Friday, January 30, 2009

Are You a Native English Speaker?

Take a survey!

Hi everyone,

If you're bored at home, or at work, or procrastinating for whatever reason, or interested in linguistics, or able to read this note because you learned English on your mother's knee, then please take 2 minutes to complete an interesting survey to see how your English speaker brain organizes the world.

You'd really be helping out my good friend Tamara, who loves English so much that she's willing to study our native speaker idiosyncrasies from the icy hills of Germany. She can't exactly walk into a café or bar and pester people the way we could in Berkeley, so help a girl out!

Who knows, maybe you'll learn something, too!

(If you already saw this on Facebook, sorry for the redundancy.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cutting the Cord with the Crazy Boss

So I've had enough of the Crazy Boss and his horrible, disorganized school and his ridiculously selfish ways. I've had enough of this erratic sleep/work schedule and those useless meetings, and the same stupid conversations over and over. I've had enough of losing money by being forced to prepare everything for a class from scratch because he didn't order books, or driving to work 3 times in one day because he can't give me a condensed schedule. I'm tired of students having the right to come whenever they want, and to cancel whenever they want with no consequence.

Jobs are supposed to get better as you get older, not worse.

Last week, I was talking with a teacher at the other job. She was talking about the other school that SHE works at. I asked her how it was and if they were hiring, explaining that I was really unhappy at my other school and wanted to try out a new place. She said she'd see what she could do.

Well, word [gossip] travels fast. When I went into work last night, a different teacher came to me and said, "I need to talk to you-- the other teacher came to me and said you're looking for a new school to work at. Well, my second school is hiring, and the boss is really interested in you! Can I give her your number?"

"Wow, thanks. Well, how do you like working there?" I asked. "Is it organized and all that?"

"Yeah, it's a really good school. It's established and well-known. I like it a lot."

"Does she have enough hours to give me? I don't want to quit the other job until I can replace the majority of my hours, ya know?"

"Well I know she has at least 3 groups she'd want to give you. Most of the students are high school students, so the hours would be in the afternoons. And then you could work here [at second job] more at night."

"Ok, well it sounds good so far. I'd like to talk to her. Please, give her my number. Thank you!"
A few minutes later, Not Crazy Boss came into my room as I was preparing for class.
"Hi," She said happily. "The other teachers told me that you're trying to leave your other job and that you're looking for more hours." [wow, gossip central!]

"Oh, yeah. The other school I work at is making me crazy."

"I have to go now, but can we talk on Thursday before your classes? You know that the pregnant teacher is leaving next month, and I'd really prefer to have you take all her classes instead of hiring a new teacher. I would love to have you here more often."
[The pregnant teacher has a ton of classes! This sounded very appealing.]

"Okay, that'd be great. I'll come earlier on Thursday so we can talk."

So yes, I'm optimistic. I'm not going to quit the crazy boss job until I've got at least 15 of my 20 Crazy Job hours covered between the other schools, but I'm going to keep putting my name out there and being more aggressive. I also won't quit until the pregnant teacher actually leaves and I can start her classes. (I imagine I'll find out exactly when that is at the little meeting on Thursday.)

Now comes the hardest challenge of all: finding the least painful way to quit on Crazy Boss. So far, I'm at a loss at coming up with a speech/explanation that will not involve any drama or retaliation. Michelle gave me a pep talk last night ("You can do it! Be strong! Don't take any of his crap!"), and we tossed around possible avenues. Please read our options below. If you have any ideas on how to confront this guy please, please leave them here. I'm totally stuck.
Our ideas:

1. The Cut and Run (my favorite): Write a letter and drop it off at the school with my books. Avoid all confrontation.

Pros: Screen my calls for a week or so, so Crazy Boss can't argue with me. Drama factor is VERY low.

Cons: I will for sure lose any last paychecks (I have no legal rights here. I'm working illegally). This is also the lamest and most unethical way to quit.

2. The 2-Week's Notice (Alexandre's idea): On a Friday afternoon, just as I'm leaving, tell Crazy Boss that I've decided to quit because I've gotten a better offer from another school, and that I'll be leaving in 2 weeks. Before he has time to whine, tell him I have to leave quickly because Alexandre is picking me up and I can't stay and talk. Then run out to the getaway car.

Pros: He'll have time to find a new teacher. I'll have time to say goodbye to my students and offer myself for private classes for them and their friends. More importantly, I'll have time to talk to the secretary and the very nice/fair accounting guy and be sure I get my paychecks.

Cons: I'll have to deal with Crazy Boss for 2 weeks of pleading ("How could you DO this to me?"), promising ("I'll give you a raise. I'll give you more classes. The school is really growing! I have big plans for you!"), and inappropriate prodding ("But what's the other school? Tell me. Why are they better? I can match whatever they're giving you. Just tell me who they are.") Drama factor is VERY high, as well as the retaliation risk. He was the one to tell me that sometimes schools will call the police and report other schools if they have an illegal American teacher in order to get the other school in trouble. With this option, I'd tell him that I'm leaving the other job, too, but I don't want him to call and report them just in case.

3. The America Excuse: Tell Crazy Boss that I have to move back to America.

Pros: Slightly less prodding, as well as less risk for retaliation.

Cons: Still a lot of inappropriate prodding ("Tell me why, tell me why!"). I don't want to say that I'm breaking up with Alexandre, because he'll bother me for details (remember I said how inappropriate he is?). I don't want to say about any deaths, because I'm always a bit superstitious about lying about sick or dead family members in order to get out of work. But the biggest con is the risk of running into him in this relatively small city, or of a student mentioning that one of their friends has me as their teacher and him finding out through the grapevine that I didn't actually leave. Also, unless I give the dying family member excuse, I can't leave as quickly. Or can I?

That's the best we've come up with. What do you think? Which seems the most plausible and the least painless?

Notice how none of them really involve the truth. I just know the truth ("you suck and your school sucks") isn't going to get anywhere, because he isn't gonna hear it. I don't know. I'm just dreading the confrontation. Usually I'm not a person who shies away from confrontation, but I've really had my share of irrational "adults" lately. I'm over it. I'm not looking forward to trying to get my way / protect myself with yet another person who thinks that they are perfect and free of blame and who is incapable of having mature, constructive conversations.

So, please! You guys have been very helpful and informative about my advice requests before. More input would be great.

If anything, you can just wish me luck. :oP

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Update in Pictures

Thanks to everyone for commenting on the last entry about the strange ways of Brazilian girls, though I must say that all of those interpretations were pretty darn depressing... none of them gave me something else I could do. I think that's because there isn't much else I can do. ;oP Oh well.

In happier news, we had a little visitor in the bathroom the other night:
Someone or something got a hold of his tail, but maybe it's the kind of gecko whose tail grows back...? Cute, anyhow.

On Sunday afternoon, shortly after my last post, we went to a churrascaria (BBQ restaurant) with Alexandre's family. The style of these restaurants is called "rodizio" (sp?), which is similar to an all-you-can-eat buffet, except the waiters go around the tables and bring the meat to you, and you just take pieces of the types you like. There's also a salad bar on the side that you can help yourself to.

I ate capibara for the first time in my life (I had heard it was illegal to eat here, but apparently not), and it tasted like really moist pork (that sounds so dirty and suggestive!).

Here's a picture of Alexandre and his family at the restaurant (sans the little brother, who's studying abroad in Canada right now):

(kind of an awkward picture of Alexandre, but you all already know how cute he is)

And here's Alexandre's mom "accepting" meat from one of the waiters:
And here's us (here we are -- "these are they-- who talks like that?"), eating a ton and being fat and happy as clams:

Delicious free lunch paid for by the in-laws is always nice, especially when you didn't work in December and it's almost the end of January and you're totally broke, ahem.

On Sunday nights, there's a sort of variety show on TV called "Fantastico." (Creative name, no?...) It's a mish-mosh of programming.... basically whatever they feel like showing that night. Sometimes it feels like 60 Minutes; sometimes it has its own little reality show going on (like right now, where they've taken a family that's really bad at managing money and put the 16-year-old daughter in charge of the budget); sometimes it plays edited versions of the American show "Dr. Hollywood" (is that the name in English? that Dr. Ray guy), because the plastic surgeon featured on the show is Brazilian-American, and he can come on via satellite and do little interviews with one of the Fantastico hosts in Portunglish (he says this like "trabalho de nariz" for "nose job").

Last Sunday, in an SNL-style segment, the show recreated Obama's inauguration ball/dinner. They made the food that Obama ate and decorated a room with lots of American paraphernalia. They even had a guy dressed up like Obama who was doing the "Obama dance"-- I took pictures of the TV:

If you scroll down a bit on this website from Fantastico, you can watch a clip that's a bit clearer than my TV pics, and get a feel for what Fantastico is like. It was all in good fun. The Brazilian media is, on the whole, very supportive of Obama, and I think they were just trying to give a more unique take on the whole thing, trying to make a way for people to laugh a bit.

I'll leave you with a song that's popular right now-- I think it's pretty. The singer's name is Vanessa da Mata. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


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?
Girl: No.
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! 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 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?
Girl: Yup.
Me: Very nice. We live together. We have a cat.
Girl: I have a dog.
Me: Oh, how cute! What's his name?
Girl: Tobi.
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.
Girl: Yup.

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!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Busy Week

My work schedule is back in full swing, more or less, which means that Crazy Boss is back to his old antics. Not paying me on time, double-booking me for classes, being his generally stupid self.
I currently have 7:00am classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I generally avoid morning classes because I have so many night classes (I teach until 10:30 or 11:00 every night), but this girl is really advanced and busy and it was only 2 days, so I agreed to it. But then Crazy Boss decided that he wanted me to teach another possible class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7:00am at a company on the edge of town. I agreed to it only if he agreed not to give me other morning classes so that I could take naps. But my morning schedule, too, has since filled up, and the company classes haven't even started yet.

So, after Alexandre's encouragement, I told Crazy Boss to give the company classes to another teacher. The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: Hey, so, I'd like to change my schedule. I think it would be better if you offered that class at the company to another teacher. I'm telling you now, since the class hasn't even been confirmed or anything.

Crazy Boss: No, no, no. That's not possible. I already promised them the American teacher. They're 'counting on you [his favorite phrase].

Me: Okay, but you promised ME that my schedule would be more compacted to make up for me working until 11pm and then at 7am the next day, but it's not. I have class with student A at 10:30am, class with student B at 11:30, and then class with group C at 3:00pm, plus the translations. I am telling you my limits. I can't be a morning person AND a night person.

Crazy Boss: Oh, well you can just tell all of your new students that they have to come at different times.

Me: Well, I don't think that'd work...those students chose those classes to fit around their schedules...also, I mean, YOU confirmed it with them, and they've already started with me, so... I'm just a little confused. When you gave me all those other classes, I assumed that the company class hadn't worked out, or that you didn't want me to teach it anymore.

Crazy Boss: Well, Gee. [the word he uses when he's pissed off or disappointed]. You know, I was really counting on you, Danielle. I just really hope the company still wants the class. [basically ignoring all of my logical arguments and trying with the guilt trip]

Me: Um, they will. Just tell them I don't speak enough Portuguese to teach an intro class, and that maybe I'll start with them next semester. They really can have any teacher when they're just learning "hi, my name is..." and the numbers and stuff.

Crazy Boss: Fine, well, I guess I can't do anything else.

This went relatively well, despite his frustration-- he didn't make any dramatic ultimatums, and didn't keep pressing me like he usually does. Dare I say he's starting to respect me, even a little?

Plus, he can't keep whoring me out as the American teacher, promising me to every student without my permission just to get them to sign up. He has to hire teachers that he respects enough, and he has to promote a school in which ALL of the teachers are high-quality, and not reinforce the idea that just because you're a native speaker, you can teach the language better than a non-native.

Oh, and he hired a new teacher whose English is really bad. He often asks me to give a short interview to potential teachers to check their English. When I asked her about her studies, she said "I form-ed in tranduction." (If you're a Portuguese speaker reading this, you know how bad that is for an answer!!!) She was trying to stay that she majored in translation. She didn't even study English-- she studied French, hadn't seen an English text book since high school, and said she wanted to teach English to improve her English! Sorry honey, that's not how it works.

I told Crazy Boss that her English was bad, and he hired her anyway. When I asked why, he said, "oh, well, she's really cute!"


In other news, the cat's in heat, which proves for a MOST annoying living environment. She meows CONSTANTLY. She follows us around sticking her butt in the air. It's all very reminiscent of the South Park episode, Cat Orgy, when Cartman's cat is in heat and throws a party at the house and they use catnip as cocaine. The poor baby Garbage. She just wants some hot kitty action. We're taking her to the vet next week to get fixed.

Alexandre has started his 12-hour, overnight hospital shifts this semester (on top of his 8:30-5:30 hospital schedule). He was totally excited and gung-ho about it at first-- plantões are kind of a rite of passage for med school students, and he "got to stitch up a guy's head all by [him]self!"-- but after 3 nights of it in one week, he's totally over it. Luckily, it's typically only once or twice a week at most.

In good news, I'm actually kind of sort of making friends, maybe. On Saturday night, my student-friend Carol (the one who watched the cat) invited me out to a bar with her girl friends. I hummed and hawed because the bar was kind of expensive and I would need a ride and I didn't want to be difficult and I generally shy away from big groups of girls. But I talked myself out of being the recluse I can sometimes be, and decided to go.

I had such a great time! The girls were REALLY nice and fun. They're all doing a PhD program in genetics at the public (better than private) university here. It was a really good mix of silly fun girl conversation ("my hair is SO thin!" "I need to lose 4 kilos!") and actual intelligent conversation (Barack Obama's plans to help improve the American economy and its effects on Brazil; the double standard on women with regards to education in Brazil... get a degree, but don't be smarter than your man). Some of the girls spoke English, but the Portuguese really wasn't a problem. That's because the girls were smart enough and nice enough to try to speak a little slower for me, not to spend the night gossiping about people I didn't know, and not to use too much slang.

Nobody got too drunk or dramatic, no one ran away with strange men, and a good time was had by all. Here's a pic to prove it:
Carol invited me out with them again tomorrow night, so I'll probably go for a bit. :)

I guess that's it for now. We're going to Alexandre's parents' house this weekend, so I'll try to update from there.

I'll leave you with a wonderful video of the inauguration coverage at UC Berkeley... go bears! You can check it out here. (Thanks, Alejandro, my Spanish brother!)


Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Bring Us More American Culture"

So I have this class of relatively advanced students. I had them last semester, dropped the class when I thought I would have lots of at-home students, and picked them up again this semester when those all-talk at-home students didn't pan out.

They're a nice group, but getting them to talk is like pulling teeth. I've tried so many different kinds of activities, but they prefer to be talked at than to talk themselves. A problem with the group is the huge age gap the ages range from 15-55.
So on our first day back yesterday, I was frank with them-- I'm kind of lost as to what to do to make the class more interactive/exciting/valuable for them. I asked them what they liked about the semester before, what they didn't like, what they wanted specifically. Even then, the answers were sparse. But one girl (an 18-year-old), said, "bring us more American culture. You know, things that aren't in Brazil."
"Yeah, yeah!" They agreed.
The 15-year-old said, "Yeah, like bad words, slang, movies..."
A 31-year-old said, "like the American style of business meetings...."

Those ideas were a help, but it's hard to actually translate those elements into activities. Furthermore, I get the impression that they think there's some sort of secret I'm keeping from them. I don't know what there is about American culture that I can "bring" to them in a way that improves their English. I don't want to just bring lectures on "the differences between American and Brazilian Culture." They have to be the ones doing the speaking.
My boss is flexible about the material, which is nice after the experiences Kristin and I had teaching in San Diego. We're allowed to bring in whatever multimedia we want; I can show movies or TV shows, I can bring in my laptop and talk about YouTube clips (though remember that most jokes are kind of lost on non-native speakers), etc. He also encourages me to teach bad words and slang if the students ask for it. So I have options... I just have to think more.

So now I come to you, faithful and mostly American blog readers! (Non-American blog readers can also be a huge help, since you have an idea of things about America that you didn't know that you wish you had before you got there.) What about American culture can I "bring" to my students? If you don't know of activities specifically, you can just tell me things that you think are specific to or important in American culture. If you're feeling extra generous, you can write me a little paragraph titled "A Day in My Life in The US," and talk about your routine (include times that you do things, what you do for fun, what/where you eat, and your job). Don't worry about the English-- just write how you would talk and I'll edit it if I need to. You'd be surprised how interesting you are on this side of the planet, at least to the people in my class! ;)

I'll leave you with some pictures of our typical afternoon storms that we have this time of year. I tried to get a video of the rain and thunder, but the quality on my very nice but very simple digital camera couldn't really capture it. So instead of the storm video, I'll show you a commercial for a new soap opera here that's a bunch of Brazilians pretending to be Indian (just for you, Patty!):

Have a good day, everyone!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Weekend Fantástico!

It's SO great having Alexandre back!!!!!

He counted. It was 45 days apart. That's longer than that Jesus guy went without food. I don't know how military wives do it.

I had to go to a useless 3-hour meeting at Crazy Boss Job on Friday, only to learn that he has decided not to officially start the semester until February. (We'll go back to work with mos of our old classes, but any class getting new students isn't going to start until February.) It's kind of ridiculous. My boss closes for every possible Brazilian holiday-- a 6 weeks for summer (now), 4 weeks for winter (July), 1 week for "semana do saco cheio" (spring break), 1 week for Carnival (late February), every piddly national holiday, state holiday, and even local holidays. The result is that the school is closed for almost 25% of the year... and he wonders why teachers come and go so quickly.

The good news is that the boss has hired on this older woman who is a veteran Portuguese teacher (haha, Kristin) at one of the private (less good) universities here. She is incredibly organized and dominating (as I can be), but I think she actually makes progress with my boss because she's older than him. She talks to him like a child, which is apparently exactly what he needed. She has whipped him into shape, convincing him to create (or, in some cases, pay people to develop) a lesson plan calendar for each level and textbook (forcing all the teachers to be on the same page and allowing students to make up classes on other days if they're absent), a grading system and website for the grades, a school calendar (which is why we know about all of the dates we're closed already), and contracts for the students and secretaries. It's amazing! All of the structure is slowly getting into place... it'd be nice to see it pan out.

We spent the rest of the weekend lounging around, mostly watching season 2 of The Big Bang Theory on my laptop. I substituted all day (6 hours...practically overtime status for a teacher) at Nice Boss Job on Saturday, and did a bunch of translations. A high point of the weekend was the translator add-on that I found for Mozilla Firefox. It hooks you up with a whole bunch of online dictionaries that you can set to your language preferences. You type in the word or phrase you're looking for into the toolbar, and then choose the dictionaries that you want to use to translate it. I know it can do more, like translate webpages, but I haven't really played with it enough yet to fully appreciate it.

Oh, we also forced the cat to take pictures, including some with the new safari hat that I brought her from the US (it is clearly evident how much she loves the hat):

On Saturday night, we got all dressed up to go out, but the few bars in our city were packed with long lines because it was raining, so the outdoor seating was closed. We ended up just going to a churrascaria (country-style bbq restaurant) by our house and having a couple drinks and free appetizers there (mmm... bread with garlic butter sauce...).

When I came to Brazil the first time, I forgot to bring a cookbook that my grandma made me (I left it in what became my sister's apartment). I got it back during my trip home, and brought it back with me. So on Sunday, we decided to try out one of her recipes for a big Sunday lunch. She called it "Nanny's Stir Fry," and I don't think I'd ever actually eaten her version of it, but we had all the ingredients already and it seemed easy enough.
We did such a great job! It was delicious. We also successfully re-created Nanny's chicken gravy to put on top. Here's a pic... we hope you're proud, Nanny! :

...and now we face the daunting task of cleaning the apartment. It was uninhabited for a month (= DUST), and we are sloppy unpackers. I think it's messier than it's ever been. No pictures of that for you.

It's so nice to be back to my day-to-day life.
One more cute gatinha picture for you:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Last Night without My Darling

So Alex doesn't get back into town until tomorrow night....ugh!! Let me remind you that he left on Thanksgiving. This whole separation has really been quite torturous.

Of course I'd rather have him home already, but since is the last day/night with the apartment to myself, I've decided to make the most of it. I've done all the things that really annoy him so I could get it out of my system, I...

1. ...slept in until 2pm. (It's my cold and the jetlag, not laziness, I swear!)
2. ...ate leftover mandioquinha for dinner because I was too lazy to cook something real. This has led to 2am hunger pangs, to be remedied by greasy quesadillas.
3. ...ate said greasy quesadillas in bed. Oh man. This would push all of his OCD sanitation buttons.
4. ...watched Sex and the City and Law and Order SVU at the same time (flipping back and forth at commercials) WHILE playing on the computer, breaking our rule of "you can't watch something I think is lame on TV and hog the computer at the same time."
5. ...spent a good 2 hours singing along to Bright Eyes and reading old issues of the Oprah magazine online.
6. ... didn't take a shower until 6pm (and only because I had to go to work).
7. caught up on old Grey's Anatomy episodes.
8. ...plucked and preened.
9. ... let the cat sleep in the bed. (see #3)

I guess that's it. Yup. As fun as that was, I'd much rather have my carinho here with me. :o( Life is lonely without your partner at your side.
Only 24 more hours!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Being a Native Speaker Used to Mean Something

While preparing for a class today at Job with the Not-Crazy Boss (I know, the names keep changing), I came upon a word in the textbook that the book's authors had listed as a career: "pugilist."

Pugilist? What is this Latin nonsense? The authors of this book series are Brazilian, which is cause for MANY mistakes-- a handful in each chapter. I knew there had to be a Germanic synonym for this word that was actually worth teaching, so I went in to ask my boss what a "pugilisto" was.

"Pugilisto?" She asked? "You know, a person who fights, for a sport, like boom boom" ::makes punching motions::
"A boxer?" I asked.
"No, a pugilist." She said.
"Well, maybe," I responded, "but I've never heard that word, so I'm just trying to figure out what I should teach instead."
"You should teach Pugilist, because it's what's in the book. What, Pugilist isn't a word in English?" She asked, surprised, and then opened the book and pointed to the page, as if its printing in the Brazilian textbook made it true.
"Well, maybe it's a very formal version of a different word, like... boxing, maybe-- but I don't know how good it is to teach that if no native speakers use it in conversation."

My boss was surprisingly peeved. She jumped onto (not nearly as good as or the OED), which had a listing for "pugilist" in English. The definition? "boxer."
"See? It's a word." she said.
"Okay..." I wasn't really sure how to approach this. "I understand that it's possible that I don't know every single word in the English language, but what I'm saying is, I don't know how valuable it is to teach words like this if the students are never going to hear it, and it native speakers aren't going to understand them. I mean, I've gone 23 years in my life and I've never heard this word, so...."

"But it'll be easier for them to remember than 'boxer,'" she argued. "They'll know it."
I sighed. She wasn't going to be in my classroom, and it wasn't worth arguing. She was still going to teach "pugilist," no matter what I said, and I certainly wasn't, and she wouldn't know either way. English is not Portuguese. It's not even in the same family as Portuguese. It does not owe any alliance to its Latin forms of words.

Things like that happen frequently, however, with at both schools. (Crazy boss, for example, insists that to "take something up" means the same thing as "brush up on something," and I've had to correct more than one teacher who pronounced "to be" as "choobie.") The reason it annoys me (aside from the fact that it's my damn language and you'd think they'd have a little more respect) is that their stubbornness doing their students a real disservice. Every single one of my students in the US complained about how they felt so good at English back in their home countries, and after one day in the US, realized how little they knew-- people had a hard time understanding them, and they had a hard time understanding native speakers. It's because of crap like this. It's because "textbook English" is rarely representative of real-time, on-the-street English. It's important to introduce students to things like "pugilist," (if, for example, they are fans of English puzzle books), but it's much more important to tell them the words and grammar that people actually use. I teach "I was like" as a casual synonym for "I said," even though no book introduces it. I warn my students that "wait!" is a very strong command, and that it's much more common to hear "one moment please" or especially just "hold on."

It's important to teach formal registers, and it's valuable to introduce students to English features that are more similar to their own first languages. But most students who speak Latin languages don't need much training in how to function in formal English environments (this is why)-- the problems come when they try to make friends or have casual conversations and interactions. It's high time these damn language schools accepted that. Gragh.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Some Warren for All of You

My favorite quote from my favorite book:

"...When you get in love you are made all over again. The person who loves you has picked you out of the great mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what it has been made into. But at the same time, you, in the act of loving somebody, become real, cease to be a part of the continuum of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up. So you create yourself by creating another person, who, however, has also created you, picked up the you-chuck of clay out of the mass. So there are two you's, the one you yourself create by loving and the one the beloved creates by loving you. The farther those two you's are apart the more the world grinds and grudges on its axis. But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouldn't be any difference between the two you's or any distance between them. They would coincide perfectly, there would be a perfect focus, as when a stereoscope gets the twin images on the card into perfect adjustment." -Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men

Monday, January 5, 2009

Engrish, Brazil Style

It's my first full day back, and I spent the afternoon re-stocking our refrigerator and wishing Alexandre would get home already (I have to wait until THURSDAY!). Now that I have a camera again, I can put up pictures of funny uses of English around town.

This is an expensive napkin brand... perhaps it's a case of semantic shift?:

And here is the ever-popular nonsensical English T-shirt:

And my personal favorite, an ice cream stand inside the super Wal-Mart metropolis with the well-meaning name that doesn't quite make its mark:

I realize this isn't the best quality picture... I was trying to keep a low profile. If you can't see it, it says "soft mania."

As a side note, I brought home one of those lovely colds that all of you had over the holidays... luckily, it's not too bad, and has interesting consequences: not a single person asked me where I was from today. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that no Brazilians can make nasal vowels when their noses are plugged up.... that means, with a stuffy nose, I just sound sick, and not foreign! Ha! Success!

It's a beautiful day outside, but I want to nip this cold in the bud, so I'm staying in, catching up on subtitled Law and Order episodes and National Geographic shows about monkeys. It's back to work tomorrow!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'm back!

So my first flight was delayed by almost two hours, which, after actually landing and taxing in at my connection airport, gave me exactly 18 minutes to get off of one plane and onto another for its scheduled takeoff time. This required one of those embarrassing runs across the terminal that are not nearly as graceful as they seem in the movies because you're carrying awkward baggage and trying not to do something stupid like drop your laptop.

When I got to the other gate, there was no one else sitting there. I was looking around frantically. A flight attendant called to me, "are you the one from San Diego?" I nodded because I was out of breath.
"Well get on, sweetie!" She cried, motioning to me to the gate door.

I was sitting in a strange seat that Alexandre and I chose back when I bought the ticket because the seating chart had this big black mass in front of those seats and we wanted to know what it was. It ended up being a wall to divide the cabins, and the row behind the wall turns out to be a really ideal seat. You have more leg room, which means you can get out to go to the bathroom with only a mild disturbance to the other people in the row; it also meant I could kick my feet up against the wall in one of my many attempts at getting comfortable in the impossibly uncomfortable airplane seat. We still got individual TVs and tray tables, because they were built differently and came out of the side of the arm rests. Neat!

I was sitting in between an old Catholic Brazilian woman from Bahia who prayed during all of takeoff and a yuppie American girl close to my age with perfectly styled dark brown air and the big awkward teeth that some yuppie American girls have. I tried to make small talk with her, but she wasn't interested. She also didn't speak a lick of Portuguese-- the guy next to her tried to talk to her, and she was like "Huuuuh?? Whaaaat? Sorry...." all slow and fake-ditzy. When the flight attendant came around to offer food, he asked her if she wanted chicken or steak, to which she replied, "do you have anything vegan?" He said, "umm... did you request a special meal beforehand?" but you could tell he wanted to say, "don't you know this is United?" and I wanted to say, "Honey.... you aren't going to survive 5 minutes in Brazil."

I talked quite a bit more to the older woman... and by "I talked" I mean "she talked" because she's 71 and Latina. She was very pleasant and interesting and, after encountering English for the first time at 71, she had already picked up a significant amount! I was impressed. Turns out she was a Portuguese teacher her whole life and proves that I'm not some kind of savant just because I learned Portuguese relatively quickly. If you spend your days fixing cars and teaching other people how to fix cars, it will be relatively easy for you to learn how to fix a boat. Or something. Michelle can probably come up with a better analogy. She was going back to Brazil one last time to sell her farm and all of her possessions, and had happy plans to return to the US to live with her daughter and die in luxury. The whole thing was really quite fascinating.

The minute I got out of the airport, the first thing that hit me was the humidity. I'm smack in the middle of Brazilian tropical summer, which means humid days that always smell like rain and sudden downpours every couple of hours that only last a few minutes. I prefer it to the cold!

But Alexandre's parents found me without any trouble and took me to a churrascaria, and I'm happy to be back to healthy food again. I fell asleep on the way back to their house and then slept all afternoon and now it's 2:00am yay jetlag.

I spent a lot of my travel time reflecting upon how different this trip to Brazil was to my last one, and how much more comfortable I was and things like that. I felt like I didn't come such a long way this time, perhaps because I've already come so far over this last year.
Kinda crazy!

It's good to be back.
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