Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More FORMATURA....Alexandre's Walk-Out Song

So for one part of his graduation ceremony, Alexandre has to choose a song to walk out to. Alexandre starts with A, and Brazilian schools organize students by first name, so he's the first one to walk out. Exciting!

In an attempt to counteract all of the people choosing Vanessa da Mata, Coldplay, and that godforsaken "I've got a feeling....that tonight's gonna be a good night!" song, Alexandre has decided to have a little fun with his walk-out music.  Remember that it's only 10-15 seconds of the song, and that 99% of the people in the audience (i.e. everyone that's not me and him) aren't going to understand the lyrics. So basically we'll be cracking up and everyone else will be smiling politely.

He's trying to make his final decision. He's down to the following:

1. "Mobile" by Avril Lavigne (get it? "Everything is changing...")
2. "My Humps" by Fergie/The Black Eyed Peas (just to be funny)
3. "New York" by Frank Sinatra ("Start spreading the news... I'm leaving today!")

or 4. This guy:

So far the bed intruder song is winning, but I'm worried he'll chicken out and go with Frank Sinatra. But I guess that'd be okay. I'm also worried that he'll choose the bed intruder guy and regret it.

Place your votes now!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reposição Madness

I don't know if other English teachers are having this problem, but my reposição (make-up class) situation with my students is getting out of control.

Back in June, I already told my students that they aren't allowed to have reposições anymore, and I took the option out of my contracts completely. Since then, I've tried to be fair and human with people, even though I wasn't contractually obligated to offer reposição anymore (i.e. I've still let some people have make-up classes sometimes). But no more. I'm done. You give people an inch, and they take a mile, and I don't have good haggling or bargaining skills, and my students love to whine and don't know when to quit and everyone signs the contract at the beginning saying that they accept the fact that they can't have reposição, but as soon as they want to make up a class, they whine and argue and insist that they're situation is different.

I'm going crazy. I have 31 students right now (some in groups, some in 1-1 classes). Last week alone, 11 of these people called me saying they couldn't come to their next class and asked if they could come at a different time or cancel the class completely and get their money back by paying less the next month (sometimes the groups of 3 call to say that 1 person in the group can't go so can they "all just make up the class on a different day?").  This is especially problematic because the majority of these people call with less than 12 hours' notice, and most frequently only an hour or two before class is supposed to start.

And then the arguing begins. I remind them that I don't offer reposição anymore. I explain that I try to be flexible if I have a few days' notice, like if they tell me at least the class before or, better, the week before. Then they insist that their situation is different, that it isn't their fault, something came up, and can't they just have reposição this one time? Then I explain that I have 31 students, and when everyone does this, I go crazy. But they explain that they're not trying to make me crazy, nothing is their fault, whine whine whine. Then I usually resolve the problem by telling them that we'll talk more about it during the next class. It's much easier for me to make my points in person, and also, they've usually had some time to think and are more likely to see my point of view. During the in-class meeting, I try to explain as politely as possible that their classes are my job, and I have the right to know my salary for the month at the beginning of the month, and a right to a more-or-less set schedule. I also point out again that they said they were totally okay with all these rules when they signed their contracts.

My arguments are hit or miss. Some people are really good whiners, and I feel like I have no spine sometimes. I know I'm right but I get so damn sick of the whining, and I've been giving in way too much lately. I also realize that my giving in sometimes leads to even more people asking and whining (basically because I gave them their way the first time, I set a standard). A lot of this problem is my own fault for not being more of a hard-ass.

But today a student gave me a particularly annoying excuse when he called asking to re-schedule his make-up class! Basically, I already let his group reschedule one of their classes last week, because they told me 3 days in advance. So the class tomorrow morning was already a resposição.  But then  he called tonight (11 hours before the class) saying that they can't go and that they need to reschedule the rescheduled class. Oh, but it's not their fault, because their boss scheduled a meeting at the last minute. So therefore, because it's "not their fault", they have the right to a last-minute reposição.

No. Done.  It was the last straw.  I was so angry because I already tried to be nice by giving them the make-up class in the first place, only to have them try to complicate things for me even more.

So this is going to be my new system:

It's the beginning of the new month, so no one has paid for their September classes yet. Starting now, in September, all of my contracts are going to be month-to-month. My students are all signing a new supplemental reposição contract. This new contract says in very clear Portuguese that there are no exceptions to the rule of no reposicões.

Students make and sign the following month's contract during the last class of the previous month (so for example, for September's classes, they'll do this during their last class in August, so this week). At the time that we draw the contract up, they have the option of not scheduling any classes in the first place, or scheduling some classes on different days. So if, in the last week of August, they already know that they have something going on in September that's going to interfere with September's classes, I'm flexible. But once September 1st rolls around, that's it. They're locked in for the month. No changes. If they can't come to a class that they scheduled, too bad.

My new reposição contract has a list of example reasons that are NOT reasons that they can schedule a reposição once the contract is signed. It explicitly says that there are no exceptions, but just to be extra clear, these are not exceptions either:
    *The student is sick
    *Someone in the student's family is sick
    *The student has a doctor's appointment
    *Someone in the student's family has a doctor's appointment
    *The student is very busy
    *The student has a test or an important meeting the next day and wants to prepare
    *Someone the student knows dies
    *The student must stay late at work
    *The student needs to travel for some reason
    *The student forgets about class
    *The student learns about a commitment  the day after the contract is signed
    *The student has car problems
Even if someone signed their September contract earlier this year (like in July or August), I'm giving them the chance to change their September schedule now and pay accordingly. I'm also giving them a complete way out now if they don't accept this. If they don't like this idea, they can just stop now, free and clear, not pay for September, and we'll both be on our merry ways. I have a waiting list of 25 people willing to accept the rule, and I don't need their whining. 

It will also say that in the rare case that I need to cancel a class, they have the option of making the class up or getting their money back. Do you think this is hypocritical? That I have the right to cancel, but they don't? I don't see how else to do it. I know this won't be a huge problem though, because I almost never cancel on anyone. Plus, they're given 2 options if I cancel.

Do you guys think this is too harsh? I don't. It was the most fair option I could think of. Almost all relevant excuses (business trips, meetings, doctor's appointments, school or work functions, etc) are usually known a few weeks in advance. I understand that English class isn't their only commitment in life, but at the end of the day, it's still a commitment. Almost all of my students pay for gyms and understand that they still have to pay for the entire month, even if they decide not to go after work or whatever. I feel like it's the same logic. But more importantly, I'm not asking anything unreasonable in the world of English classes. Almost no English schools offer make-up classes, or, if they do, require the students to pay some kind of fee. Most private teachers in town are much more expensive than I am, require 6-month-long contracts and post-dated checks, and offer NO repoisções whatsoever. 

So thats it. Once Alexandre corrects my new contract, I'll post it as a Google doc for you guys, in case anyone wants it. Even if you're just starting out with private classes and aren't having this problem yet (that means you, Stephanie, Linds, and Fiona), I think it might be a good idea to include it or something like it now and prevent the problem before it gets out of control (so... the opposite of what I did). What do you guys think?

In the meantime, if anyone has any advice on arguing with these kinds of students, please, tell me.  I'm a fair and honest person who expects other people to be fair and honest and who never learned how to negotiate or insist properly. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010


All right people. Get ready. Alexandre's FORMATURA is less than 10 weeks away. The best translation of formatura is "graduation", so you may think, "10 weeks until a graduation that's not even yours? So what?" But it's so much more than that. It's hooplah. It's a gala. It's an EXTRAVAGANZA.

To wrap my brain around what's been going on over this formatura, I've had to think of it as the cultural equivalent of my first-born daughter's wedding. That's the only way that I can explain and understand how much work has been going into this thing.

To clarify: the formatura is a series of ceremonies, dinners, and parties over the course of 4 days. In lieu of tuition, I suppose, Alexandre's parents have been making payments on this event since he started college 6 years ago. That's another way I can explain said hooplah: Alexandre studies medicine at a good public school. It's a big deal, and it's also free because it's public. So I think families and years of party planning committees have justified the big spending on the formatura with the fact that the parents aren't paying for the degree. 

Of the 60 or so students graduating this year, only about 40 can afford to participate. (This is something else that I think is kind of sad. You worked your butt off in college but can't go to any ceremony if you're not willing to pay for a week's worth of partying for you and 10 other people.)

Those who have paid to go are allowed to bring like, 10 guests each, and even then, the limits on guests are flexible (especially if you're part of the party planning committee). People like Alexandre who are brining "only" 6 people can sell their extra tickets. Every dinner and party has an open bar and all-you-can eat buffet (they pull out all the stops).

So as you can see, the formatura is a big deal for the families, and an even bigger deal for the actual graduates, ESPECIALLY the girls. (This would be a good time to remember my wedding analogy.) If you live here in Brazil or if you've read this entry, you have an idea of what to expect from a lot of these girls, the ones that are rich enough to pay for the prep courses to get into Brazilian public med schools, and everything that comes along with that. Based on the amount of time, money, energy, worrying, and Orkut updates that they're dedicating to this formatura, you'd never guess that they have their boards (residency tests) the week afterwards. (That's my indirect way of saying that ALL some of these girls talk about is their hair, dresses, guests, etc for the formatura, and aren't studying at all.)

We are visiting the in-laws this weekend. Alexandre's mother is VERY VERY caught up in the hooplah. She is immeasurably concerned as to what he and I will be wearing (esp. what I will be wearing), where I'm going to do my hair and nails, where SHE and Alexandre's sister are going to do their hair, where we're all going to eat when the food is not provided at one of the parties, and all the other other minutiae you can imagine. So many questions and conversations, and the phone calls. Oh, the phone calls. I'm so happy that she doesn't have my cell phone number, only Alexandre's.

Here's my take on the formatura situation: Based on what I'm used to for a graduation, this is a little extreme. Just because the university was free doesn't mean you have to drop all the money that you DIDN'T pay on tuition on a party. I think it's great to celebrate all their hard work and sacrifice over these last 6 years, but the events feel a little redundant. I think it's also very exclusive in the literal sense; in that it excludes the students that got into med school by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

But like I said, it's culturally different. I'm going to argue that it's harder to get into and finish college in Brazil, even if it's public. 35% of Americans have college degrees, but only 7% of Brazilians can say the same. So I guess there's more to celebrate. Plus, med school graduation is already an extreme case, even in Brazil, without even comparing it to the relatively simple American graduations.

Another reason that people want to celebrate so much is because the setup of college is so different here. Medical school in Brazil is the American BS program and MD program combined, and it's 6 years instead of 8, and the campus offers ONLY medicine (so it's not like there's the med school but in the same place there's the school of engineering, the school of social sciences, etc). (This type of school is called a faculdade in Portuguese.) Each graduating class has only about 60 people. So unlike a graduating class like mine, which was somewhere around 5,000 people (only about 25 of whom I was really close friends with), the med school students are very close to EVERYONE who's graduating with them, and want to really commemorate everything they've gone through together.

So again, that's why I say if you think of the formatura as something that's as important as a wedding, it's easier to understand all the hooplah.

So long story short. We're planning a lot. And shopping a lot. But I'm sure everything's going to be beautiful and Alexandre's finally gonna be an official doctor and it'll all have been worth it!

Have any of you been involved in Brazilian formaturas (your own or someone else's)? Thoughts? Can you guys think of a better analogy to an American ceremony than a wedding? I'm basing my analogy only on the planning stages, because I haven't actually been to the formatura yet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Worst Car Day Ever

Ok. Here's some background on our/Alexandre's car. He's had it since he started med school 6 years ago. It was new at the time, and it's still in good condition under the hood because he almost never drives it on the freeway (on account of the tolls and high gasoline/ethanol prices). So it has super low mileage and all that.

HOWEVER. We live in what has been voted the worst city to drive in in Brazil. (Not sure where the vote was tallied, some newspaper or something, but my students love reporting this to me.) I once wrote a joke entry about Brazil's driving laws. After driving in other places, I've learned that this region is much, much worse than the norm. It's even worse than big cities; it has less traffic, but big city drivers are (slightly) more careful, and the streets are properly organized and one-way streets don't suddenly change direction and lanes don't disappear and things like that.

I just... I can't explain how bad people drive here, which is fatally combined with a wretched excuse for city planning. It's extreme. I haven't seen anything like it in other cities in Brazil. (Actually, when we drove to Serra da Canastra, we passed through a city called Franca, which seemed pretty crazy, too.) I've learned all kinds of Portuguese bad words to yell at people, but sometimes I just yell at them in English, too.  It's a different kind of satisfaction.

So the passenger side of Alexandre's car is all dented in from someone that hit the car while it was parked. They were driving the wrong way on a one-way street, smashed into the car, and kept going. Lovely. So the passenger side window doesn't open and the door makes a big creaking sound when you open it.

Thennnnn Alexandre rear-ended an SUV while trying to exit the freeway into a mess of laneless traffic. (This was mostly his fault, but would've been less likely had the freeway exit been properly merged with the frontage road.) So that smashed in the front of the car.

Both of these things happened close together, but over a year ago. Alexandre has put off fixing it to avoid paying the deductible, and I try not to complain too much because I only pay for the gas (even though men in town have absolutely NO qualms about yelling things at me while I'm driving or parking; things like "when are you gonna fix your car, little lady?" or "What'd you do to that car, é menina?" And they're almost always sitting at street corner bars. Only a little infuriating).

Then jump forward to today. I was on my way out to run some errands when I saw that the car had a flat tire. (Turns out the word for "flat tire" in Portuguese is not pneu chato, even though it was chato mesmo. Har har har. I made a bilingual joke!) I called Alexandre, who, luckily, was on his way home already, and who, like the knight in shining armor that he is, figured out what I was trying to say with my pneu chato nonsense AND already knows how to change a tire. So he changed the tire and taught me how to do it (I felt so bad and kept insisting how I know how to do lots of OTHER car things, like check and add air in the tires, and add oil and water when it's low, and pump my own gas thankyouverymuch, and how many women, especially Brazilian women, can say that?). It was time-consuming, but successful... the tire changing, I mean, not the insisting. Well, the insisting, too.

(As a side note, I have no idea how the tire went flat. I did not run over any parking spot dividers in the mall lot the day before. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Good thing Alexandre never bothers to read the blog... we can just keep this between us, dear readers, and leave him with the "one of us must have run over a nail" story.)

So then Alexandre decided to join me on the errand running in order to procrastinate on his studying. (When we're both in the car, he drives by default to avoid said multilingual road rage.) While we were on our way home, we (or the car, I should say) had a last-straw experience with one of Brazil's illustrious motorcycle drivers. If you've been to Brazil (or really almost any country that's not the US), you know what is the Maniac that is the Motorcycle Driver. I don't understand it. These people seem to have a death wish. Just no respect for their own lives or property or person, or anyone else's.

So yes. We were in the left lane of a two-lane, one-way street. There was a street that was perpendicular to the street we were on. It formed a T with our street. That street had a stop sign. Our street had no stop signs at all, and the speed limit is 60 kph. Some retarded, mornic woman on a motorcycle on the perpendicular street decided to just ignore the stop sign, ignore all the cars on our street, and just go right on into the road and try merging into the far left lane where we were. The car next to us in the right lane was luckier and breaked in time. Alexandre tried to swerve over to the left, but this lady just didn't seem to have eyes, and his swerving was in vain. She smashed into the back corner of our car. Fantastic.  (I feel no sympathy for her. The accident was caused purely by her impatience, selfishness, and stupidity, and was completely unnecessary and preventable.)

She hit the car so hard that the knocked off the back bumper. The dumb ho was lucky that she hit a goddamn doctor's car, and for 2 reasons: (1). He could run out to help her and save her from her own stupidity and also from a trip to the ER, which he did (she wasn't too badly hurt, just scraped up, but Alexandre told her what signs to look out for for something more serious); and (2) he had the maturity, social awareness, and patience to just let her drive away after she told him that she didn't have a license or insurance.

For the shocked Americans reading this, it's Brazil. Yes, it was her fault, and yes, in a perfect (first) world, liability insurance would be mandatory and the police wouldn't take hours to arrive at the scene and we could file a report and she would be officially charged in a timely manner and her checks would be garnished or something.

But this was Alexandre's logic: We've got three fourths of the car bashed in now. We were already way over the deductible, and the insurance company doesn't ask HOW the accident happened in order to cover repairs. Let's save us all the useless headache of trying to make this poor sap even poorer.

But, as I said, this new addition to our car-turned-junk-yard was the last straw. We can't drive around with a flailing bumper. We pulled into a repair shop and gave the guy 5 bucks to tie some wire around the bumper in order to get it home, and then Alexandre called the insurance people, who set him up with the repair shop in town that's authorized to do all the repairs.

So it looks like we'll be walking for a while while we wait for the car to get practically an entire new body, but that's fine by me. Driving in this madhouse? A flat tire and an accident in one afternoon? I'm totally over this car thing.

But I'd like to end this entry with how amazed and impressed I am with the patience Alexandre showed today. The stuff just rolled off his back, he took care of the problems, was totally manned up in both situations. I also vote this city as the worst place to drive in Brazil, but I vote Alexandre the best husfriend ever.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Party at the Gyno's

So I don't know if this trend is local, or cultural, or what, but here is what happens where I live in Brazil: People bring their whole extended families with them to doctor's appointments. I've seen it at all doctor's appointments that I've been to-- even the dermatologist. But it seems to be especially common with women bringing a parade of people to the gynecologist's office with them.

All right. These are a few reasons that I can imagine bringing someone with you to the gynecologist's appointment:

*You're pregnant and you want your husband to see the ultrasound.
*You're young and it's your first pap smear and either your mother has to drive you or you're nervous because it's your first one.
*You might be pregnant and you want someone for moral support.
*You bring your kid(s) because you didn't have the time or money to arrange a babysitter.
*You have to have some kind of procedure that renders you unable to drive after your appointment.


But based on the amount of people in the waiting room, I sincerely doubt that EVERY patient in the room was there for one of those reasons. I had a long wait, so I counted the patients. There were 10 of us. I was the ONLY PERSON who didn't bring any +1s (or +3s, as the standard seemed to be).

I mean, I know. It's the gynecologist. Not always blog-worthy material. But we've all gotta go sometimes, right ladies? Nothing to be shy about. But also nothing to party over.

The situation annoys me personally because the waiting room isn't exactly huge, and all these extra people take up all the seats, and drink all the complimentary coffee, and let their kids eat all the complimentary cookies, and talk on their cell phones and talk to each other. You know what I bring with me to the doctor's appointment? A book. I'm certainly not going to ask Alexandre to miss work just to make sure I don't have any trouble sitting in a waiting room by myself.

At my gynecologist's office, there are two doctors. One is in charge of ultrasounds, and one is the actual gynecologist. When you go, you technically have two appointments: one for the ultrasound (a routine part of the yearly pap smear here), and one for whatever gynecological exam you're receiving. So typically the patient goes in for the ultrasound, comes out, and waits again for the second exam.

But there was a girl. She looked about 22, 23. She definitely wasn't a teenager, because she had her own big purse and her own cell phone and an adult face.  She brought her MOTHER AND HER FATHER with her to the appointment. I know it was just a run-of-the-mill pap smear, because the mother went into the ultrasound with her, and when they came back out again (HOLDING HANDS), the mother told the father all about it, in front of the daughter!

"The little tool just opened her right up, like this!" the mother explained, demonstrating with her fingers. "Then she put in like, a tampon with a camera!"

WHAT?! Anyone else totally blown away by this? The girl wasn't pregnant, but she brings both her parents to her goddamn pap smear. Then the mom tells the dad all the gory details.

Then there was the couple with the kid. The wife was pregnant with her second child, and just starting to show. My first thought was "fine, the dad wants to see the ultrasound, and they didn't have a babysitter." But then while they're waiting, GRANDMA shows up to join in on the fun! Why didn't they just leave the kid at grandma's house? Is the free coffee that good?

Then there was the girl (a little older than the first girl) with her mom and her boyfriend. She also went in, came back out, and went back in, which leads me to believe that she was also there for the usual. So I mean, did she have to bring the mom and the boyfriend? My appointment was on a Monday morning. Don't any of these people have jobs?? I mean, my private insurance plan isn't free. People have to work to pay for it, right?

The whole thing was totally bizarre and disturbing, and I think really reflected this creepy codependency that some Brazilian families seem to have. I mean, you can go ahead and call Americans "cold and closed off" for not holding family reunions at the doctor's office, but I call it independent and appropriate. If you're 22 and old enough to be sexually active and getting pap smears, you should be able to handle a doctor's appointment by yourself. And I don't think dad or grandma needs to know every detail about it. It also seems that parents are just way more involved in their daughter's pregnancy, even if she's married and the husband is involved, too. Good? Bad? I don't know.

But my other question is this: Is it some kind of damsel in distress thing, stemming from Brazilian culture's tendency toward machismo? I mean, do sons schedule these family reunions during their annual prostate exams? Or is it just like, "oh, my poor baby daughter! She can't handle the big scary doctor all by herself!"

The kicker was the lady next to me. She brought her husband, but she was about 25 months pregnant, so that makes more sense (she was about to pop, so I don't think she's allowed to drive). But while I was minding my own business (aside from the eavesdropping and quiet judging) and reading my book, she turned to me and asked, "So, what are you here for? An ultrasound? Pregnancy test?"

WHAT???  I'm in the gynecologist's office. I'm here to buy a used car. What does she think I'm here for? No matter what, it involves my lady parts, and is therefore none of her (or her eavsedropping husband's) business. I thought the question was totally inappropriate, especially to ask with her husband right there, looking at me expectantly. So that's exactly what I said: "That's kind of personal, don't you think?"  It may be Brazilian culture to be "curious", but it's also my logical right not to discuss the goings-on of my reproductive organs with strangers.

The lady actually seemed kind of hurt, or something. I couldn't really read her face. So I added, "But you must be excited, any day now, right?" And then she lit up. So that makes me think she was less interested in what I was there for, and was more interested in finding an in to tell me all about her pregnancy, which she of course proceeded to do. I got to hear all the gory details, and I'm not even a relative.

So yeah. This super family involvement in your medical life is one of those things that borders on the line between cultural relativity and universally inappropriate. At the end of the day, it's your call. And my call is to go solo to any consult and not tell everyone and their brother (or all my brothers) about it (if I had any brothers).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lovely Weekend

To follow up on Jim's happy and optimistic life as an expat and two wonderful weekend posts, I thought I'd share about our wonderful, food-filled weekend here in the interior.

I finished my seemingly-neverending workweek at 6pm on Friday. I was gonna go to the gym, but instead I read more of Prodigal Summer, a great book that Elena left here for me. Then we went to dinner at the local little Italian place (the one we went to on our anniversary). We ordered some yummy pasta and even yummier wine. I think the wine in that place has barbiturates in it, because when I drink it, I come home and promptly fall asleep. (It could also be that, the two times we went there, I was already really tired. So the wine kind of just threw me over the deep end.) But that little Italian place is so nice. It's so quiet and dimly-lit and romantic, the waiters are friendly without being imposing, and really lends itself to good conversation. And the karafe of wine is 7 reais. I didn't say it was high-end, people. I said it was yummy and possibly had barbiturates in it.

On Saturday, Alexandre had his residency prep class all day (he's been taking a class to help him prepare for the residency tests that he'll be taking in November and December). I woke up with him (relatively early, esp. for a Saturday) and rewarded myself for working so much all week with a trip to the local park/lake place to go for a walk and admire the birds.  I got some good pictures and saw 3 new species. (I'll update the Flickr album later today.) The weather was lovely. It's the dry season, and some trees are flowering and losing their leaves.

I came home from the lake and made a delicious and healthy lunch for us (Alexandre gets an hour-long lunch break from his 8-hour class). We had salad, breaded chicken, rice, and a sort of vegetable medley that I threw into the top part of the rice cooker.  Yum yum.

Alexandre had to go back to class. I continued reading my book, and fell asleep on the couch reading with Gatinha. Enjoyed a wonderful afternoon cat nap with the cat. :)

Speaking of the cat, we have a new game that we play with her. It's the strangest thing-- we don't even touch her, but she goes crazy! You can have a gander here:

(Don't tell Alexandre that I put up a video of him in his pajamas.)

After my nap, I went to our fantastic local grocery store, which finally decided to open on Saturdays. Every time I go there, I feel so lucky. It has so much cheap, healthy food, and it's never crowded. I did all the shopping for the week.  I chatted with the bagger guy, who is there every Saturday and who always remembers me (wonder why...) and makes a point to say hello, even if he's not the one bagging my groceries.

I came home, bagged and froze all the meat, and made some caipirinhas with condensed milk for me and Alexandre (Recipe here. You're welcome). Oh, and I finished my book.

Then we went to dinner with dear buddy Bruna and her boyfriend. There's a new Middle Eastern restaurant in town. Well, "restaurant".  It's really just a family's front yard that they cover with plastic tables and chairs at night. It takes forever to get your food because it's just the mom doing the cooking, the dad doing the barbecuing (mmmm.... lamb), and 1 of the 2 daughters (both in their early 20s) waiting tables. But the food is cheap and fantastic, and the company was even better.

We came home, enjoyed some YouTube videos and ADD channel surfing (something we're both guilty of), and went to sleep.

And now it's Sunday morning. We're gonna have a little at-home barbecue. The laundry's on the line. A week's worth of beans are on the stove. My plans are to pig out on our churrasco with my dear Alexandre, maybe take a little nap, maybe start a new book (though my supply is quickly depleting), upload my bird pictures, and maaaaybe prepare for my classes.

I did almost nothing on my perfect person list. And the weekend was fantastic for it.

I think my definition of Jim's Qualidade de Vida idea is finding so much pleasure in the simple things. Like food and drinks, and sunny days, and lazy Saturdays, and good friends, and not having kids, and playing with the cat, and beautiful trees and birds, and this life of quiet contentment.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

If I Were Perfect...

If I were a perfect person with all of the time and willpower in the world...

  • I would cook every meal instead of eating out or ordering in.

  • I would get 9 hours of sleep a night.

  • I would go to the gym every day. And because my gym kinda sucks, I'd do more exercise on the side, too, like jogging or my cardio pilates DVD. Actually, I wouldn't even pay for a gym because I'd have so much willpower and time that I could exercise alone, without machines and without the personal trainer lady calling me when I miss too many days in a row.

  • I'd wash the dishes right after dinner instead of leaving them “to soak” for 2 days overnight.

  • I'd fry less, I'd bake more, I'd use less oil, I'd eat more vegetables. I'd eat more salad and less chocolate.

  • I'd wash the g.d. car.

  • I'd travel more.

  • I'd eat all my leftovers; I'd never let vegetables go bad or any food go to waste.

  • I'd learn more recipes out of my Brazilian cookbook.

  • I'd read more in Portuguese.

  • I'd never “reward myself” with milkshakes. I'd always be able to resist ice cream kiosks.

  • I'd clean the cat's litterbox every day.

  • I'd have more patience and no road rage.

  • I'd never cancel my classes because I totally didn't feel like teaching and/or really wanted to finish a good book and I'd never give students the excuse that something very urgent came up with my American job (which most of my students still believe I have for this very reason).

  • I'd accept all the students that want classes.

  • I'd prepare all my classes ahead of time and I'd never leave any classes for the last minute; I'd never just make up a lesson as I go along.

  • I'd get around to washing all the clothes before the maid comes so that she could actually iron them I wouldn't have a maid, not even once a week, because I'd clean my own house flawlessly and efficiently.

  • I'd never burn the rice.

  • All my kitchenware would match and none of it would be freebie things, like bowls that came with the cereal box or requeijão glasses. And none of it would be plastic.

  • I'd get my cat updated on all her vaccinations and I'd play with her more so she wouldn't be a chub.

  • I wouldn't gossip or swear or talk trash about people.

  • I'd have washboard abs. Or better yet, I'd look like this chick.

  • I'd save more money. I'd save for retirement; I'd learn about the stock market; I'd pay off my student loans faster.

  • I wouldn't have nearly as many student loans.

  • I'd respond to all my friends' and family's emails in a timely manner.

  • I'd never forget the cloth eco-friendly supermarket bags at home when I went to the store.

  • I'd always wash off my makeup before going to bed... even when I was drunk I wouldn't get drunk, only charmingly tipsy on fancy wine.

  • I wouldn't play Frontierville on Facebook because I'd be doing all these other superproductive things.

  • I'd go out and do these things instead of just writing about them!

    But... nope. 

    I'd love to see your lists. :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Commercial Time

Is this commercial totally hilarious to anyone else?

And does this one get on your nerves as much as it does mine? (depois de brincar, com seu bichinho!!!!!)

I've taken the time to type up what the guy is singing, but in English (because the youtube video had the lyrics in Portuguese):

Lave, Lave - Você lavou as mãos? Há bactérias em tudo que tocamos, que podem te deixar doente, você deve lavar as mãos várias vezes. Espere! Depois de ir ao banheiro. Espere! Depois de brincar. Espere! Depois de tossir, espirrar, depois de brincar com o seu bichinho. Lave suas mãos, com Protex.


Wash, wash! Did you wash your hands? There's bacteria on everything we touch, and it can make you sick!  You must wash your hands a lot. Wait! After you go to the bathroom! Wait! After you play. Wait! After you cough, sneeze, after you play with your pet! Wash your hands with Protex....
I hate the way they repeat the word "brincar". So unoriginal. The jingle doesn't even rhyme. I channel my grandfather when this commercial comes on, and I mute the TV.  But when the "snobby" one comes on, I just chuckle.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Evelyn Salt and What America Is

All right. Tonight was the practically first time in 2 and a half years that I went to a movie theater and actually paid to see a movie here in town. Since my move to Brazil, Alexandre and I have watched one American movie together at a film festival in São Paulo. Oh, and my first week here, I went to watch Kite Runner by myself because I was bored. That's it. I've successfully avoided the theater until now, but I was out with dear buddy Bruna and our other plans fell through so we decided to watch Salt. (At our three-screen theater, it was either that, Inception, or Despicable Me dubbed, and I don't do dubbed.)

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm some kind of robot who doesn't like movies. I'm just a snob and I don't like most of the American Hollywood crap that makes its way into Brazilian small-town theaters. And the fun kids movies like Alice and Wonderland or Toy Story 3 are always dubbed. (4-year-olds don't know how to reaaaaad!)

If any of you Americans are living here in Brazil and you're feeling homesick, I suggest going to watch one of these cookie-cutter action movies to remember why you had no qualms about leaving America in the first place.

I mean. Okay. I know movies require a certain suspension of disbelief, but I have my limits, and they're low enough as it is. But Lee Harvey Oswald was actually a Russian orphan who was brainwashed into seeming American but hating America, who learned perfect, accent-free English from anti-American Russian teachers?

I think the logic of these movies is to create this totally convoluted and unnecessarily complicated plot with vague, incorrect references to historical and political events. The plot is just messy enough that the masses won't notice any inconsistencies or unexplained subplots, especially with all the big explosions to distract them. It's also a terrible source of information for loser stoner Americans who don't believe the newspaper but who trust in these movies as reliable sources of information to confirm their crackpot conspiracy theories (because, just like the movie says, present-day Russia has such good reason and so many resources to infiltrate the American government and use their weapons to bomb the Middle East, causing the Middle East to bomb America back so that "America will be dead" (direct quote)).

But that's just the problem for the American audience. I'd like to argue that these movies are also detrimental to foreign audiences. I mean I just think about the kind of people I interact with here in Hickville sometimes, who are in their mid-twenties but have never ventured more than 3 hours from home except to go to the beach once a year (bypassing Sao Paulo all together).  Not to mention the teenagers. It's a kind of ignorance that's hard for most of us to imagine. So this ignorance, combined with these kind of movies, explain why some people here have such ridiculous ideas about where I grew up.

Because according to movies like these, what is America?

It's the United States of America! The land of perfectly organized big cities, where it's just one big New York from coast to coast! Where the police always catch the bad guy (except for the elusive Angelina) and they drive giant shiny SUVs that can literally run over other cars in their way! Where a taxi stops for a woman with no shoes, where the hotels are all shiny and perfect, where someone with authority can just shout into the air for something to happen, and it happens! ("Put a net around New York!" "Barricade the highway!" "Get that picture out to all airports, bus stations, and train stations in the country!") And when you need a helicopter, it's always there. Waiting for you. Always.

Oh, beautiful women like Angelina Jolie don't bleed. Well, only a little.

I know, I know, it's a movie. That's what I think, too. Not all movies have to be documentaries. If you want it to be, it can be entertaining. I just can't help but feel a bit frustrated that my fellow small-town residents are absorbing these ideas without any bigger context. So it's my lone voice, my complicated, ambiguous explanations of how things are not as black and white as the Technicolor suggests, versus sugarplum dreams of explosions and Escalades.

I'm thinking about just giving up all together and turning in my badge as self-appointed ambassador. So I've prepared some new responses to popular comments (please excuse the spelling):

Mas você já se acostumou no brasil? É mesmo?

Sim, claro que me acostumei. Eu sou norte-americana então, posso sobreviver em qualquer situação. Em uma caverna no coreia do norte. No neve sem casaco. No meio do mar com algemas pelos tornozelos.

Mas você deveria estar gostando muito de aqui, como os americanos são tão frios e os brasileiros são tão alegres e abertos.

Sim, isso é verdade. Nos estados unidos, a gente mora a dentro de computadores grandes. Não temos nem família, nem amigos, nem feriados. Também não tem nenhum brasileiro que trata mal outra pessoa. Todos são gente boa. Você está certa em suas conclusões que você fez somente porque os americanos não se beijam para cumprimentar e porque seu amigo também já falou que a vizinha do amigo do primo dele já foi ao Orlando e ele disse que ela falou que os americanos são bem fechados mesmo.

Eu não sei se eu quero ir para os EUA para meu intercâmbio. Acho que prefiro a Austrália. Os americanos são muito arrogantes.

Sim, somos mesmo. Eu sou tão arrogante que eu nem sou afeitada pelos seus comentários, mesmo que um brasileiro ficaria ofendido se eu falasse a mesma coisa para ele. Bom, qualquer pessoa ficaria, menos os americanos, claro. Fique vontade, fale que quiser.

Mas por quê sua família não vem para brasil? Eles não querem conhecer o brasil? Não é caro, eles têm dólares.

É verdade. O dólar é mágico, que nem os bilhetes dourados do Willie Wonka. Mas é porque os americanos não se importam com suas famílias e também porque eles não se importam com conhecer outros países.

All right. Writing all that was tiring. But what do you guys think? Wanna try these answers with me?

My conclusion of the evening is that it's so much funnier to talk trash about things that I don't like instead of going all Thumper in the blog and just writing about birds and stuff. Hope you guys liked it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Big News in the Bird World

Yesterday I was driving home from a class when I saw some interesting parakeets. They looked like the common maritacas, but they were noticeably different with their colorful underwings (word?) and their bright orange heads.

I came home and looked them up and discovered that they were golden-capped parakeets (apparently they're called jandaia-de-testa-vermelha in Portugeuse).

The reason a sighting is particularly exciting for me is that this bird is the first one I've seen and identified here in Brazil that wasn't considered "of least concern" for its conservation status.  (So basically all the other birds I've seen so far are new and exciting to me but totally common to people who live here.) This one's in the second category, "near threatened".

Because they're not as common, I was thinking that maybe I just misidentified what I saw, because I didn't get a picture or anything.  But then todaaaaaay I heard the same call from the day before, so I looked out the window and saw them in the tree! They don't stay still very long, so I made a poor-quality video and then took screen shots of the video. The picture above is from Google, but these are mine:

The quality's not great, but you can still make out their orange heads and colorful wings.

Exciting day!

I'm sorry if you guys are bored with all my bird posts. I really don't have much else going on. Alexandre's working and studying a ton (T-90 days and counting), I'm working a lot too, and this week I've been fighting off a chest cold that keeps me up coughing at night (so I spend time between my classes trying to take naps). We're both trying to save money for our likely move at the end of the year, and I'm saving up for my likely Argentina trip in October. So we're not doing much, just watching the movie channels a lot and playing with Gatinha and laying low.

I'll leave you with the video that the screen shots above are from, if you are so inclined to watch it.

Have a good weekend!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

We are gonna have a garden party...

So I had kind of a stressful morning. Not so much stressful as irritating. I had a couple of hours to kill before my afternoon classes, so I decided to go to the local represa (lake/park/dam place). Rachel once posted about how we should try to find our happy place in the Brazilian city where we live (not exactly what she wrote, but it's what I took from the entry). The Represa is my happy place. So I took my camera and my little bird book and went exploring.

I'm not sure if it's the season or just luck or what, but there were SO MANY new birds!!! Eight, to be exact. I suppose you could say I had a ... field day! har har har.

I have students showing up any minute, so I won't be able to upload the pictures to my Flickr bird album just yet (not that any of you care), but these are 3 birds that I just can't identify from the new bunch. I'm hoping you guys can help me:

Mystery Bird 1 (possibly a baby of Mystery Bird 2)

Mystery Bird 2 (possibly the older version of Mystery Bird 1)

Mystery Bird 3 (Possibly a female of some species, which makes it harder to identify. Tropical Mockingbird, perhaps? I saw plenty of male tropical mockingbirds today.)
EDIT: I'm almost sure it's a sabiá barranco: pale-breasted thrush, but there are so many variations in the images that I'm finding of this bird that it's hard to be sure. This one's a little fatter than most of the pictures, but maybe because it lives in a park that has both a lake and humans?

This last little guy (or lady) was totally cool with me. I was so close and talking to it and everything and it just stayed there, chillin' next to the water.

I really need a better bird book. My current one is tiny  (about 100 pages) and I've identified almost all the birds in it (!). Any suggestions? :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

False Cognate Chain

This is a false cognate chain between English and Portuguese:

summary/abstract ---> resumo
resume ---> currículo
curriculum ---> materia
material ---> subject
sujeito ---> person

Can't go any farther... sumário can't be a noun and it and pessoa are the same.

Yup. This is where my mind wanders to while I'm getting ready for work in the morning.

Have a good day. :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bird Catalog

So I spent most of my Sunday being totally nerdy and organizing all of my bird sighting pictures on Flickr.

I made 2 sets: 1 set is pictures that I've taken of birds (labeled), and the other set is other people's pictures of birds that I've seen but haven't been able to get my own pictures of yet.

Super fun!
Check it out here.

I'm hoping you guys (Tracy) can help me identify this water bird. It's similar to a biguá, but it's something else.

EDIT: It's a limpkin!! Carão in português :D

It's the only bird in my pictures that I haven't been able to identify. It stands out with the white spots on its head and neck.  
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