Bate-papo and bean buffet: Can culture be owned?

Bebel Gilberto – Samba da Benção

When the 3:00 p.m. mark hit today, the time which usually defines my day, a familiar feeling of angst washed over me. I hadn’t left the house all morning. My muscles were ready to bolt out the door and explore the outside world. No matter how much I thought that Miami is pretty much the same today as it was yesterday, my body insisted on seeing for itself. I asked my roommate if she would like to grab a Brazilian lunch with me, and 10 minutes later we were out of our pijamas and presentable enough for the locale, a small Brazilian bar and eatery, which at night transforms into an airy, enchanting nightclub. The afternoon atmosphere was quite different than what I had experienced at night. My roommate and her friend, who arrived an hour into our meal, both described it as a little place where you would go after you’d been at the beach, a place that can get a little sandy sem problema and where one can drink beer and relax with good company for a few hours. We each prepared a huge plate of food at the feijoada buffet (literally “bean buffet” but encompassing all kinds of Brazilian bean stews and meats and sides), knowing that later our jeans would fit just a little snugger and that we would crash in our beds from food exhaustion. In good Brazilian fashion, we stretched the meal out over two hours, as we listened to live samba music under the patio tiki roof, watching the ceiling’s colored paper flags dance in the wind. My roommate and her friend, both Brazilian, reminisced about listening to those same samba songs on cassettes when they were little. They would sometimes sneak cassette players with them to school and dance to the songs at recess. They both know how to dance samba, naturally, as every Brazilian has to know. As I began to ponder about the situation, my shoulders moving slightly to the captivating rhythm, I wondered if I could ever really have even a morsel of this beautiful culture. It seemed impossible to ever learn enough to become even slightly Brazilian, to lose my accent and the stiffness of my hips. Yet I plan to live in Brazil for three months at the beginning of next year. Would I feel like an outsider during my whole stay? Wouldn’t living in a culture that I covet so much but can never truly possess only make me feel terribly cultureless? Conceptual barriers like this one bother me, as I’m sure you can tell. The dehydration from the salty Brazilian food made my mood even more philosophical. A culture is nothing more than a bunch of experiences that have been categorized as related, right? Music, dress, mannerisms, art, etc. And anyone can experience something that we would call “cultural”, like I did today. No one, I would say, can own that experience, however, only tap into it.  An experience is an entity of its own, no matter how we may classify it, which means that it cannot be owned.  Culture, a compilation of related experiences, can therefore also be owned by no one. I guess I’ll never be officially Brazilian, as I’m not likely to apply for Brazilian citizenship; but the culture will always be there for me–for all of us–regardless of our home country.


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