Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Simple Things Take So Long

As fellow blog-keeper Stephanie has noticed and mentioned, things that used to be simple are sometimes daunting tasks when we try to complete them in another country.

Let me explain how simple, everyday chores become complicated (also how it's just one of those days):

Tasks for the day: Get ready for our trip. Run some errands. Errands included buying a couple presents and household necessities, getting Alexandre some travel provisions, and picking up cat food for C, the friend who's watching Gatinha (she feeds her cat special (expensive) food that can only be purchased at pet stores, and we get it for her because the cats are going to share bowls and because she's doing us a big favor).

Step 1: Went to get in the car. Car won't turn on. Usually, during this time of the year, it's because we put alcohol in the car instead of gasoline, and on cold nights, it like, freezes. But this time, it was clearly the battery.

Hiccup 1: Go back upstairs and call a guy who comes to jump your battery. If Brazilians in this place had the neighborly notion of carrying jumper cables in their cars (and also the cultural notion of doing things yourself instead of paying people to do it for you), Car Battery Jumping Guy wouldn't be necessary. But they don't, so he is.

Hiccup 2: Intercom is broken at the apartment building, despite many a call to the "condomino" (sp?) (HOA people). Wait downstairs for Car Battery Jumping Guy.

Solution: CBJG successfully starts car. 25 reais and 25 minutes later than expected, I'm on my way.

Step 2: Go to Wal-Mart to buy cleaning supplies and The Boyfriend's travel stuff (deoderant, etc).

Hiccup 1: Boyfriend's credit card doesn't work at Wal-Mart. I know it's probably because I'm using the wrong PIN, but I can't remember the right one. Silently curse said Boyfriend for having such similar PINs for his credit card and our debit card. Silently curse Brazilian banks for not letting me open a checking account, forcing me to rely on Boyfriend to handle all of the money things.

Solution: I don't want to call the Boyfriend to ask for the PIN in front of the cashier, so pay with cash.

Hiccup 2: Try to call Boyfriend in the parking lot to ask about PIN. Stupid pre-paid cell phone runs out of credit with no warning. Curse pre-paid cell phones.

Solution: Drive home to use phone. Silently cursing most everything.

Hiccup: Almost die driving home because 3 different stoplights are broken and small-town Brazilians lack the cultural gem that is Treating Broken Stop Light Like a Stop Sign (which is understandable, since Brazilians don't even respect stop signs as it is).

New, Unexpected Step 3: Call boyfriend from house phone.

Hiccup: When I get into the apartment, the power is out, and the phone isn't working. Realize that maybe the lack of power in the apartment is connected to the lack of power in the stoplights.

Solution: Wait for power to turn back on. Not-so-silently cursing most everything.
About 10 minutes later, power turns on. Call Boyfriend. Get the right PIN. Decide what to pay for with cash and what to pay for with the card.

Step 4: Go to the mall to buy presents.

Hiccup 1: Havianas store doesn't have sandles in Sister's size. One could say that sister has big feet. One could also say that Brazilians have small feet. Remember a similar experience a few months back trying to buy myself a bra.

Solution: Buy the biggest size and hope for the best.

Other presents are luckily purchased without any more hiccups.

Step 5: Buy Cat food

Hiccup: I'm hungry and grouchy.

Solution: Leave pet store to Boyfriend. Go home and make a tasty lunch.

Oh, the frustration!!!

But there's also a certain sense of satisfaction in completing these types of tasks. A certain, "look, I did it!" to it. 6 months ago, I wouldn't have been able to call Car Battery Jumping Guy by myself. One one hand, it feels kind of silly and trivial (dude, all you did was buy a few things!), but on the other hand, I know what a damn hassle it was, even though they were things that I would usually consider simple.

REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEALLLLY looking forward to our trip!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Explaining the Brazilian Sítio via FarmTown

I play FarmTown too much, so I decided to "retire;" that is, take away all of my maintenance-needing crops and just build a nice little ranch for myself.

Here it is:

I'm only showing it to you all to explain the idea of a Brazilian sítio.
Here is a very helpful English Wikipedia explanation of the concept. It's a piece of land that poor families use for sustenance and rich families use as a second home. Here are some elements on my Farmtown land that come from the Brazilian idea of a sítio:
1. A path leading up to the house that is lined with palm trees (and coconut ones at that);
2. A big house;
3. A house that used to be for slaves and today is for paid slaves full-time, live-in maids;
4. A bunch of wild banana trees haphazardly planted and impossible to keep in a pretty condition;
5. Thick trees lining the view from the road for privacy;
6. A little (kind of dirty) pond with fish;
7. A small place for some animals (here, it's usually cows); and
8. Rolling green hills! (You'll have to just imagine the rolling-ness, what with the 2-D picture and all).)

One of Alex's long-term plans in life is to own one of these, in 3-D. I'd accept that idea. :)

Not to keep all of you worrying, what I will heretofore refer to as The Friend Project is slow-going, mostly because we're getting ready to come to visit all you fine people next week (wooo hooo!), and the new American job is keeping me really busy. (Also, my boss at the school is on vacation, so I've been teaching all of her classes.)

But I did go out to dinner with one of the 5 girls I mentioned before (let's call her C) and some of her friends. Even though I've gone out with those girls about 6 times now, the whole thing was still pretty fluffy and superficial, but friendly, and at least I got out of the house.

But I did have a nice heart-to-heart with one of the 2 more friendly girls (we'll call her M) while hanging out at her house last week. I told her a watered-down version of what I wrote here, and she said exactly what Ray Adkins wrote in his comment-- that the girls in our small town are totally worried about saying something silly in front of --OOoO, an American! -- so they prefer to just talk about frivolous, short topics rather than try anything a little "deeper" or personal and risk looking bad. She agreed that it's silly ("It's not like you're some kind of saint!"), but had the "mas fazemos o que?" (what are ya gonna do?) attitude about it. I told her I was thankful for having her as a friend, and we had a little moment.

When we come back from the US and my schedule goes back to normal, I'm going to focus on all of the good ideas that you guys had.

One last thing: This morning, I had to go teach my beach-going boss's 8am class. The only problem? Our power went out during the night, re-starting my alarm clock. What did I wake up to? A clock blinking 12:00 and phone call from the receptionist at 8:10 asking what was up. Yikes!

We have a new teacher at the school. He's like 23. It's his first job ever, let alone his first teaching job. He's nice, but a totally naive kiss-ass. (This guy's already on my shit list, because last week, one of the teachers asked me to help her correct something, and while we were working on it, he said, "Wow, she's losing her American ways and turning Brazilian!" We said, "what do you mean?" And he said, "You know! Helping you! Because Brazilians are friendly and they help, and Americans are cold! Haha!" Ignorant douche.) When we teachers convened in the little teacher's room during the morning break, and I told them what happened with the power, he said, "that's why I set both my cell phone AND my electric alarm clock. You never know!"

I wanted to say, "Way to go, big guy." Come on. The boss wasn't even in the room. And also, while power outages are a common occurrence here (about 2-3 times a month, at least in my neighborhood), 90% of them happen between 4 and 6pm, when the air conditioners are still running but people start turning on all of their lights and the system gets overloaded, not at 4am. I'm not gonna wake up Alexandre with 2 alarm clocks on a Saturday morning for the very rare chance that this happens. 1 clock is bad enough, and I don't even really use a cell phone.

Luckily for me, punctuality is not exactly a valued concept for most Brazilians. Double luckily for me, it's socially acceptable to go to work and school with wet hair. Triple luckily for me... my boss is on vacation, and the secretary's totally gonna be on my side and keep the whole thing on the DL.

Just gotta roll with the punches.

I'll see you guys in a week!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bueller? Anyone?

Prepare for a pretty negative entry. If you read this blog for the funny stories or the linguistic observations, you can go ahead and skip this one.

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was having a hard time making friends.

I have lived here for 16 months now. This situation has not improved.

Do you know how long 16 months is? I am a social person. But first and foremost, I'm a human who needs a social group, who needs to be included and understood and needed.

Never in my life did I have a hard time making friends before I moved to Brazil. When I was a kid, we switched elementary schools. No bigs. Switched middle schools. Allright. I moved to the OC for college. Doable. Transferred universities. Even better. Went to Spain for a few weeks to visit some friends, and made friends with their friends, some of whom I still talk to today. Moved again for grad school. Got that friend stuff taken care of.

And now I'm here.
The first few months, I was patient. I didn't speak any Portuguese and I was too overwhelmed and busy to worry about making new friends, anyway. People kind of ignored me at social gatherings, but I chaulked it up to the language barrier.

I think I can safely say that my Portuguese is good enough for friendships now. I still have a hard time in a group discussion (do you know how impossible turn taking is in your non-native langauge? If you've spent a considerable amount of time living in a country that doesn't speak your language, you probably do). But I think that language is less of the problem today. The underlying problem is cultural.

What I want to dispel here is the myth that I hear seriously at least once a week, either in other blogs or from students asking me if it's true: "Brazilians are more open, warm, and welcoming than Americans! Americans are so cold and closed-off!"

People from both countries make this assumption because Brazilians kiss their friends to say hello and automatically turn your name into a nickname (after an hour with me, people start calling me Da or Dani) or call you "querido/querida" (like sweety, honey) all the time.

For me, this is not the defintion of a warm, open culture. A warm, open culture includes people that makes sure that no one is left out, especially in small, social settings. In a warm, open culture, if one girl goes out with another girl to hang out at least 5 or 6 times, the girls will eventually start talking about personal information and the conversation will not stick to superficial nonsense that is only good for the first couple of nights out.

But I'm not here to knock Brazilians or Brazilian girls. I mean, they make friends with each other, somehow. There is just some secret handshake that NO one has taught me yet.
In both countries, of course it's easier to make friends if you're a student, and in both countries, many friendships that people enjoy as adults are friendships that were formed in childhood or in college. But I don't think it's enough to say "oh, well you didn't grow up in Brazil, and Brazilians only have friendships from their childhood." That goes against human nature and can't possibly be true.

I've met some nice girls here. A fellow teacher, a few students that I've done social things with. Even my boss. But the biggest issue I have is with these girls opening up. I can only talk about how I'm different for so long. I can only answer the same questions so many times. These are the questions I am asked the most:
1. Why are you here?
2. 'Are you liking' Brazil? [translation from Portuguese grammar]
3. Do you miss your family?
4. What is the typical food in America? Hamburgers, right? What? Americans don't eat hamburgers every day? Then what do they eat? What do mothers cook? Why can't you tell me one easy thing like "rice, beans and feijoada"?
5. Why are all Americans fat?

These are nice, logical (albeit a bit naive) questions for someone to ask when they meet me. The problem is that it rarely gets past this. I am very happy when people ask me what I think about Obama or anything more specific than those questions above.

I spend most of my time in conversations trying to focus on things that I have in common with the girls. I try to get them to talk about what they do in their free time. I try to ask questions about their friends and family (who they're close to, etc). I try to ask questions about their jobs and/or classes and what their peers/coworkers/clients are like, and if they have any funny/interesting stories. But 9 times out of 10, the other girl offers up a short answer and brings the topic back to comparing things like food and the price of electronics between Brazil and the US. Yes, ok. Let me tell what I know about that for the 1,000th time. Because you're the first person to ever ask me if it's true that there are no churrascarias in the US because beef is more expensive and can't be sold in an all-you-can-eat style.

It's not completey the other person's fault. They're sincerely interested in getting the truth behind the various rumors they've heard about the US. But it just shows that that's all they see me as: The American. A nativa. A branquinha. A gringa. I'm not like, a person with the same problems that they have. It seems like they don't see me as someone with the potiental to be a close friend because they don't offer up anything about themselves and don't ask me anything of substance about myself.

I would say that there are 5 girls that I could call "friends," and out of those 5, I would say that 2 are just now starting to see me as, ya know, a human.

I spend way too much time at home, bored and depressed and playing Farm Town on Facebook. The boyfriend's getting tired of me. I'm getting tired of me. I know that I need to just initiate more girl time with the 5 girls mentioned above, particulary the 2 that I connect with a bit more.

But I also need something else, and I'm honestly out of ideas. Brazil lacks the cultural gem that is the community college. If I were in Sao Paulo, maybe I would've figured something out a long time ago, but living in Countrytown Interior, my options are a bit more limited. I would LOVE to take Portuguese classes with other foreigners, but there aren't any. We called the schools. One school had an Iraqi businessman taking private classes for a while (not sure what he'd think of me...). I would even consider joining a gym (sigh), but we looked into the one here within walking distance and I couldn't join because I didn't have a Brazilian ID or any utility bills in my name. I would really enjoy some kind of volunteering group, and I've made a point to ask my students if there's anything like that in our city, like an Americorps or Habitat for Humanity kind of thing. Exercising just for the sake of exercising? Not really my thing. But getting up on Saturday morning to feed peeps or paint houses? I'm all over that. But... nothing so far. One thing I have been recommended is to start taking dance classes. I'm totally willing to try new things, but ME joining a dance class with beautiful, skinny, tan, coordinated Brazilian women is where I draw the line. I know that the negative effects on my self-esteem will outweigh any potiential benefit to my self-esteem as a result of more friends.

So someone. Please. Tell me. It can't be true that EVERYONE just sits in their houses all night and watches a novela dàs oito e o campeonato brasileiro. People have to have hobbies. People have to have the drive to be social and involved in their community. I can't be the only one.

I need to be part of a society again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ferias Suinas

In light of the swine flu outbreak and its spread to Brazil, the state of São Paulo has decided to close ALL public schools in the state until August 17th.

No one could tell me, really, any statistics to show how necessary this is (i.e., how many people have contracted the flu/died, etc). So I did a little news research and I learned...
*There's a downside of public healthcare: when there's an outbreak of a disease, EVERYONE thinks they have it and goes to the hospital to get checked, for better or for worse (for better).
*5 people have died in Campinas (a city about 2-3 hours from the city of São Paulo).
*All of the other big states are closing schools, too.
* There is an issue about how the classes are going to be made up (Saturdays? Summer school (snow day style)?)
*Private schools and day care centers have the option of whether or not to close. The government encourages it, though, and so most of them are. (Unfortunately, the evil money-grubbing, overcrowded and VERY LOUD day care next to our apartment building has apparently decided to STAY OPEN. FML.)
*At least 70 people have died from swine flu in Brazil. Almost all of them were adults, and 9 were pregnant women.
*Even so, closing the schools might be an overreaction. I found this quote in an article:

"De acordo com o infectologista, não há justificativa para pânico e a gripe A H1N1 "é preocupante tanto quanto outras doenças”. “Morre mais gente de enfarte, de acidente ou de gripe por dia?”, questiona. “Há um exagero nisso, não dá para identificar em toda sociedade quem está gripado”, diz."

Thanks to my awesome translation skills, it says:
"According to an infectologist, there is no reason for panic, and the H1N1 flu 'is as worrysome as any other illness.' 'Do more people die from heart attack, accidents, or flu per day?' he asks. This is being exaggerated, and it's impossible to identifiy everyone in the society who has the flu' he says."

Initially, Alexandre's year in the public med school wasn't included in the people with 2 weeks off. The logic was that, since they don't have classes (only patients), they're not part of the school. Or something.

And then, the DAY we bought our tickets to go to the US, a rumor started going around that ALL years of the med school would be released for the two weeks.

The school is having a meeting today to decide/announce what's going on.

Based on the results, we're going to try to Macguiver new vacation dates. I REALLY hope we can come to the US for more time, but I'm not getting my hopes up. There are a lot of factors, like...
*If/when Alexandre will have to make up the hours lost
*Alexandre's uncanceled plantões (12-hour shifts)
*My work (we're right in the middle of final tests and we're starting a new semester next week)
*The price of changing the tickets
*How many extra days we'd actually get
*Whether or not Alexandre has to go to the hospital the 17th-21st (likely)

I'll keep you posted!
In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Good idea to close the schools?
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