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A Framed Piece of Culture

When my American boyfriend visited my home country—Brazil—for the first time, I wanted to show him all of the best experiences one could enjoy there. It was not only about the amazing food and the stunning beaches, but a piece of the laidback and fun culture only Brazil has. When we visited São Paulo, we visited an art store near Batman's Alley. There, he bought an unexpectedly fun picture. It was a colorful image of a flip-flop, more precisely Havaianas, with a nail holding its straps.

As a Brazilian, I describe that image as unexpectedly fun. Not sure why fun, though. Like I said, unexpectedly fun. It seemed like I had discovered a symbol of my culture I was not aware of. It does remind me of my mother telling me how, in her childhood, everyone in her family had a nail on their flip-flops after the rubber straps started wearing out. The ingenious nail idea. I wonder if the very first flip-flops were actually made with nails. She wore those flip-flops to school. And she also helped her younger siblings fix their broken flip-flops.

On the other side, unexpectedly fun may be more of a generic description of fun pieces of Brazilian culture. I may also use those words to describe Brazilian hot dogs, Brazilian funk music lyrics, carnaval costumes, and Brazilian memes and phrases. Seeing all of these in picture frames? Unexpectedly fun. I would be so amused if I were in an entire gallery with framed little pieces of Brazilian culture.

But a nail on a flip-flop was more than just fun. It was an authentic way to show how Brazilians could resourcefully live in simplicity. Maybe that was just characteristic of how poor the country was. Maybe that was just characteristic of the Brazilian “jeitinho”, a name given to the behavior Brazilians have when trying to—unruly, but not unlawfully—get something done. Probably a combination of both.

The colorful representation in that picture depicted the playfulness of a Brazilian. Referring to that image as fun did not make my mother seem uncomfortable. My mother laughs when she remembers the flip-flops with nails. She looked proud when she saw what my boyfriend had bought. It makes me wonder whether everyone who needed nails on their flip-flops would feel likewise proud.

She might have felt proud because it was my foreign boyfriend who bought it. And because he bought it, it was unexpectedly fun. Because when a foreigner understands and enjoys a fun part of your culture, it's like they win a piece of your heart.

The truth may be that picture frames with pieces of culture are, in fact, unexpectedly fun. And they could be fun in any other culture. My boyfriend thought it was fun. He may have thought the bright colors would remind him of Brazil and wearing flip-flops while walking around Copacabana and Ipanema. Or perhaps the resourcefulness was inspirational to him. Maybe the mustard background would just make his new all-white New York apartment look cooler, since mustard is his favorite color. Whatever the reason, he now owns an authentic part of Brazil.

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