So last week, I invited a teacher friend over for lunch. (Her name is Ana, and she's very nice. She lived in the US for like, 10 years. She's chatty.) Alexandre suggested that I make her Mexican food, but we didn't have any ground beef. So I went to the store to pick some up. I'm totally over shopping at the overpriced Brazilian Wal-Mart and contributing to their empire. But Alexandre recently found a local supermarket with better prices, so I decided to go check it out.
I walked around the meat department, looking for the styrofoam and plastic wrap. There was none! Only a giant butcher table with 3 butchers cutting up meat, and a sign saying something to the effect of "please take a number" in Portuguese.
I took a number just to be safe, and then asked the butcher, "do you have ground beef?" (in Portuguese).
He looked at me funny. "Yeah...but [something unintelligible]."
"I'm sorry, what?"
A lady next to me butted in, probably after hearing my accent and seeing my confusion. "Did you understand him?" She asked.
"Well, you have to choose the kind of beef you want, and then they grind it for you..." The lady continued talking, but I started to panic. What KIND of beef?!? The ground kind. I had no idea what to choose. I decided to start paying attention again.
"...for example, you could choose 'coxão duro,' coxão mole,' o 'patinho.'" The lady was saying. She was pointing at the pricing signs. "Those are all good for ground beef. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do. Thank you very much for your help." That really was very nice of her to explain that, and she wasn't even condescending or anything. Maybe she had visited the US and understood why I wouldn't know those things.
Now, while I waited for my number to be called (and trying to stifle feelings of impending doom as the numbers crept up ever closer), I had to decipher out which cut to choose. The store had a moderately helpful sign up behind the butchers' table that looked like this:
I say "moderately" helpful, because I don't even know the names for cuts of meat in English or Spanish, let alone Portuguese. And even if I did know, we eat a different breed of cows here in Brazil, which might change things up a bit. I realized how bad it is that I don't even know what part of a cow I'm eating when I eat it. I really have no idea where my food comes from, especially in the US. How embarrassing. I remembered the 3 cuts that the lady told me, and I found them on the diagram. I also compared their prices. The patinho looked best-- it looked like the "meatiest" region of the three, and was also the cheapest.
Now I had the task of figuring out how many kilos I wanted. I still haven't developed any kind of intuition for how much a kilogram is. (Kilometers, however, I do better with, mostly because I drive much more than I weigh things.) I kept my eye on the scale as the other customers ahead of me made their purchases. Hmm... that guy's bag is 1.2 kilos, but that's way more than I want. Hmm...He has 1 kilo, but it's still kind of a lot. Then, suddenly, it was my turn.
"Hello," I ventured."I'd like a little less than 1 kilo of patinho... ground. Like point 9 kilos."
Dumb dumb. I forgot that a kilogram is 1,000 grams, so I could've just asked for 900 grams. I also forgot that the rest of the world uses commas, not points, to denote decimals. The butcher (not the same guy as before) responded with an understandable "oi?" ("huh?")
Where had that nice lady gone? I tried again. "I want almost one kilo of patinho please. Ground patinho."
"Okay." He pulled out a giant slab of meat and chopped the fat off with a sleek superknife. Then he stuffed it into a meat grinder behind him, put a plastic bag at the bottom, and turned it on. It was just like the play-dough set of my youth. Out came the bright red meat. He tied it up, weighed it, slapped on a price sticker, and we wished each other a good day at the same time.
Jesus. But I did it! I didn't have to go to Wal-Mart, and I made a delicious lunch to boot.
After some research online, I learned that "patinho" means "knuckle," which is kind of gross. It didn't look like a knuckle in the picture. I've never heard of "knuckle" as a cut of meat. (Perhaps that is a poor translation.) But it tasted all right, which brings me right back to where I started, I suppose. I can't say with certainty that I learned anything.
To continue along under my "how things work" title, we bought a new fan this week. (Remember that we don't have an air conditioner, and we can't find anyone to install our ceiling fan.) I only tell you this so I can show you our last fan, which had become a sort of Frankenstein by the end of its existence:
The position it's in in the picture is the only position it could be in. Also, Alexandre repaired the power cord, the blades, and even some wiring, before we accidentally knocked it over and finally killed it. Why all the hard work? Well, it's more of the norm here in Brazil. A stupid piddly fan of that size costs 100 reais. (It's 18 dollars on the US Wal-Mart website. My monthly salary is roughly the same in dollars and reais alike.) So Brazilians fix stuff. I, on the other hand, would've scrapped the thing months ago and picked up a new one at Big Lots... if I had been living in the US. But I'm not. So we fix stuff (and by that, I mean "Alexandre fixes stuff"). And because of it, he knows how lots of things work, and I don't.
I feel a little guilty for not knowing about household things, but it really doesn't effect my life as much in the US because the cost of living is so much cheaper. But I feel a lot guilty about the meat thing, and I'm going to make an effort to learn more.
Something I DO know: If you want to royally piss off your cat, wrap her up in a blanket and put a hat on her and sing "baby bumpkin gatinha!" to her and take lots of pictures: