" and Alexandre's case usually being "Keep it, you never know!"), we discussed the differences between our respective countries. (And when I say "discussed" I mean Alexandre said things like "you Americans are so wasteful, you just throw things away and buy new ones all the time. That's why your poor people are fodas [exactly how he formed this phrase and intentionally left untranslated]." and I said things like "you Brazilians hoard things and treat your maids like trash dumpsters.")
I also explained the cultural gem that is The Second-Hand Store in order to explain that, if I were cleaning out a junk drawer in the US, I would throw fewer things away because I could either a) recycle it (not an option here) or b) donate it to the Goodwill or something. Second-Hand stores are great because there's no risk of offense. They're also great because I can both donate things and buy things. One man's trash...
Anyway. We mostly made peace with the Drawers of Forgetting, and, more specifically, the things forgotten in them. We decided to use some of the old clothes (the ones with bleach stains or my t-shirts from the evil school) as rags instead of just contributing to a lixão (city dump). We agreed on a few things that would be appropriate things to offer to Sonya. Alexandre even agreed to throw some things (coughburnedBryanAdamsCDscough) away.
The rest? Well... we'll see if it's still there tomorrow night after I have a few hours home alone. ;) My fellow dweller will be none the wiser [intentionally left in complicated English and untranslated].
In the end, I think this is less of a cultural difference and more of an individual difference. Plenty of Americans hoard, and plenty of Brazilians are much more minimalist that mine.
But at least The Closet of Forgetting is clean!
Happy Tuesday, everyone.