Thursday, March 31, 2011

Maid-Free (Long Thinking Entry)

So as well all well know, Brazil is definitely a hired help culture. Other great bloggers, like the amazing writer Tasha and the nameless and talented author of Born Again Brazilian have brought up this topic recently. It's hard to go from American culture to this, and even after almost 3 years, it hasn't gotten easier. I find myself mulling over these differences and why it's so acceptable in one place and not in another. My preliminary conclusion is that Brazil and the United States define success in different ways. (This is sort of a chicken-egg situation-- did having cheap help available create this value system, or did a value system brought over from European immigrants give people this priority?) Anyway. I'll lay it out for you guys, and you can tell me what you think.

It seems that, in the US, success is partly measured by how much you have on your plate. The more responsibilities you have-- the more you can say "I did this myself!", the more successful you are. In Brazil, success is partly measured by how many people you can afford to have working for you.  The more maids, assistants, and help you have being supported by your salary-- the more you can say "This person is my housekeeper/cook/Nanny/driver/personal handyman," the more successful you are.  Does that difference resonate with anyone else?

But one important thing to consider is that the countries may not be as different as some of us think.  I have a feeling that I'm not the only non-Brazilian who married into a Brazilian family that was much wealthier than my original one. I think that I (and maybe some of you readers, too) get exposed to certain parts of Brazilian high society, but we didn't get exposed to their equivalents in the US. So my instinct is to compare Alexandre's reality to the reality I knew in the US, but maybe there are other equivalents back home if I went into neighborhoods in which all my neighbors were fellow doctors, or senators, or lawyers, etc. (Maybe very wealthy Americans have this "Brazilian" definition of success.  But I mean, I knew one kind of life, and now I'm in another. So even if America has its own high society equivalent, it's just as foreign to me as this one was.)

I try really, really hard to understand these differences and to not judge, but I think it's safe to admit that I've failed miserably. As much as I try to reason with the economics of it, I just cannot wrap my head around the idea of paying people to do personal, private things for me, like clean up my messes and take care of my kids.

It's extra hard too because of the gaping differences in class and education that we get faced with when the people that we hire come into our homes. People that don't know how to read, people that have only had 3 years of education their whole lives, people that live in tiny 1-bedroom shacks with their 2 teenage children, people that have never been more than a few miles outside the town where they were born. I talk about this a lot with Alexandre, and he argues, "you're just paying people for a service, the same way you pay a waiter at a restaurant to bring you your food." But I don't know if I can say that it's the same thing, if it's morally okay to get to know someone so intimately and to hear about their lives and just keep on demanding that they scrub your underwear and paying them their super low salary because that's the going rate in town and you can get away with it.

I tried just paying our maid more to feel better, but nothing changed. Maybe it wasn't "more" enough.

It's also hard because I get really inconsistent messages for how I'm supposed to interact with maids.  On the one hand, the social argument is just like what Alexandre said: "You're paying them for a service; it's basic economics; you don't have to be their friends; you have to be stern with them when they mess up..." etc. But on the other hand, there's the social acceptability in Brazil of just putting it all of your private life out on the table with people you've just met. How are you supposed to respond when your maid, this person who you're "just paying like you'd pay a waiter," starts telling you all kinds of personal (and often painful) details about her life? The relationship is not cut and dry, and the rules are not clear.

Also, I feel guilty if I'm not being totally productive in front of my maid. For example, in our old apartment, the maid came on Friday mornings. I usually had classes scheduled, but sometimes students would cancel or whatever. So what do YOU do if you're 8am student calls you the night before and tells you she isn't coming and you don't have any kids to worry about? Sleep in another hour, of course! But I felt so guilty and lazy doing that if the maid was there. I always tried to make myself look busy while she was working in my house, because I was worried that she'd think something like, "why am I here cleaning for her if she has all this free time?"  I realize that this was slightly irrational.  Luckily, she was only there for about 4 hours a week.

I don't have kids, so I don't know how it is in the day-to-day.  Maybe once I have kids, I'll see the light and recognize how valuable nannies and full-time maids are, but I don't think so. I mean, the vast majority of American couples get by just fine when they work and raise their children without hired help, so maybe I can, too.

In our old apartment, the #1 reason we had a maid was to avoid fighting. One of us had had maids for 22 years and wasn't about to start picking up his own crap. But now, I feel very lucky to be in a temporary situation in which I can handle the chores by myself.  I have to say that it is SO SO refreshing to go back to taking care of my own house. It's something I really value being able to do. It takes away all of the weird grey area of what to talk about, what to do if you're unsatisfied with the maid's work, etc. It's just me and my house and doing things the way I want and not judging or feeling judged.

It comes down to something more than the definitions of success.  For me, having a maid in Brazil is supporting a negative status quo. True, these people are getting paid, but it's not a salary that allows them to get out of their social situation, and they're not in a country or economy that allows for much upward mobility. So considering those factors, I kind of feel like I'm supporting a modern and light form of slavery.

But I know I'm totally in the world minority with these opinions. So I welcome your comments and disagreements and arguments and feedback. Because I mean, at the end of the day, the whole thing IS very interesting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beach Pics and Great New Blog

Finally, some pictures for you! These are pictures of our new town. Some of you might figure out where I live from these pics. That's fine. Just try not to say it in the comments.

Whoo hoo!

And here's a picture of our cozy little living room / dining room area (Gatinha was volunteered to give perspective):

The couch rolls out into a bed. (Hint hint, potential visitors!)

I've had those plants less than a week.  The one on the left used to have beautiful lilies on it. But these plants are no match for a cooped up kitty.

In other news, I just recently discovered Else's blog, Brazil in Plain English.  Hilarious. She has her own unique style. It's especially enjoyable for other annoyed English teachers working in Brazil. Check it out! 

Apple of My Pie

So Alexandre and I both really enjoy that "Home" song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. In case you've never heard it, here's a video:

Anyway, while we cooking dinner the other night, Alexandre was singing the song to himself, except he said, "Holy moly me oh my, you're the apple of my pie--"

"Apple of my eye!" I interrupted him, laughing.

Alexandre was flabbergasted. "What? What do you mean?"

"That's the expression in English! 'You're the apple of my eye!' It means like... you're very special to me."

"I know what it means, but that doesn't make any sense. 'Apple of my pie' makes much more sense! Because you guys eat apple pies! Get it? So like the apple is the most important part of the pie?"

I didn't know how to respond.  He had a point.  So I said, "I don't make up English idioms!"

My desire to tell you guys this funny little anecdote inspired me to search for the history of the expression online.  The Wikipedia page has far more information than you'd ever want on it, and it's not even very clear.  I have a feeling that if I show it to Alexandre as justification, he'll still insist that his version is better. I have no idea why that tendency would be in any way beneficial for someone involved in a relationship with me.

Anyway, I'll let you guys vote for which one is better: "Apple of my eye" or "apple of my pie"?

In case you couldn't tell by the apostrophes, I have internet at home again! More beach pictures and updates to come!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Yesterday was the memorial service for my grandfather. (For the Brazilians reading, memorial services and funerals in the US are not immediately after the death. In my grandfather´s case, it was even later than usual because he was cremated and didn´t want a religious ceremony, so my grandmother just planned a small service at home. For the non-Brazilians reading, you may be surprised to know that Brazilian funerals are usually the day after the death, at the latest. Right away.)

Anyway, I couldn´t make it back to the US for the service, so I wrote a speech and had my sister read it for me. I thought I´d share it with you guys.You don´t have to read it if this kind of stuff makes you sad. It´s mostly happy, though.

Once when we were about 13 or 14, Danette and I were staying with Nanny and Grandad for the
holidays, and were here for their New Year's dance of their British club.
Despite my best efforts, I had fallen asleep on the couch before midnight, and I woke up long after the
ball had dropped to some late-night sounds coming from the kitchen.

Curious as always, I padded toward the sounds on Nanny's wonderful carpet and found Grandad in
the kitchen. In front of him were the leftovers of the large sheet cake that he had probably secretly
commandeered for himself while Nanny and the other ladies cleaned up after the dance was over.
There was only about a third of the sheet cake left, and there, at 3:00am, was Grandad, still in the vest
of his suit, shamelessly wiping the bits of icing off of the cake's fake gold cardboard base and happily
sucking his fingers.

He saw me, and grinned slyly. His look said, "I'm not in trouble, because I'm a grown up, and when
you're a grown up, you can gorge yourself on icing at 3:00am too if you'd like."

But what he said was, simply, "I love cake!"

And that, in a nutshell, was my grandad. But he wasn't only a grandfather for us, as most of you know.
He was the man who stepped in as father for Danette and me, and who couldn't have been happier to do
so. This left him with two titles that he took very seriously, and he never missed an opportunity to teach
me something.

My grandad taught me how to treat people, how to read, how to drive, and how to move to another
country and call them both home without losing sense of who I am. He taught me that a bit of sarcasm
and wit (or cheek, as he'd say) can get you through most any difficult situation-- even a stroke. He
taught me that a belief in God is a belief in the good of your fellow humans; it is the ability to see
yourself in others and have empathy.

He taught me how to respect the choices of others while still sticking to my principles, and he taught
me that if someone calls you the S word (stubborn...), well... that's their choice to think that, and you
should respect their choice. (But you're still right.)

He also taught me some not so metaphorical metaphors about life, or, more specifically, how to play it
by ear, how to play my cards right, and how to keep the grass from growing under my feet.

Through his love for Nanny, Grandad taught me how to expect to be treated by my husband: with
nothing but mutual patience and respect. Their marriage has shown me what pure, true love is, and
how to know it when I found it.

Through his love for living, Grandad taught me what making the most of life means; he was a man who
found pleasure in the big and the small things alike, therefore turning the small things into great big
things too: music, the sea, a good book, and a perfect peace of cake.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caught Being Good: NET, and me

I am rewarding NET (and myself) for Caught Being Good awards today.

Short backstory and filling in my non-Brazil-residing readers:

*NET and Telefónica are two iternet/cable/phone companies here in the state of Sao Paulo. Telefónica is slightly cheaper, but evil, and NET is not.  It´s very much a case of ´´you get what you pay for.´´

*It´s still common in Brazil for people to have illegal cable and illegal cable boxes (remember those?) at home. It´s called something like ´´TV a Gato´´´.  I don´t know exactly how to use that in a sentence, so I like calling it ´´TV Gatinho.´´

*Our new apartment was already equipped with an illegal cable line.  Alexandre assumed it was from NET (because most of them are). He was also worried that all of the apartments had it.

*For these reasons, Alexandre accepted the evil, evil Telefónica company for our internet.

*Alexandre finally got through with a sales rep (only took him a week on the phone, because their phone line is bad (irony) and you can´t order services in store?!), and they told him they had a term of one month to actually come and install the internet.  He accepted that agreement and ``forgot´´ to tell me.

Ok so Alexandre is still technically in his training phase for his military doctor job, which means he spends like 15 hours a day on base. Then he leaves me at home, alone, with no internet, no way to work or talk to people. Not gonna fly.

We´ve bickered about it almost every day... me, insisting on just paying NET and doing the right thing, him, insisting that I be patient and wait for Telefónica. Most of our arguments ended with me saying things like, ´´and THIS is why Brazil doesn´t develop! Because people accept service like this! Be the change you wish to see in the world!´´

I tried calling Telefónica to hustle them along a bit, but you can imagine how unsuccessful that was. My phone call with the evil bitchy customer service robot ended with me saying, ´´you should look for another job, because I don´t know how you sleep at night with this one!´´

Now Alexandre is at a training camp for 3 days, cut off from civilization, carrying a heavy backpack and learning how to treat snake bites on soldiers in the rainforest and things like that. He´ll come home for one night, just to go back out with another group for 2 more nights. I feel just as isolated without internet or other people at home.  I think even Gatinha is sick of me.

He told me that if I got really desparate, I could just go down to the cell phone companies and buy that 3G internet USB thing that you guys talked about.  For my American friends, it´s just that-- a USB thing that you connect to your computer and use cell phone internet for computer internet. But it has time/data limits and it´s way expensive and not good.

I called the owner (who is also the previous tenant) of our apartment to ask her what was going on with this illegal cable situation, what company she had for internet, etc.  She explained that the illegal cable was only to her apartment, that it was a company that she had that NET ended up buying out, but because it´s not digital cable, they haven´t cut it yet. But she said no one´s paying for it and it´s only a matter of time before NET figures it out. She said it´ll only take one NET technician coming to the building (whether to check someone´s line or install new service) for them to figure it out and turn off our free cable.

I decided that enough is enough.  With Alexandre buried somewhere in the mato, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I walked myself down to the NET store and signed up for internet and cable. Their combo packages aren´t even that much more expensive, especially if we were paying for regular internet and 3G internet.  And their maximum time required for installation? 3 days (NOT 1 month!) AND they call me beforehand to say when they´re coming. AND they work on Saturdays.

The customer service differences between Telefónica and NET was just night and day.  The doorman at NET opened the door for me. The customer service rep pulled up a chair and offered me water.  She had phamplets and explained all the plan options clearly and was honest about price changes once the promotional prices run out. She had a caculator on hand so I could figure out how much the plans would cost over the long-term.  She gave me a copy of the contract (!).

Before signing her contract, I called Telefónica and canceled our unfilled order.  It only took 25 minutes of holds and transfers and new ´´protocólos´´ (confirmation codes) to write down. I thought it a small miracle that I was able to cancel the order, even though it was in Alexandre´s name.

So NET gets a Caught Being Good award today.  And I´m giving one to myself, too, for going over my laissez-faire, bad-service-accepting husfriend´s head and making executive decisions and figuring things out myself. I highly doubt I´m the only person to ever have a partner with this kind of personality. HIGHLY DOUBT.  But I want to pat myself on the back nonetheless.

By the time he gets back from his training, the house will be wired up again.

I shake my fist at you, Telefónica!! And also give you the finger.  At least they got no money from me and I feel like there is some semblance of order and justice in my world.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pros and Cons of Translation

Quick entry from the dungeons of a LAN house... Oh, to have internet at home again!

I love and hate full-time translation gigs.  Love sleeping in if I want to, waking up early if I need to, not having a boss, etc.

I hate poorly written and obviously plagarized crap in Portuguese that I have to try to edit before I translate it to English. I hate that I don´t have nice coworkers to complain about it to. (Hence, this blog entry.)

I highly doubt that I am the first of all of us working as translators in Brazil to come across something obviously plagarized.  What do you guys do about it? What if it seems like the plagarism was from a text that was originally in English? Do you just close your eyes to it in a sort of ´´don´t shoot the messenger´´ stance? Say something to the author? To the editor?

I try to do my job honestly.  I wish others would do the same.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Actual Beach

So today´s a new day, and I have recovered from my run-in with the Telefónica drones.  I woke up when Alexandre did (early) with full plans to be a translating machine, except I quickly resolved to procrastinate by taking a walk along the beach boardwalk.  It took me approximately 100 seconds to get to it from my apartment (exact calculations forthcoming).  I gave myself an horinha (just an hour) to wander down and back.

Everything´s beautiful.  I can also really do with this live-and-let-live culture.  No more small town meddling! It´s been 5 days, and no one has asked me where I´m from yet, and no one stares at me for wearing tennis shoes.

Internet café time is running out... that´s all for now! More from the in-laws´ house over the weekend.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beach Day 2

Ok, it´s kind of day 4, but whatever. I´m quickly learning that I need to start taking breaks from life at the beach to make it easier to deal with crap.  The new beach town is the same Brazilian inefficiency, but now with a pretty backdrop! No Caught Being Good awards for anyone today!! Graaah!

I´d totally just go get drunk at a little beach stand at 3 in the afternoon if I didn´t have to finish this crazy long translation that I haven´t really had time to do this last month. After I turn it in on the 20th, I´ll be a little more relaxed, and I´ll have time and money for midday caipirinhas. Alexandre gets off at 5:30, though, and we´re going out to dinner.

Not sure exactly how I´m going to finish my translation, however, seeing as how no internet company wants me to pay them for their services. I was totally sarcastic and rude to the girl at the Telefónica office (you would have been too; she was a useless sloth) so now Alexandre has to go there and figure that out, because I´m too embarassed to go back. I´m dreading spending hours in this stifling internet café looking up medical terms for this translation, but, knowing this country, I probably still won´t have internet at home 10 days from now.

I think these consistent experiences in a big beach city and a small town in the countryside means that I´m allowed to go back to generalizing my frustrations to the whole country again.

Is it 5:30 yet?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Just a quick internet café post (prepare yourself for accent apostrophes) to let you all know that we made it to the beach apartment.  Everything´s going well, even despite the tiny porportions of our new place. We are being sooooo creative with our little space and the fact that a huge apartment is being crammed into a small one. Alexandre´s moving bonus from the military is definitely helping make our creativity (TALL SHELVING) financially possible. Oh, and we´re also just turning the in-laws´ house into an extra storage unit. Haha. I´ll put up pics once we´re all done and once I have internet at home again.

My grandad passed away yesterday, which is kind of putting a damper on my happy ´´I moved to the beach!´´ mood.  But Alexandre and I went out and had a piece of cake in his honor, and sat at the beach for a while and talked about nice memories. I´m trying to stay positive and focus on all the good things that are also happening. The last thing my grandad would´ve wanted would´ve been for me to stop and mope, or ´´let the grass grow under my feet,´´ as he liked to say.

Moving during Carnaval has made it difficult to find people willing to work, to do things like set up our internet/telephone or install our ceiling fans. But it´s hard to stay mad when there´s ocean everywhere you look.

But everything´s so beautiful, the cat is happy (and was a WONDERFUL car traveler!), and I have plenty of translation work to keep me busy (and paid, luckily!).

More soon!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Moving, Raining, Bird

So it hasn't stopped raining since I got back to town almost a week ago. Like literally, it hasn't stopped raining for more than 30 or 40 minutes at a time since Sunday. I'm not complaining. I like rain. It cools things down. It's also not stormy, windy rain, which means that walking with an umbrella is still a good way to get around.

Also, we FINALLY got our car back yesterday. Do you remember back in August when we finally took it to the shop? AUGUST? It sat there for almost 3 months, and nothing was done. So then we had to get it back because of the graduation. And then we took it back to the shop in January and tried to get it fixed again. I got the car back on MARCH 4th.  Absolutely ridiculous. But this is not so much a case of Brazilian inefficiency as it is a case of husfriend inefficiency and a really, really bad insurance policy.

Anyway, the good news is we have the car back-- fixed, and cleaned!! I think their decision to wash both the inside and outside of the car may have been why it took 2 months to get it back the second time around. So now the car is good as new, and a helpful companion on these rainy days.

The other good news is that we have exactly 2 more nights in this apartment. Well, Alexandre has one more night. He'll get into town tonight/tomorrow at about 4am, which by then is morning. Then we finish packing and on Monday morning we drive the heck outta Hicktown. Can you believe it? This day is finally here.

But it's a good thing we're leaving this apartment. We're on the top floor, and our ceiling has been leaking during the rain since NOVEMBER.  (Are we seeing a pattern?) It's only gotten worse, especially because of this last week of non-stop rain.  The landlord is retarded. If she had fixed it back in November, she (or the building management people) would've only had to replace a few tiles on the roof. But now that she's left it and ignored my endless requests, she'll probably have to pay to have the entire ceiling redone from the inside, because it's leaking so much in some places that there are actually small holes that have formed. Stupid lady.

So we have only 2 more nights of water dripping into buckets, and then we're on our way to our beach town! Our new apartment already has an air conditioner unit in the bedroom.  I plan to set up shop (my desk and computer) in the bedroom and then I'll just never leave.

Looks like I wasn't the only one who needed an escape from the weather. As I was typing this, I heard a loud and different bird chirping. I thought, "wow, that sounds really close!" and went into the kitchen to investigate. Turns out it sounded close because it was IN the apartment. I freaked it out. It started flying around, which, in turn, sent the cat into a tizzy. I do love birds (pretty sure it was this one), but just realized that I love them less when they're wild and flying around my apartment. Luckily this one was on the smarter side, and soon returned to the outside world through the laundry room window from whence it came.

Ok. Thanks for reading this kind of useless rambly entry. I'm just totally putting off packing and translating.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Have a Good Night

This is from Adam and mostly for Rachel....


I mean, that woman's FACE!
Cracks. me. up.

Yes, it gets better. There's an article that goes with this. Read it here. That old lady charges 2 reais for people to come see her phallic maracujá, and 15 reais for them to take a picture of it. Luck you, you get to see it for free!

I can't decide what's funnier: that lady or the penis fruit. Ok, I decided. It's the penis fruit.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Caught Being Good #2

I was so impressed with the service that I just received that I thought I'd give these people a Caught Being Good award!

Today's recipient is another surprise:

CPFL, the electric company in the state of São Paulo. 

Because we're moving this weekend, I have to change my address at a few places, including the electric company. Yesterday I tried to change my address at the bank, but as we all know, Brazilian banks love to make things harder than they have to be. I couldn't change my address over the phone or online. No no. That would make too much sense. So I went into a branch while I was out running errands, and asked to change my address. No no. I can only go to the branch where I opened the account, and I have to talk to a manager there. And then, they might have to change my account number, because my account number is connected to the branch where I opened the account. So I'd have to email all of my translation clients and tell them the new number. And, this should go without saying, the bank is only open from 11am - 4pm, and I doubt the manager is there the whole time. Wish me luck!

So after that episode yesterday, I was dreading calling the electric company. I mean, it's customer service bureaucracy with the added challenge of the telephone.  I fiddled around online a bit to make sure that we use the same electric company in the new city, which we do. Then I took a deep breath and called the 800 number.

I successfully understood enough of the automated options to make a choice ("if your power's been turned off, press 1" kinda deal). First hurdle, passed! (These things are easier to survive if you imagine you're in a video game.)

Then I had to wait on hold for a bit.  Not too bad.

Then the guy came on the line, and he was totally helpful and patient with my not understanding of things. He told me everything I had to do, and even set up my name at the new address! He told me the dates of the last bill on file there and asked if that bill was ours, too, like if we'd been living there at that point.

Then he was telling me where to go here in Hicktown before I leave to verify my ID documents in order to finalize the name change to the new address. I didn't understand because it seemed too good to be true-- that I could do something for the new town here in the current town. So when I said, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Portuguese well, and I don't understand this step," he said "no problem!" and explained it again very slowly until I understood. Then he gave me all the codes I'll need to take with me to this office when I go verify my documents.

Hooray! I slew the dragon!

He was just the nicest guy and he made something that should be easy... easy. So he gets a Caught Being Good award!

I also signed into the CPFL site and sent a message on the "contact us" to compliment him. I'm sure he'd rather have that than a GIF on my blog. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'm Anti-BBB

Thought I'd repost Adam's very good translation of an article criticizing Big Brother Brazil.  As you all know, I don't have a lot of patience for TV, Brazilian or otherwise. But Big Brother Brazil is extra extra rage-inducing.

Just read Adam's translation of the Portuguese article. Click here to read it.
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