This town is really, really getting to me, and the fact that Alexandre's gone for work all the time doesn't make things any easier to deal with.
As some of you may know, there's a cultural phenomenon (bane?) in Brazil called the flanelinha. The most common type of flanelinha I see is the guy who stands in a parking lot or on a street with a lot of street parking. When you get out of your car, he calls out to you using gibberish sounds and gives you lots of thumbs-up signs. This means that he will "watch your car" for you and supposedly protect it from hijackers. If you acknowledge him, that means you enter into this contract and will give him your spare change when you come back to your car. If you refuse to acknowledge him or deny his services outright, you run the risk of him keying your car out of spite.
I detest this forced, mafia-like "agreement" and it annoys me that police do not intervene and shoo these guys away. I feel like my car is safer when these guys are not there. I mean, really? What are they going to do if a thief comes up to my car? Risk their lives to stop the guy because I agreed to give them 50 cents if I see them when I'm leaving the restaurant?
Peace-down-to-his-core Alexandre has long since accepted these guys. He is always friendly with them, and he always gives them change if he has any, even if the guy wasn't there when we pulled in but comes running up to us on our way out, insisting that he'd been "protecting our car" the whole time.
Personally, I'd rather the guy just ask me for money directly than force me to play along in this act. When I'm alone, I return the thumbs up but then avoid them on my way back out to the car. I lived in Berkeley AND San Diego, so I've pretty much become desensitized to people begging for money. You can think it's heartless if you want and I'll understand you. I just had to decide a long time ago, "well, you can't give everyone a dollar, so you might as well not give anyone a dollar." I was stopped and asked for money by five different people, just today. I've gotta turn myself off to it or I'll go crazy.
Anyway, back to the flanelinhas. I was pulling the car out of a parking spot today and a flanelinha woman came running up to me. (I was surprised; they're usually men.) I was already out of the parking spot, but she was waving her arms around and pretending that she was helping to guide me out onto the street (where I already was). Then she ran up to the car window with her hands out, expectant.
My purse was in the backseat and I was starting to block traffic, and it's not like she'd done anything anyway. If she'd just come up and asked me for money at that point, I would've said no because I was now driving, not stopped or anything. I looked down and saw a coin in the ashtray. I quickly gave it to her and then put the gar in gear. I didn't even look at what coin it was-- turns out it was a ten-cent piece.
Well. This woman was apparently offended that I gave her only ten cents for all of her hard work. She THREW THE COIN IN MY FACE and started yelling at me, stuff I couldn't understand but something unintelligible about how I could just keep my spare change for myself. I hightailed it out of there before things could get any worse.
The exchange just didn't really make any sense to me at all, for all the obvious reasons. It just reminded me of how I'm just so over living here in this town.
On a social level, I'm isolated because my life experiences, my values, my social rules, my hobbies, and my appearance are different. Being poor in the US is not the same as being poor in Brazil, so just because I grew up in a working-class American family, it doesn't mean I identify with it today, and it certainly doesn't mean I've moved into this developing world urban sprawl and fit right in.
On a more practical level, my Maslow's hierarchy of needs isn't really being met. (I don't feel safe and I don't sleep well with all the noise and basic daily tasks are stressful.) Things are tense and chaotic around here and this weird run-in with the flanelinha was just another example.
Just a couple more months to get through. In the meantime, I'm hoping Pernambuco Gypsy can write a funny spin on phenomena like these to help make them a little more bearable.