Published On: March 1, 2010

The Wisdom in a Typewriter

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If there is a connection between cleanliness and public affection, it is being played out every day in Brazil. Here people continually exhibit their passion for both modern habits. They shower twice a day and brush their teeth after every meal, which can add up to five or six times a day. They power wash their sidewalks and store fronts and keep their homes fastidiously clean and neat, thanks to the powerful hands of the family maids. In Curitiba, a stroll down on the street on any day of the week reveals another task force of thousands of men (and a few women) employed to sweep the streets and sidewalks by hand. Orange-suited heroes pick up trash, fallen leaves, and even scrape weeds from between the cracks of the cobblestone sidewalks.

Likewise, public affection is the everyday norm. Although often practiced by the young, it is certainly not their exclusive domain. Few couples can refrain from a romantic moment when witnessing the likes of rainbows over waterfalls, seaside sunrises, or festive celebrations like a soccer victory.

Recently, I went to the movies with my wife and discovered there was a discount promotion that night. We could obtain half-price tickets if we kissed while making our purchase. (I’m still wondering if this promotion was created by the Valentine’s Day committee or the numerous chocolate companies.) Nevertheless, discount kissing is obviously a success, as I soon learned it’s not restricted only to this one theater. Perhaps movie theaters are secretly assisting in the flowering of new relationships by allowing the people at the back of the line to enjoy enthusiastic bursts of romance.

Along with a heightened awareness of cleanliness, and public displays of romance, there are a few other customs in Brazil I’d love to see adopted in the US. For example, the hotly debated political topic of universal health care, which already existed in Brazil, has only this month come to fruition under US President Obama, and still may face a fight in the courts from conservatives. Also, Brazil has advanced beyond the US in electronic banking.

I’ve been equally impressed here by the regulations regarding recycling, particularly in Curitiba. Not only does recycling promote environmental awareness, but it provides valuable income to some of Curitiba’s poorer families. Recycling is so advanced in Brazil that even cemetery plots are recycled. After several years, the remains of the departed are exhumed and placed in smaller containers above ground, allowing the original plot to be re-used.

Similarly, I have never seen valuable items sitting on a street corner in Curitiba waiting for the garbage collector. Americans are fond of replacing household items that are still in good condition simply because they’ve grown tired of them. Brazilians recycle, re-use, and repair their old possessions. I had a firsthand experience of this kind when I came to Brazil with an old manual typewriter that had belonged to my grandfather. It had great sentimental value for me because it was the only possession of his I owned. It was built in the 1930s and had fallen into disrepair years ago. While I was living in the US, I searched for a repair shop for it but couldn’t even find a store that sold typewriters, nor less repaired them. In Curitiba, a glance in the phone book provided a list of numerous typewriter repair stores, and today my proud possession sits in my apartment, well-oiled and gleaming, dressed smartly with a new two-color typewriter ribbon. (I can’t imagine where the repair shop found a ribbon for this 10-kilo relic of a bygone era of communication.)

Despite Brazilians’ eagerness to appear modern, exhibited by their displays of public affection and cleanliness, and to join the fast-paced, replaceable world of advanced nations like the US, I believe there is something to be said for honoring the past. Taking care of a family relic like an old typewriter isn’t so different from taking care of an aging family member. In Brazil, widows are invited to move in with their children, and they are given priority on bank and supermarket lines. They ride the buses free, get half-price tickets at the movies, and don’t even have to vote. In the US older people, or senior citizens as they’re called, often end up living alone in nursing homes or retirement villages, where they are surrounded by strangers, and like the other abandoned seniors, are visited by their families only on their birthdays. They never have the opportunity to ride a bus or go to the movies.

Perhaps before Brazilians rush forward into the 21st century, dreaming of giant homes and bigger cars like they see in Hollywood movies, they will take the time to look around and appreciate a country that has the patience to care for antique typewriters. Maybe they can admit they enjoy watching couples kissing on the movie line, even if it takes a few extra minutes to enter the theater. Before embracing the future too quickly, we can stop and admire those who realize there is much to be learned from the past. The wisdom and experience of history is available to everyone – we only need to slow down and listen quietly to the grandparents and great-grandparents among us. With an open mind and patient consideration, like the careful hands of the artisan who brought new life to my grandfather’s typewriter, the mysteries of the ages may be revealed.

Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba. He can be contacted at

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