Saturday, August 30, 2008

Barretos: Not All I Cracked it Up to Be

So Alexandre was really against the idea of going to this rodeo/"country party." He kept saying that it was because of the music. When his friends told him they were going earlier this week, he said it was just going to be girls, and that he would sit it out and let me go with them. But when his friend Antonio said he'd be going, too, Alexandre agreed to go with me, since he wouldn't be the only guy. He kept saying I wouldn't like it. He kept saying we would be wasting our money. I kept saying that I didn't really like the music either, but that I just saw it as a cultural experience and please can we go pleasepleaseplease.

Sigh. I should have listened.

We didn't get to the party until about 10:00pm, but that isn't saying much because it's more or less a 24-hour thing. Alexandre's friends promptly downed a bottle of vodka in the parking lot to avoid paying for the overpriced alcohol in the park. Since the place was insanely crowed with literally tens of thousands of people, most of whom were already drunk, Alexandre and I thought it best to keep our wits about us, and stuck to Sprite. Also, I could feel a cold coming on and didn't want to aggravate it.

We had planned on buying the student tickets (half the price), but the rodeo planners strategically placed 2 employees at the student ticket windows and 10+ employees at the regular ticket windows. The result was a student line that was over 2 hours long. Alexandre and his friends joked that Brazil's entire college student population must have been there, since only 3% of the country attends a university. We caved and bought the full-price tickets to save ourselves an hour and 50 minutes.

The entrance area to the fairgrounds was fun and picturesque, with farmers showing off their prized cattle (only 2 reais for a picture on one!), and barbecue stands everywhere. There was also a GIANT metal statue (89 feet tall, to be exact) of a cowboy and his riding equipment. Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my camera batteries before we left, so I didn't take any pictures. But Alexandre's friends did, so I'll post them when I get copies. (Yes, I did wear a cowboy hat!)

We made our way into the center of the park, where all the concert stages were. This is when it started to get crazy, and when the regret started to sink in. Yesterday, I wrote how Brazilian country culture lacked the American country culture's political absolutivism and general intolerance. However, what it lacks in these areas, it certainly makes up for in chauvinism and drunken barbarianism. One guy tried to get our friend Bruna's attention by pulling her hair from behind. Someone slapped my ass in a crowd. Another made kissy and clicking noises at me while I was standing with Alexandre. (No, I'm not a whore or a horse [Joanna reference]. I flipped him off. Luckily, Alexandre missed the whole thing.) Another guy followed our friend Carol around for like 15 minutes, drunkenly grabbing at her and asking for a kiss. Some dumb Brazilian version of a frat boy actually made fun of Alexandre for wearing glasses. (That's right. Glasses. I haven't heard a 4-eyes joke since I was 6 years old.) Many stands were selling these popular beer can holders that were a woman's headless naked body. I would estimate that 30% of the men at the party were wearing shirts that had some kind of slogan about beer, whether it was just an advertisement or one of those shirts that have some witty phrase like "Conserve water. Drink beer!" The crowds were pushy and obnoxious. The women were sinvergüenzas. I'll take an annoying Texan over a Latin American cowboy any day.

The music wasn't horrible, but that's because I couldn't understand the lyrics. The ones I could understand, however, were repetitious jingles all about "getting" women. A popular slang for women in Brazilian country music is "fillet"... yes, like the meat. It doesn't help that the Portuguese word for "eat" is slang for "have sex." You can imagine the "creative poetry" that results.

Our friends were pretty intoxicated and love Brazilian country music, so they were all having a great time. One of the redeemable parts of the night was convincing Alexandre to dance around like a crazy person with me. But the fun of this, too, eventually wore off. When the friends decided to push their way into a full concert arena that easily held 60,000 people, we decided to go off on our own.

We walked as far as we could from the crowds, and found some benches in front of a closed restaurant to relax on. It was about 2am by this time, and my cold was kicking in. Alexandre was also totally crabby and agitated. I think the most significant part of my Barretos experience was the realization of what it's like to be around me, particularly when I get into my "I-hate-my-country-and-all-the-people-in-it" rants/moods. Danette, you have been most sincerely vindicated. I have to appreciate Alexandre for this aspect of his personality. I'm cada vez mas relieved that I've found someone with the same brain as me, even if it means that I sometimes have to help talk him through overwhelming stuff like "what's the world country coming to?" and "we are nothing like these people" while trying to ignore the competing Hummer and Ford pickup truck booths across from us, both with their insane bass-ridden stereo systems on full blast.

We talked for a while, and meandered some more. We ate some delicious food, like fresh hamburgers and doce-de-leite-filled churros (another redeeming quality of the party) and walked around the edge of the fairgrounds. We found some nice trails and camping areas that led us to believe that Barretos might actually be a nice place to visit during the other 355 days out of the year.

At 4am, our friends still hadn't called us to say they were ready to go home, so we called Carol and asked for the car keys. We slept fitfully in the car until about 7am, by which time the group was completely pooped and ready for their beds. Alexandre drove and I did my best to be loyal and stay awake with him. I was more or less successful. It started raining on the drive home.

Around 9am Saturday morning, we were finally able to crawl into our nice warm bed with our wonderful kitty and the even more wonderful sounds of thunder and rain against the window. Alexandre had given me some medicine for my cold (his diagnosis: an annoying virus. His prescription: tylenol, tea, and cuddles with him and said kitty), and the medicine, combined with exhaustion, allowed me to sleep until 5:30pm.

My final word on Barretos? The food was good and all, but Brazilian country culture isn't my favorite. Plus, I'm still trying to convince myself that the lessons learned were more valuable than the 5 sushi dinners we could've eaten with all the money we spent.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Friday-- I'm in Love!

So we're taking a break on the visa situation for the weekend-- can't get much done when it's not a business day. I do have a student tonight who's a lawyer (a very nice lady), and I'm going to ask her if she knows anything about this civil union contract, and if she has the qualifications to draft it. The civil union contract would give us the visa benefits of marriage without the risk of the high cost of a Brazilian divorce. Thanks so much to everyone who helped me out! :D

I owe emails to many people who have written me longgg letters, but you guys will just have to wait another couple of days. That's because this weekend, we're going to Barretos, which is a city and also the name of the Woodstock of country music in Brazil. It's apparently the biggest rodeo/concert/party in Latin America. (Alexandre says, "in the world!"). Since I live in the Brazilian equivalent of Kansas, country culture is alive and well. It's kind of a hybrid of American country culture with a mix of Mexican banda flavor (mostly because of the accordions). Alexandre has a couple of friends that are totally into it, and I've been begging him to go with me to one of these rodeo parties since I got here. Alexandre absolutely abhors country music (American and Brazilian alike), but I see it as an anthropological experience. It helps that country culture here is not synonymous with conservative intolerant republicanism. It also helps that I can't understand the lyrics of the songs.

Here's an example of a hugely popular country song right now. Enjoy!

Anyhoo, we're going to buy some cheap gaudy belt buckles and cowboy hats, and we're heading over there tonight with a group of Alexandre's friends after I get off work. It's for the whole rest of the weekend, but we're just going to stay the night either in a hotel or with a friend of a friend (though we may end up just passing out in the car) and come back tomorrow evening.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Visa Woes

So my tourist visa is on the verge of expiring-- I have about 40 days. The last few weeks have been endless trips to various Brazilian offices of bureaucracy only to talk to people who don't have any information whatsoever, and who send us to different Brazilian offices of bureaucracy. The internet has been equally unhelpful, with inconsistent reports from message boards and private websites, and Brazilian government websites that tell us to call the aforementioned offices of bureaucracy. This may lead you to believe that it is easy for me to just stay here illegally and come in and out when I please, since know one seems to know anyway. But the situation is akin to the phrase that Michelle likes so much: "they tell you that the bridge costs 5 dollars to cross, but they don't tell you where to get the 5 dollars." I can stay here illegally, but once I leave, it's likely that I won't be able to come back, at least until next year. However, it's been impossible so far to figure out how to stay legally. The job visa was a wash. My boss is too gnat-brained to look into it, and Alexandre's parents don't have the right tax status to pretend I work for them.

Some of my other options that we are considering are:
1. Signing up for a Master's program at a school here in order to get a student visa. I'm still technically a student at a certain crappy graduate school in the US, so I may be able to use that to my advantage; or
2. Getting a visa for Uruguay or Paraguay-- they're about 3-4 hours away by car, and I can cross into Brazil from these countries without having my passport checked. That way, I can fly to and from the US from one of these countries, but spend my time in Brazil.

(I'd like to point out here how difficult the American government has made it not only for people to enter the US, but for Americans to travel as a result. So many countries have created strict retaliatory laws and high taxes for American visas that don't exist for citizens of other countries. It's like everyone has had to team up together to fight the big mean America. This is the primary reason that I'm not going to bother trying to get a visa from Bolivia.)

That's about all we've come up with. I don't want to stay illegally and mess up my chances of going home or coming back to Brazil in the future, and I won't do a long-distance relationship again. So today's been kind of sucky, and it's getting harder and harder for me to be optimistic. If any of you have any ideas or experience with this, or if you have some free time and would like to do some research for me, I'd really appreciate knowing your thoughts. And family, please don't say "just come home!" Thanks.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The New Apartment and the Yearbook Website

So below are some pictures of the new apartment. We've managed to mess it up before we've even finished unpacking. I don't think the pictures capture the spaciousness of the place. Compared to the last apartment, this place is a castle. The apartment has 2 bedrooms. The second room is going to function as an office/ a room for me to give classes. I didn't put up any pictures of it because I couldn't get a good angle and because it's still mostly in boxes anyway.

We had some fun unpacking. We deemed the closet in the office "the closet of forgetting." It is filled with exciting treasures, such as my broken laptop ( :o( ), big winter jackets, Alexandre's bag/backpack collection that rivals the one I left in the US, and well-meaning place mats and tablecloths from Alexandre's mother.

The apartment has what I like to call a "slave's quarters." It's a little room attached to the laundry room that's meant for maids. It's basically just a glorified bathroom. We took the door off of it because we can't open the kitchen windows and the door at the same time. We also turned it into another storage area (deemed "the 5th dimension", for things that are even more forgettable, like the box that the microwave came in, and cleaning supplies), and also gave it to the cat to use as her own private bathroom. She's VERY picky about the placement of her litterbox. She is very satisfied with this level of privacy. She also seems to love the space. Now that she has enough room to run around and explore and chase her ping-pong balls, she has become much less aggressive.

The apartment is very HIGH and TALL. I think it's because the designers were tall people. Alexandre thinks it's to help with the heat. Psh. Physhics shymizics. All I know is that I can't see the temperature choices on the showerhead without my glasses on. You can see the perspective in some pics, like the kitchen's height compared to the refrigerator.

So, without further adeau, here are the pictures!

Our dining room by way of the living room. Also, the balcony, and Alexandre's guitar. I made him leave it in the dining room so we look cool.

Most of the VERY large kitchen (our last apartment was about the same size. ha). Notice how I conveniently took the picture from the side of the sink. Also, you can see the Brazilian flag we put up. :o)

Bathroom... obviously.

Part of our little laundry room. It's about twice as big as the picture suggests.

A glimpse into the doorless slave's quarters. We covered up the toilet to keep it from smelling and to keep the cat from falling in.

The view from our laundry room. :o)
The view from our bedroom. I forgot to mention that we live next door/ above a day care center. This is both cute (little kid giggle and little kid Portuguese) and aggravating (little kids). But the palm tree has coconuts. :o)

So yes. Our new place!

In other news, here are some entertaining pictures from a that Michelle sent me where you can make pictures of yourself using old yearbook styles. Decide in which pictures I look the most like my mother:

And these are Alexandre's. This is his punishment for always forgetting to read my blog:

haha! Ok. That's it for today.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Battles with the Boss

So my boss from Primary Job has been asking me since... forever-- if I would teach classes on Saturdays. I have always said no, because we go to visit Alexandre's family so much that I don't want to commit to anything that requires a Saturday schedule, even a fixed Saturday schedule. This boss offered to have me teach 3 Saturdays out of the month, taking my class on the 4th Saturday. That's nice of him and all, but still problematic because we don't go visit on a set schedule. I tried working Saturdays at the other job when I first started, but I ran into all the same problems and I simply don't need the money badly enough.

Anyhoo. Yesterday, one of the other teachers from Primary Job came up to me and said, "oh, so Danielle, our boss told me that you're taking over my Saturday class."

"He did?" I asked. "Because I said I couldn't the 6 times he asked me last week."

"He did," she said. "I already told my students."

I sighed. "Well if you already told him months ago that you can't teach it anymore, and if I already told him I couldn't start, then I guess it's just his problem." I don't think I used those words exactly, but sometimes it's really hard to conceal my frustration with this guy.

Sure enough, the boss called me today to ask me yet again to teach on Saturdays. It's like talking to a wall. He was going on and on about how he was really "in a jam" (don't ask me who taught him that phrase) and couldn't I just do him this one favor? To get him off the phone, I said I'd think about it and tell him after my night classes.

The conversation went something like this:
Boss: Danielle, about the Saturday classes. Did you think about it?

Me: I did, and like I said before, I don't want to commit to it. I can't be available enough, and I don't think it's fair for the students to have different teachers all the time.

Boss: Danielle, I really need you to do this favor for me. I thought we were friends.

Me: [ignoring asinine Michael-esque friend comment] Well, if you think about it, it's not really a favor, because it's long-term. If you just needed me to substitute for one Saturday, that'd be a different story. Besides, I really feel like I show you that I'm committed here. From Monday-Friday, I'm here at all hours, I have classes at 7am and then until 10pm that night, I drive back and forth from the school 2 or 3 times a day. With such an erratic schedule, I really need just one business-ish day a week open to take care of the rest of my life, not to mention to let my boyfriend use his car that I've basically stolen.

Boss: But, you know, I guess I was really counting on you.

Me: Well... if you think about it, I've said from the beginning that I wasn't available on Saturdays. So I don't think I was ever unclear about not being available.

Boss: .... Well, I'm fucked. [starts to pout. Lucky for me, I've had years of training working with elementary school-aged children, so I am immune to the pout.]

Me: Can I ask something? If you were planning to teach the class once a month, does that mean you're available to teach it on Saturdays?

Boss: Well, yeah, but I'm in the same position as you.

Me: Oh, good! That means you understand. Thank you for understanding. [stands up to leave]

Boss: I guess I have to understand. I would never ask you to leave the school just because you can't teach one class. So... thanks... Thanks anyway. [smiles to himself for knowing the phrase. I've come to learn this facial expression. I don't respond. So he tries again.] Thanks anyway.

Me: Right, that's the right phrase. Good night. [leaves.]

In short, I win.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The New Apartment and The Grandmother

We went to Alexandre's parents' house this past weekend. It was pleasant and relaxing, as always. I always feel guilty on the Saturdays that I'm there and I stay in my pajamas for so long that suddenly it's dark again so I just wear them to bed for another night. It's been 8 months since I was last a student, but I still haven't broken the habit of living with a certain sense of urgency...what should/could I be could right now? Be productive! B-E Productive! But I'll survive. ;)

This weekend was my first time meeting Alexandre's very Catholic paternal grandmother. She lives relatively close to his parents' house, but took this long to warm up to the idea of me. Ever since Alexandre told her that I'd be coming, she has firmly railed against the idea of her grandson living a life so wrought in sin. (However, Alexandre explained that she had the same reaction when he was 16 and he bought a supplementary RPG book about werewolves, so I have quite the uphill battle.)

The last time I visited, I met Alexandre's aunt and cousin for the first time, who live on the same street as his grandmother and who are... ahem, big plastic surgery fans, and far less Catholic. I guess they must have reported back to The Grandmother that ...I wasn't a werewolf, or something. Whatever they said, it was enough to convince her to come over and break some bread with me.

The Grandmother looks like a tiny, frail, old, female version of Alexandre, if that's possible for you to imagine. They share the same big eyes and the same thick dark hair (with roughly the same style, ha). When we approached each other to introduce ourselves in the kitchen, I towered over her, which was already a strike against me. Alexandre's dad said, "this is Danielle, Alexandre's girlfriend." I tried to lean down/slouch a bit without looking sloppy, and reached out my hands for her to take them inside her hands the way that old Catholic Latina women like to do. I said "muito prazer" ("nice to meet you") and tried really hard to have good pronunciation. Just as I predicted, she took my hands and stared at me for a moment. Then she suddenly pulled me into a hug. I tried not to break her. She pulled herself away and got another good look at me. "So friendly, so pretty!" she whispered to herself in Portuguese, the way little kids whisper to their mothers when they're in front of strangers and they want something. Alexandre was standing to the side, ready to intervene if necessary, and he was smiling.

The (other?) women of the family, including The Grandmother, sat down at the dining room table to chat and catch up. I saw that Alexandre was going to get more chairs and place settings, and I quickly volunteered to help. But after a few minutes of trying to look busy, we also had to join the people at the table. Alexandre's aunt had brought a friend with her to the lunch, and the friend (also an older woman) was asking me questions about my life in Brazil. I was trying to answer politely, but I kept forgetting to use "a senhora," which is the Portuguese version of "Usted." (One of the reasons it's so hard for me is because it comes from "La señhora," which is a 3rd person word for me, not a formal form of "you.") While I was talking, the grandma piped in, "she only has a slight accent on her Portuguese!" and smiled approvingly. (Four years of Linguistics have some value after all! One point for me!)

All during lunch, I kept catching The Grandmother staring at me from across the table, and I smiled at her when it was obvious and pretend not to see when it wasn't. As the dinner was winding down and we were waiting for the maid to bring the desert (I know), The Grandmother turned to Alexandre and blurted out something to the effect of, "she really has beautiful eyes. Green eyes are special. The eyes are the window to the soul, and I can see that she has a very good soul." And then she gave me a thumbs-up.

"You like her, eh Grandma?" Alexandre asked. (Another point in my favor is that neither Alexandre nor his father are very close to The Grandmother, which renders her opinion of me almost irrelevant. But I care, dammit! Er, darnit.)
"I like," she said.

She is not the first religious person to claim that it is clearly evident by my eyes that I am somehow blessed/protected/empowered by the light of the Lord / destined to lead a religious vocation / the possessor of a pure or holy disposition. If you ask me, I think these people just confuse good eyeliner and mascara for the holy spirit, but at least it takes their focus away from the eyebrow and tragus piercings, right?

Either way, we left the lunch that afternoon, happy to go home to our kitty, and relieved to have "conquered" The Grandmother, though it occurred through little deliberate action on my part.

Today, we got the final word on the apartments: No on the yellow building-- someone else got to it first, and YES on the pink building-- we get our keys on Friday! In Brazil, renting an apartment does not include the fridge or the washing machine. We've gotta move those, too, and neither building has an elevator. We're in for a busy weekend!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Bit O' Economics

Here's a fine Newsweek article about the Brazilian economy by people who are far more informed than I am:

In other news, after weeks of disappointments and shady property management companies, our search for a new apartment is finally looking up. (Renting an apartment here is about as difficult as buying a house in the US. Seriously. Among other surprising requirements, you have to already own at least one (usually 2) properties to sign the lease. It's no wonder so many people live with their parents until they get married.) We'll know tomorrow which place we'll be moving to.

To Nanny, remember awhile back, like when I first got here, when I took a picture of a building that I really liked from the outside, with its nice 1970s-style balconies? Well, we might be living there...either there, or a big pink building akin to The Big Pink Building in which Elena lived and we shared so many fond memories. :o)

Until tomorrow! Or maybe Tuesday, because I have to teach for 8 hours tomorrow. ;oP Mondays aren't my favorite.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More about Food

On Wednesday, I braved the local farmer's market (all by myself!) in an attempt to wean myself off of Wal-Mart.

What a great decision! Everyone was so nice, and not a single person asked me where I was from or if I could repeat myself. It's a relatively small market, only about 15-20 booths. But Alexandre explained that everyone is from the area, within about 100kms. I made the mistake of bringing big bills, because all of this:

only cost me about 8 reais.... about 5 dollars. Not only was it cheaper than Wal-Mart, it was supporting the local economy (which certainly needs the support), it was fresh, and it was really and truly organic. The little baggie in the top corner is a bag of spices. A man had a table covered in bowls of spices. I asked him for "o pimento o mais picante," and waved my hand in front of my mouth saying "haahh, haahhh" for emphasis. It's still not that hot, because this is Brazil and not Mexico. But it's flavorful!

Some of the produce resulted in this lunch, cooked* by yours truly:
*except the rice, which Alexandre made. I'm from one of the only cultures in the world that doesn't eat rice on a daily basis, which results in many incidents of rice burning. :o(

And then today, while doing research for a class of biologists that I have, I found this article about the unhealthiest food in America. Fast food gets a lot of flack, but the majority of these meals come from sit-down restaurants. I love TGI Friday's as much as the next red-blooded American, but I know that my all-too-frequent late-night brownie runs probably weren't the best idea. The hard thing about eating healthy in the US is that restaurants are so delicious so integral to social situations. Only once have we gone to a restaurant with a big group of Alexandre's friends, and it was sushi. When we meet up with people to eat, it's always at someone's house, and people take turns barbecuing.

The point is, my mind misses Applebee's, but my body does not. I don't know how I'll be when I go back and I'm faced with restaurant culture again. Though I've seen some Outback Steakhouse commercials here, I've never actually seen the restaurant, and aside from that, there really aren't the plethora of fatty food restaurants that sit on US street corners. It's much easier to avoid the temptation when it is thousands of miles away.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More Garbage Fun

So Garbage is fascinated by basketball:
She wants to play, too!

You can see how long she keeps at it:


Alexandre also made Garbage a genius contraption that gives us a break from trying to entertain her. We bought her some new toys-- these little plastic balls with bells inside. Alexandre cut a hole in the side of a shoebox and put the balls inside. The hole is about the size of the balls (that's what she said), so Garbage has to try very, very hard to get them out. She is entertained for like 10 minutes at a time! Here's a video of her playing with her new toy:


As you can see, I have immense amounts of free time. The lack of stress in my life is almost embarrassing, especially with an American work ethic and all. Now all I have to do is convince Alexandre to drag himself away from the sports long enough to go read at the park with me. It's such a beautiful day outside.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Cat and The Culture

So first I have to share some adorable pictures of Garbage. Though there are quite a few on my camera, I'll just show you the two best ones:

(I really want Danette to make an LOLcats caption for the first picture!)

She looks precious, but don't be fooled! She can be quite the terror. She has more energy than a little kid high on candy. She is very loving when I first wake up or when I first come home, but after a few minutes of affection, she strikes! We're doing our best with the whole positive reinforcement bit, but she's still a rambunctious kitten. At least we are never lacking in entertainment!

If you don't know yet, Conor Oberst broke off from Bright Eyes (I don't know if it's temporary) and made a solo-ish album, which is basically still just Bright Eyes but like, even more influenced by Bob Dylan, if that was possible. You can listen to it here. Adam is so great for emailing me to tell me about it! (Well, he's always great, but this just provides more evidence to that fact.) I really like the album so far.

Speaking of music, I was driving home from work the other day, listening to Death Cab, and I had one of my moments where I kind of mentally step back and realize where I am and what I'm doing and how crazy it all is. I realized how little of Brazilian pop culture I have absorbed/adopted. I don't really listen to any Portuguese music. I've watched only two movies that were actually made in Brazil and in Portuguese. I think there are 3 reasons for this lack of assimilation:

1. So much of Brazilian pop culture is really just Hollywood. 90% of the music videos on the two music channels we have are American. I would guess that 95% of the movies on TV and in the theatres are American-made, either dubbed or with subtitles. When I ask my students for groups or singers that they like, they almost always talk about American performers. I guess, in this way, these things are not just American culture that Brazilians are usurping/being forced to swallow, depending on your interpretation of things. They are also Brazilian culture, right?
2. Alexandre doesn't expose me to much of Brazilian pop culture. He has a couple of Brazilian singers/bands that he really likes, but anytime he chooses the music-- in the car, while he's studying-- it's Janis Joplin or Coldplay or ....sigh... Jack Johnson. Which brings me to the third reason I haven't adopted much of Brazilian pop culture:
3. I'm a total music and movie snob and it's hard for me to embrace movies and music to which I cannot memorize poetic words that can be later quoted on Facebook or while drunk. I can pretend I am less pretentious than my fellow Berkeley alumni, but sometimes it just seeps out of my pores. (To Mr. Ray Adkins: Go bears!)

These musings then led me to compare my situation to the situation for immigrants in the United States, and how irrational it is to expect people to assimilate to/in the US, especially when large groups from the same culture concentrate in a given area. It's impossible not to assimilate in many ways-- it's natural for people to try to hang onto what's familiar in an unfamiliar place. I spend a good chunk of my day struggling to communicate about my basic needs-- the price of a haircut, how many reais of alcól I want to put in the car, asking the saleswoman to just verify real quick that they don't sell ANY shoes in my size--that I find immense pleasure in being able to come home and sing Joanna realllllllly loud while I wash the dishes. (Hell... I found immense pleasure in doing that in the US, too-- much to Danette's dismay-- now I just have an excuse.) Ok so the point is, Americans can be very unforgiving when it comes to this notion of assimilation, and we need to be less so. My big lesson this week has been that it's important to try to be understanding, even when it's inconvenient. (Right, Nancy? ;o)

And then the final question of my inner monologue during that always-stressful drive: Am I an immigrant? The word has such specific connotations in English. I'll leave you all to answer that. And please don't say "no, because you're coming home soon," because I think everyone knows that that probably isn't going to be the case. I think it's pretty evident that Brazil and I are going to have a longstanding relationship.

Monday, August 4, 2008

New Kitty, New Week

So the vet called us last week to explain that someone brought in a kitten that she thought we might want. She said that she checked her out and she was healthy and good. She said that she'd pay for the spaying if we agreed to adopt her.

I was still on the fence over the idea of having a new cat so soon, but I agreed to this situation because we knew the cat would be healthy. The "shelter" from where we adopted Joey was more of a lady's house that included the foster cats plus the 12 cats that she already owns. The lady is super nice, but her house is inevitably a breeding ground for diseases and bacteria. I just don't want my kitty to die on me again, ya know?

So we met the kitty and fell in love. We named her Garbage, and if you're a fan of The Office, you may remember why that's hilarious. She's very chubby and spunky and rambunctious. She likes to climb on our shoulders to rest, like a parrot or something. Here's a picture of her:
Alexandre learned the verb "to pet," and how he pets my head and says that he is "personing" me. (Get it? You pet a pet, so you person a person. Entertaining language learner logic!)

In other news, I've been feeling kind of homesick lately. I miss having a big network of people around. I miss being able to go visit my family on a whim for the weekend. I miss BART in San Francisco. I miss getting Newsweek and the Oprah magazine in the mail. In more abstract terms, I miss knowing my way around and knowing how to do things, like find a new apartment or open a bank account by myself. I miss being in a society in which people, more or less, respect their fellow citizens. I have levels of expectation that I've built up after years of living in one culture, like when I can expect people to give me the 'right of way' of sorts, and when I'm supposed to be the patient one, and I absolutely lack that here. The result in a different culture is that I'm often disappointed in and frustrated with people.

This always comes to mind when I'm driving here. The driving is horrible. It's every man for himself. People do things that can obviously hurt them or hurt others with regard only for the efficiency in which they, personally, can arrive at their destination. People run red lights. A lot. People don't give pedestrians the right of way, but pedestrians don't wait for cars, either. Many parents don't put their kids in car seats. Every country has things to be proud of and things to be ashamed of. For America, we should be ashamed of our rampant imperialism and cultural invasiveness. Brazil is a strong and beautiful country with a lot to be proud of, like its pride in its diversity and its acceptance of immigrants and other cultures (last month, the government organized a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the first wave of Japanese immigration in Brazil. Some people have bumper stickers that are pictures of the Japanese flag and the Brazilian flag combined. This would absolutely NEVER happen in the US). Brazil has never been part of a war. But what Brazil possesses in peace and general acceptance, it lacks in specific respect for others. The country at once embraces and denies the idea of community. It's bizarre.

So yeah. I'm not like, so distraught that I'm packing my bags or anything like that. I think this level of saudade (missing/longing) is healthy, and to be expected. Besides, I have a kitty here that is starved for attention. :o)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Brazilian English

So most of my linguistics friends and even some of my non-linguistics friends know about interference via shift, which is when a community learns a new language from other non-native speakers, thus learning the "second-language learner" version as the native version. A famous example is Chinatown in San Francisco, where kids learn English from their parents, who learned English from their parents who were not native speakers. In this way, they learn a Chinese-influenced English, even though English is their first language or one of their first languages. It's a common situation with the French and English in Africa (has anyone seen Blood Diamond, when Leonardo DiCaprio changes his English when he gets further into the jungle?), and even in southern California with Spanish-influenced English (has anyone heard people say things like "I barely finished eating right now"to mean "I just finished eating," or when Spanish speakers tell their brothers and sisters, "my mom wants to talk to you"?) Anhyhoo, this is how new dialects are formed. Pretty fun, right?

The situation in Brazil is a bit different, since people are still learning English as a second language, and not from birth. However, even the most advanced speakers here studied largely under other Portuguese speakers. This made for very confusing conversations during my first few weeks here, as people were using phrases and words in ways that I never use them. But when I started hearing things over and over again, and when I started learning more Portuguese, I could trace back these differences between Brazilian English and my English. I don't want to call them "mistakes," because English here is becoming popular enough to be used between even native Portuguese speakers, and they can understand each other perfectly. But I do point out the differences to my students when they use the words and phrases below. I just say that most Americans use a different phrase or word, but that Portuguese speakers understand their form.

So here's my list of the new English that I've had to learn. Most of the differences can be traced back to Portuguese words and false cognates (words that look like an English word but that have a different meaning). It may entertain some of the Portuguese speakers who read this:

1. combine = to set a date/time for something. ex: "Let's combine a dinner date" or "I want to combine my next class." (From the Portuguese "combinar")

2. I guess = I think. ex: "I guess the answer is "c," teacher." This one was really confusing at first, as these phases can often be used in the same context, but with a different connotation. It's because both phrases in Portuguese use "eu acho que..."

3. reunion = meeting. ex: "We have a reunion with the boss at 3:00pm." me: "We just saw her yesterday." Also a false cognate with Portuguese.

4. education = upbringing, and educated = polite/well-mannered. ex: "It's important for parents to give their kids a good education." me: "do you mean that parents should home school their kids?" the word "educação" in Portuguese carries this extra meaning.

5. congratulations = happy birthday. This one was totally strange for me at first. It's also more of a cultural difference than a linguistic connection. People use the Portuguese word for "congratulations" to wish people a happy birthday. I joked with Alexandre that people are congratulated for surviving another year.

6. jump = skip (as a metaphor). Ex: "Let's jump this chapter in the book. The students already learned the material." Languages choose different metaphors for situations like this, and it just so happens that English and Portuguese chose different metaphors.

7. Is everything okay? = How are you doing? People use this to open conversations because of the Portuguese phrase, "tudo bem?" which functions like "how are you?" at the beginning of almost every conversation. I point this one out to my students a lot, since "is everything okay?" has such a different meaning for American speakers.

8. Good morning (at the end of a conversation) = Have a good day. This one was hard to get used to.

9. he had a problem = something came up. ex: "oh, your student called. He had a problem, and he can't come to class." This phrase initially made me feel unnecessary worry for people.

10. The guys = the people. ex: "you're teaching the guys in room 2 today." However, the class has girls and guys. This logical change comes from people who have heard the phrase "you guys" and who assume that the word "guys" means "people," or is at least a word for guys and girls.

11. to lose = to miss (as a metaphor). ex: "I lost my class because I slept too late" or "I lost my bus because the driver didn't see me." In Portuguese, both words translate as "perder" (just like Spanish!).

I've also had to completely give up on expecting any difference between make/do, leave/let, and expect/hope/wish. All of these groups have only one translation in Portuguese.

I'm sure my Portuguese (which is influenced by both English and Spanish) has just as many changes (problems). Many Spanish words have an archaic or overly formal meaning in Portuguese, so people think I learned Portuguese from a guy from Portugual 100 years ago. Haha. I also will never master the difference between 'ser' and 'estar' in Portuguese or Spanish. Also, Portuguese throws a real wrench in the situation by adding 'ficar' to this paradigm. So in Portuguese, I have to decide between ser, estar, and ficar for the word "to be," and I don't get it right very often. It doesn't help that no one has been able to explain the proper use of "ficar" to me. Oh, and I throw in the word "como" in my conversation every 5 seconds. You know. To replace "like." ;oP

My point? This is my blog and I can write about all the nerdy linguistics stuff I want. Haha. Just kidding. The real point is that all of the people who try to argue that a second language should be learned without the first language (i.e. the "English through English" and "English Only" programs in the US) are completely unrealistic. No one, especially teenage and adult learners, learn a new language in isolation. They will always compare it to their first language. They will always translate. This is one of the many reasons I dropped out of a certain sub-par joke of a grad school that shall remain nameless... I wanted to do a thesis that examined the difficulties that Spanish speakers have with learning English as an argument for using the first language in the second language classroom, but every professor told me that the first language shouldn't be used in the classroom and that they didn't want to be my adviser. Either that reason, or that they simply "weren't interested in it." But I digress. Teaching languages is fun. Learning languages is fun.

Now I challenge all of you to try to write a paragraph in Brazilian English. I only expect Jamie to do it, but I offer the challenge to all of you anyway.
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