Making a promise has never been so confusing.

If someone tells you that they made a promise to not do something, what do you think?  Let's just say for example, that you hear someone say that they promised they would not use Facebook. what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I had this happen to me a few weeks ago. In my mind when I heard the person saying they had made a promise, I assumed that they had promised their mother or brother that they wouldn't do the thing they were promising. I, in my ignorance, asked about the promise and my question was met with a look of surprise. I was told that I wasn't allowed to know about the promise. I guess this person assumed I knew what the heck they were talking about. All I could think of is what terrible thing happened that drove someone to make a promise like that.

It actually took me a few days to figure out that it was something similar to giving up for lent. Apparently it was something they promised God or a Saint that they would not partake of, in exchange for that sacrifice they expected something back. Wow, big difference from what was in my mind. The whole "you can't know" attitude made sense after that. I have blown out candles before and made a wish and we all know we can't tell those wishes, but a promise had me very confused.

I was relieved to know that I was not the only one who made this mistake, as another American also assumed that it was a personal promise to family or friends. It just didn't cross my mind that it was a spiritual request. I guess if the person had said they gave it up for lent, I would have understood, but it isn't even lent and the person speaking isn't Catholic... so, that leads me to believe that some of the Catholic traditions are an intrinsic part of Brazilian culture.

This got me thinking about how ingrained the Catholic church is in the Brazilian culture. I thought about how there are things that I say in Portuguese that I would never dream of saying in English. Some of the things that are very common to hear:
Holy Saint Catherine - You say this when you are surprised or baffled by something.
Our Lady of Aparecida- You say this when you are surprised or baffled by something.
Go with God- You say this to the person leaving.
Stay with God- You say when you are leaving, you say this to the person staying.
I believe in God the father almighty - you say when something is shocking and scary (protection)
God Free me - You say this when you don't want something bad to happen.

These are just a few of the expressions I hear every day but would never dream of using them in English. I can and do say them in Portuguese because they mean absolutely nothing to me, they are just a form of expression. It is just a small example of how the Catholic church is a big part of the Brazilian culture.

I wasn't raised in a Catholic culture so sometimes these things just fly over my head.

1 comment:

Cindy-Rae said...

No, we don't have Catholics in our family. I grew up in the Southern US. I remember an aunt who married a Catholic and on the rare occasion that it was spoken of in the family, it was delicately whispered. Our family were from Protestant religions: Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and Church of Christ. Our men in times past were Masons and therefore kind of anti-Catholic. BUT by the time I came along, our immediate family had evolved past the prejudice and had Catholic friends. I even wore a St. Christopher medal throughout my teen years of learning to drive, not because I believed him to be a Saint who would protect me, but because it had become a part of the culture so much back then that a Protestant girl like me knew it was at the very least a good luck charm for travelers. I figured it couldn't hurt, so I wore it. The Catholics where we lived back then were very conservative, reserved German people who never used the names of their saints in cultural expressions, like the ones you mentioned. I associate those kinds of expressions with Catholics in the northern US. When I was a school girl, because the Catholics did not eat meat on Friday, fish was always served for lunch at school on Friday. We had only a few Catholics in our elementary schools, because most Catholic children went to the Catholic school. They were known to be better schools that turned out smarter, brighter students. Those kids would come into public school with us in high school, and they excelled. Lent is a personal matter. My Catholic friends observed lent but I rarely knew what the were giving up. I think when people don't have a religion of their own, in which they are a participating member, like your friend, they sometimes choose some things they like from each religion to incorporate those beliefs and practices into their lives. Kind of a cafeteria approach to religiosity. They select what suits their tastes and needs, like me with the St Christopher medal. If your friend isn't Catholic, yet she gains some spiritual benefits from observing a lent-like sacrifice, and wants to keep it private and personal, she may not know how to say that gracefully. Good manners is the art of making people comfortable. She didn't know how to do that. I hope you did!