Has anyone reading this ever took the time to think about the phrase "baby changing station"?
Think about it for a second.
Are you laughing yet?
In Portuguese, it's even funnier, as there is rarely a distinction between the words "change" and "exchange" from English (both often translate to trocar). If you go to a store, the "exchanges" station is called "trocas." However, the baby changing station in the bathroom uses the same verb:
It's great. If you are tired of your baby and want a new one, you can bring it to a magical station in the bathroom and trade it in. :)
I crack myself up.
In other, less entertaining translation news, I'm really burnt out on trying to make friends with Brazilian girls my age. The situation with Carol and her friends last week was a fluke-- I'm still trying to understand what was different about them that allowed us to continue an enjoyable conversation for an entire evening.
What I usually experience are quiet, emotionless girls who sit, silent, at their boyfriend's sides and refuse to answer more than the bare minimum to my questions. Perhaps they believe that this bare minimum gives the guise of being polite, but it doesn't. What I do in America to make friends doesn't work here, and I don't know if there's something to the language that I'm missing, or something bigger about the culture that I can't compete with.
Let's take last night, for example. We met up with some old friends of Alexandre's for dinner-- 2 guys he grew up with that he hadn't seen for a couple years. One of them brought his girlfriend, who seemed nice enough at first. We introduced ourselves, talked about what drinks were good at the restaurant, etc. Then the 3 boys started catching up, talked about medicine and science (one of the guys is also in med school, and the other is studying chemical engineering), and gossiped about old friends that neither the girlfriend nor I knew. Since she and I were kind of left on our own (typically not a thing that bothers me), I tried to start up a few conversations with her. I mean, my Portuguese isn't perfect, but it's certainly good enough for 1-on-1 small talk like this:
Me: So, how'd you and your boyfriend meet?
Girl: Oh, at the hospital here.
Me: Oh, are you studying medicine, too?
Me: Oh... okay... [questions start running through my head: Was he your patient or something, then? Were you his? He doesn't work at this hospital, he studies in another city...wtf! But I can't ask "so, um, how then?" So I try--] So... what do you do?
Girl: I'm an x-ray technician in the hospital. I just finished my training program.
Me: Oh, that's cool. How do you like working there?
Girl: It's fine.
I waited a few minutes, and tried again.
Me: So, it must be difficult, with your boyfriend studying in another city.
Girl: I'm used to it.
Me: Oh, I guess that's good...how do you guys stay in touch?
Girl: Telephone, email.
Me: Oh, okay. How often do you get to see each other?
Girl: Every 2 weeks.
Me: Wow, even if you're used to it, that can be torture sometimes, I'm sure! [trying REALLY hard to be my pleasant, friendly self]
Girl: He's here for more time during vacations.
Me: Oh, well that's good then. You can spend more time together.
My last-ditch effort:
Me: So, do you live here with your family?
Me: Very nice. We live together. We have a cat.
Girl: I have a dog.
Me: Oh, how cute! What's his name?
Me: Fun! What kind of dog is he?
Girl: I don't know. He's really small.
Me: How cute. Your family probably has a lot of fun with him.
JESUS Christ! It's like pulling teeth! The damn girl didn't offer up a single thing for me to latch onto, didn't bother asking me a single question, didn't work with me at all. Alexandre had tried to give her a few things to ask me about-- "oh, Danielle's an English teacher"-- and "yeah, that crazy guy you're talking about sounds like Danielle's crazy boss--" but she apparently couldn't be bothered.
This is exactly the same thing I experienced at the Christmas party for the job with the less crazy boss. I was sitting across from the accounting woman from the school who I barely knew, and the conversation went the same way-- me, trying to start a conversation, and her, systematically letting it fall down dead. So I gave up on her and tried the girl next to me-- an 18-year-old student (not mine). The same thing happened. After a while of that crap, I left. It's also a common occurrence at the barbecues with Alexandre's med school friends. The guys are all sitting together in one area, and the girls in another. I try to give Alexandre time with the boys, and do my best to work my way in with the girls. There are typically around 20-30 of them at a party, but no dice. Almost all of them (save one or two of the nicer ones) are too busy gossiping and trying to get the boys' attention to maintain a conversation with me.
I understand that sometimes people are shy, but I can't safely say that this is the case here. And Jesus, where is the empathy? I'm the one being dropped into a room full of strangers in a new country, among people who are all easily speaking a language that I don't have complete control over, really putting myself out there. I do my best not to depend on the other people to bring me into the conversation, but Christ, I need these uppity twentysomethings to meet me halfway.
I'd like to think that I'm not some kind of leper. I pride myself on being able to make friends with people easily. Not necessarily new best friends, but I at least have a knack for cocktail party talk. I'm good at bringing people together at parties if they have similar interests. I'm a good listener. I know a little about a lot of topics. I don't just talk about myself the whole time. (Right?)
But here, I'm missing something, and I'd really appreciate it if someone could tell me what it is. I don't think it's something overgeneralized, like "all Brazilian girls are snobs, especially the ones with a bit of daddy's money in their pockets." I mean, they make friends with each other. Also, I don't have this problem with Brazilian guys-- the guys at dinner last night were totally friendly and receptive, and the same goes for many of Alexandre's guy friends. So what IS it with the Brazilian counterpart of my gender? Anyone? Anyone?
On a happier note, we've had a nice weekend with Alexandre's family. Alexandre was trying to be nice and carinhoso and called me "graceful" yesterday, and I laughed at him, and he didn't understand what was so funny. Here's a picture of us at the rest stop on our way here:
I'll try to get some pictures with his family today and I'll put them up later in the week. But in the meantime, any insight into the mysterious working of Brazilian girls would be a big help!