Tag Archives: Restaurant

Courage at Twilight: The Best Bad Experience

The two Brazilian women had invited us to dinner at a Brazilian restaurant where we looked forward to reminiscing on our many tender connections to Brazil.  They run a small housecleaning business and work very hard scrubbing toilets and mopping floors and scouring sinks and vacuuming carpets to make a passable living.  I had planned to pay for the group, but in the order line they whispered happily to me that they were paying for the group.  I felt grateful for their generosity and mortified by their sacrifice.  I mumbled a feeble protest, not wanting to hurt their feelings or draw attention.  “Não pode ser,” I said—This cannot be.  Would my dad be angry? they wondered.  How could I say that Dad and I would both feel embarrassed without embarrassing and hurting them?  Instead of explaining, I offered a compromise: they could pay for themselves and for Mom; I would pay for myself and for Dad.  They accepted without hurt.  But no one expected what followed.  Dad’s steak and onions came out timely and well (medium), then Mom’s seafood stew.  While Dad munched on his steak and Mom hunted for shrimp, we reminisced over avocados the size of cantaloupes, the colors and smells of the traveling street market feiras, neblinha fog rolling in from the Atlantic and over the big city of São Paulo, the fine falling garoando mist-rain for which we do not have an English word, and the cheerful generous people of Brazil.  And Dad cannot simply resist telling about how when I was born the world had only cloth diapers and he had to wash them out by hand and how they strung ropes across the apartment to hang my drying diapers, but in the cold June humidity they would not dry so he pressed them dry with a hot iron, and I was beyond embarrassment and simply dumbly smiled.  We spoke mostly in that most pleasingly musical language of Brazilian Portuguese.  But our food never came: Solange and Ana and I had ordered several favorite Brazilian appetizers for our meal—coxinhas, bolinhos de bacalhau, esfihas, pasteis, kibe—and they never came.  The owners were vacationing in Brazil, half the cooks and servers had called in “sick,” and the remaining two teenagers ran around overwhelmed and frantic.  We checked with them several times on our orders.  Several times they brought us the wrong orders, meant for other frustrated customers.  Solange pilfered some white rice and black bean feijoada from the buffet, but the rice was only half-cooked—al dente would be kind.  At nearly the three-hour mark, the frenzied young manager came to our table, apologized profusely for the problem, refunded some of our money, offered us free brigadeiro cake and vanilla pudim, and begged us to give them another try on another day with another kitchen staff.  We thanked him.  We laughed at our experience.  We could have vented angry frustrations, but we laughed.  We laughed because we had enjoyed such wonderful conversation, memories, impressions, and stories (even if they were about my cloth diapers).  Solange’s and Ana’s meekness and cheer and forgiving positive spirit made anger and frustration impossible.  And they had received no dinner at all!  But the five of us together for three hours relished company and conversation, generosity and kindness, and had the best bad restaurant experience of our lives.  Solange and Mom hugged a rocking dancing hug, smiling and laughing, and Ana jumped in.  Dad received abraços, too, though he is not a hugger.  And I did not complain at being embraced by two pretty ladies from my birth country of Brazil.