Let's talk about a phenomenon on Brazilian buses: chatty old women.
(Disclaimer: I love my grandma. I love you, Nanny! This blog post does not apply to you. I had to have learned my preference for anti-socialism in crowds or public places from someone.)
So today gave me a perfect example of this phenomenon. I had to take the city bus, and when I climbed up the stairs, I was relieved to see that there weren't many people riding it. There were plenty of seats for me to choose from, and that's when I made my first mistake: there were two seats empty next to each other, and I took the window seat and left the aisle seat open. Let's explain this seating situation first. While leaving the aisle seat open is bus etiquette in the US (and therefore a hard habit to break), it's much more common for Brazilian people (especially women) to take the aisle seat and leave the window seat empty when faced with this decision. A fellow bus rider explained to me once that women do this to make it harder for either a creep-o guy or a thief to sit next to them and trap them in the window seat. I'm not sure how frequent silent bus robberies are, but they're apparently common enough for do-gooders not to be offended when they have to ask some woman to stick her legs out so they can squeeze into the window seat.
Anyway anyway. My erroneous decision to sit in the window seat also left me vulnerable to another bus "threat," one which that helpful passenger had failed to mention: the needy senior citizen. You see, Brazilian buses have a percentage of female riders over sixty-five that seems to be disproportionate to their percentage in the population. It's either that, or they just stand out more because they're so damn talkative. In any case, they, too, can hold you hostage in the window seat.
I just want to add in one mini-rant here: my generation gets a bad rap for sharing every fleeting thought, emotion, or action with the world, whether it's via Facebook or Twitter or text message, but I would like to argue that old Brazilian women are ONE MILLION times worse. They cannot seem to just keep things to themselves. They are compelled by some strong, almost Biblical force to say every damn thing that comes to mind.
"My, is it hot/cold/windy/stuffy in here."
"Mmm, mm. Now, that really was a nice sandwich."
"Oh, would you look at that? That store on the corner is having a sale."
"Ugh, my knee is acting up again." etc, etc.
THEY DO NOT STOP TALKING, especially about Jesus, and especially if there are two of them sitting together.
Right, so back to my bad luck bus ride. Soon after I got on the bus, an elderly woman made her way up the big yellow steps and waved her ID card at the driver, which apparently waived her bus fare (you liked that homophone, didn'tcha? ;). And even though there were SIX empty seats in the front reserved just for her, she decided to pass them all, to pass the pair of empty seats in front of me, and to sit right.next.to.me.
After my previous bus riding lesson, I imagined that she chose to sit next to me, in part, to prevent any wackos from sitting next to her (I guess she saw my angelic face and thought I'd be a safe bet), but I really do think that she also sat next to me because... she just wanted someone to talk to. That's been my previous experience with older women sitting next to me, anyway. So this time, I was prepared. I already had my book out, so I tried to hold it in such a way as to look thoroughly absorbed in it while hiding the English text. (If she'd seen that the book was in another language, then she'd have found what would be, in her mind, a perfect excuse to start talking to me.) I let my hair fall into my face a little. I made a point not to so much as glance toward her each time she fidgeted and sighed.
But, unfortunately, I let my guard down for just an instant. There was a bit of a commotion when a woman was trying to get off the bus with her toddler (who was resisting), and the bus driver didn't see them, and he started to drive away from the stop. The woman and a couple of other passengers started to call out to the driver, and that's when I looked up. MISTAKE. The old woman next to me saw her chance.
"Cute little kid, wasn't he?" She turned to me and asked with a smile.
Blast! Should I just pretend I don't speak Portuguese?
"Mmm." I smiled politely. I decided not to say explicitly that I didn't speak Portuguese (a trick I've begun to use with the obnoxious muamba-peddlers on the beach), but to only give off the impression that I may not be understanding. It wasn't enough.
"Whoo. It sure is hot today." The woman tried again.
No elderly woman has ever said that on the bus before.
"Mm-hmm." I quickly turned back to my book. I even made a dramatic show of turning the page.
I'm focusing on this interesting book, and not on you. I will not be pulled in!
"Yes it is," the old woman responded to her own statement. "Hot and raining. Makes the bus so uncomfortable."
You'd be a lot more comfortable if you'd sat in your own seat and given us both some space. This is a battle of wills, and I WILL PREVAIL.
I smiled half-heartedly through my hair but continued to keep my eyes on my book. I felt the woman staring at me, looking me over, waiting expectantly for me to humor her, to say at least a few words, enough to give her what she would deem the green light to tell me about everything else she'd been thinking that day.
Then, by some miracle, she correctly read my social cues and gave up. She harrumphed a little to herself, ever so quietly, and kept her fidgeting to a minimum until she pushed the "stop requested" button and got off the bus.
You may be thinking at this point that I'm some cruel and heartless "ageist" who doesn't respect the wisdom of our elders. That's just not true. It's simple: I don't think that, just because I'm younger, I should be forced to listen to these women's disjointed and self-absorbed conversations about their children and their physical ailments.
You may be thinking, "that's terrible! These women are probably lonely!" which is also unfair. Um, hello! This is Brazil, a country whose citizens do not send their senior citizens to retirement homes if they can help it. Most of these women live with their adult children, and even if they don't actually live with them, they talk to them on the phone all the time and probably have lunch with them at least once a week. These beach towns also have a high percentage of senior citizens, which results in way more social activities for them than for my age group. There are social clubs that have little kiosks on the beach where the terceira-idades can meet up to play cards and gossip; there are morning workout clubs both downtown and at the lifeguard stations (retired people can choose between tai-chi and aerobics); there are way more street corner butecos than there are bars for young people; there are elderly volunteer groups that wear matching shirts around town and serve at government day care centers as one of their activities... and those are just the things that I, as a young foreigner, know about. There's nothing like that for twenty-somethings! Plus, my friends and family all live far away. So if anything, I'm the one who should be starved for attention, keeping some defenseless retiree trapped in her window seat while I complain about my sad, pathetic life.
We're also forgetting one important factor: it's really hard to understand old people when they talk in general, and it's even harder when they're speaking your
Then, of course, there's the fact that, as soon as the woman realizes I have an accent (it takes the elderly a bit longer to pick up on it), she'll immediately start interrogating me about my seemingly inexplicable existence in Brazil, and we all know that my daily goal is to blend in and avoid telling my life story as much as possible. Am I a terrible person for wanting to be able to enjoy a book on a bus ride in peace? Maybe only a little. But at least, today, I got what I wanted. I also learned to sit in the aisle seat.