Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lindsey and Danielle's Joint Post

Danielle: Lindsey is at my house!
Lindsey: So!  We've been watching YouTube videos for hours. In an awesome way. Really.
Danielle: I've been forcing poor Lindsey to watch endless Joanna videos --
Lindsey: Can I just say that Danielle eats beans as a snack? Who does that?
Danielle: I make lots of beans and freeze them in single portions. They are delicious with lunch. Or as a snack.
Lindsey: "And protein-filled." My idea of a snack is definitely more carb-filled.
Danielle -- anyway, I made her watch Joanna, but she made me watch Glee videos, so we're even.
Lindsey: But Glee is just a guilty pleasure! Hey! You're drinking from my wine glass!
Danielle: It's the big one! I'm gonna tell them that my only 2 wine glasses are mismatched. 
Lindsey: It's true. She has one giant, well, normal-sized one, and one that's like, for dessert wines, like port or something. Yeah, it's true.
Danielle: takes a sip from her small, tiny wine glass
Lindsey: this is not a play.
Danielle: Hold on. I'm gonna make it in italics.
Lindsey: This is a good wine.
Danielle: Lindsey introduced me to -- what's the wine called?
Lindsey: Reservado Carmenere. Reservado is the brand and carmenere is the grape. Oop, that's my wine again. I need a tissue.
Danielle: Lindsey cries when she laughs.
Lindsey: Like, a lot.
Danielle: What else did we do today?
Lindsey: So, well, we, uh, we went to the feira, and we went to the beach, and we went to the island --
Danielle: I'll tell them. It's an island called Ilha Porchat.
Lindsey: -- uh, then we made chicken tikka masala! Amazing. AH-Mazing. No, AAAAh-MEI-zing.
Danielle: it was good.
Lindsey: it was soooo good. Then we made some frosting.
Danielle: I'll put the link to the recipe. Here. What else did we do? Oh, we fought with my neighbor. Well, I fought with my neighbor.
Lindsey: There was an incident with the neighbor. Yes, there was.
Danielle: She played music crazy loud at 8am on a Saturday. I tried to ring her doorbell to ask her to turn it down. She refused to answer, so I held the buzzer down until she opened it. That made her super pissed off. So she opened it and started screamed at me. "VAI SE FODER! SAI DAQUI! SAI! SAI!" Totally logical reaction. Then she tried to argue that I played my music yesterday which was why she was playing now. But yesterday we were in Sao Paulo for Cambirdge Day.
Lindsey: Oh yeah, we didn't even mention Sao Paulo, our whole day there.
Danielle: What did you think of Cambridge Day?
Lindsey: Well, I liked Cambridge Day, because I was happy to hear people speak English.
Danielle: Native English.
Lindsey: The information was sometimes OK. Sometimes it was ridiculous. Hey, that's my wine.
Danielle: I thought it was more marketing than help.
Lindsey: Except we did meet some really awesome people, which made the day all that more exciting.
Danielle: We met Samia and Marc, faithful reader, and even bumped into Leah. They were great. Ok, let's wrap this up.
Lindsey: Put a bow on it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Portuguese Orthography

If you care, read my diglossia post about the two versions of Portuguese before you read this one.

So Brazil is a country that incorporates prescriptive grammar rules into its government. That means that, unlike the US, Brazil has a part of the government that (tries) to decide official grammar and spelling rules for the country's language. This type of control goes against all theories of language change (the most relevant of which being change from below) and in my opinion, this control is just a way for the rich members of the government and society to find excuses to test (and then fail) the poor and push them out. (How will the poor ever pass a test if the rules for the language they use every day are theoretical and always changing?) But I digress.

(I'm just a little confused about the details of this part of the government -- is it the Sociedade da Lingua Portuguesa, meaning it's actually the Portuguese government making these rules, and Brazil is just accepting them??)

So this part of the government has recently decided to officially change Portuguese orthography. Orthography is the writing system: letters, punctuation, and diacritics. The focus of this change has been on written accents and hyphens in Portuguese.

When I first heard about this change, I scoffed and scoffed and hummed and hawed. People told me about it in all seriousness. "No, no! Portuguese is changing! This is the new Portuguese! You must know it and do it!"

I insisted that the government telling people that the language is changing is not how the language changes! Change comes from the people! Let's stop teaching crap like da-me-ei!!! (Am I even writing that correctly? I know that proponents of this superextraridiculous formal Portuguese try to say that Portuguese places objects as infixes in the future tense, but it's so outdated that I don't know how to use it and it's actually offensive that grammar books try to teach it.)

So then Alexandre bought this sort of Language Arts book for adults from a fundraiser at the hospital. He figured I could use it, and he could use it in the little informal classes he gives to the soldiers at the military base on slow days. It came with a CD with videos, texts, dictionaries, and activities. I figured I'd check it out. I have to at least be able to recognize what is considered the formal version of Portuguese and what is considered the informal version of Portuguese, before I can decide not to use one or the other.

So the CD had a video explaining the rules of the new writing system. I decided to watch it, mostly to feel high-and-mighty and to think "oohpoohoo, these prescriptivist grammar people have no notion of how language works! I am clearly superior! Power to the people!".

Turns out, obviously, that I was wrong, and that these changes, while logistically difficult to put into practice, are logical ways to simplify the Portuguese writing system. The first thing I'd incorrectly heard or assumed was that these new rules remove ALL accents, which is not true. Portuguese is still maintaining its beautifully logical and Latin rule that stressed syllables that are not the penultimate syllable have accents, which is very helpful to me as a language learner. (This accent rule is almost the same as the rule in Spanish, if you're familiar with that.) The new writing system seems to remove accents only from dipthongs that are already stressed, a rule which pleases me as a linguist (dipthongs are considered one phoneme! Down with accents on dipthongs).

The new accent rules also remove the umlaut (ü, aka trema) from Portuguese, because, well, umlauts are dumb. No, just kidding, Germans. They're not dumb -- they're just not really relevant in Portuguese anymore. But hats off to the language society-- they decided to leave the umlauts on proper nouns. Bravo.

The other change was with hyphens. The new rules say that you need fewer hyphens, specifically in cases where the meaning and pronunciation are obvious, even without it. So no more ultra-som (ultrasound). Now, it's just ultrasom. (English did this too, though slowly and unofficially, removing hyphens from words like to-morrow.) I didn't know that half of the words they showed even HAD hyphens, so that was cool for me.

So yes! Now I am not totally against these new writing rules. They are logical, and they are meant to simplify the writing system. (The problem will come, now, when a current high school student goes to take his college entrance exams next year, and the rules he learned all through his life will suddenly be marked wrong on the tests.)

But I want to know what the Brazilians and native Portuguese speakers think about these rules, about the fact that there are rules, and about this idea of a government linguistic body in general!

And as for you, English speakers, to whom this concept may be foreign: what do you think about this idea of the government decreeing official language rules? How would you feel if, tomorrow, some guy from the government said,  "OK! We are now going to start writing the following words differently! Tonight is now tonite! Through is now thru! No more old Germanic spelling for us! And while we're at it, let's do away with apostrophes that don't change the meaning, like in dont, and didnt, and shouldnt!" Do you think those rules are good? Do you think that's even the government's job? 

Come on...participate...humor me!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lindsey's Coming!

Yes, that's right. It's my turn to be the host. I hope I can follow in Jim's footsteps! They're big shoes to fill.

Lindsey will be here late tomorrow night. There will be potato soup and wine waiting for her!

Friday morning we're off to Cambridge Day. We'll be home relatively early -- hopefully in time for a sushi dinner. Then we have the weekend to gallivant around and I can show Lindsey what a smaller Brazilian city is like (though it's not hard to be smaller than Rio and São Paulo). We are also going to try to make this chicken tikka masala recipe from scratch. Alexandre's out of town for work things and will be back late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. We'll probably all have lunch together on Sunday before Lindsey is whisked away by responsibility!

How lucky am I?! Visits with friends two times in one month!!!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bird Extravaganza!

So the in-laws were at their beach house this weekend, which is also along the Sao Paulo coast and not too far from our house, so we made plans to meet up with them for lunch at this seafood restaurant off the highway.

The restaurant has a beautiful balcony with seating, and then on the other side of the balcony is a small clearing. Behind that clearing is untouched rainforest. I wanted to sit out on the balcony, but it was cold and raining. Alexandre and I got there a little bit before his parents did, so we got a table inside. We were chatting away when suddenly I heard a strange and loud bird call from the trees outside. OBVIOUSLY I went out to the balcony (no one was eating out there) and tried to get a better look. Turns out the waiters leave some fruit on a little table in the clearing to bring more birds.


I seriously started jumping in place a little on the balcony. There was a waiter standing in the doorway between the restaurant and the balcony, staring nonchalantly. I tried to share my excitement with him, to no avail.

"Look look that one has a big red and yellow crown on it's head it's soo cool omgomg" I was trying to tell him. He was clearly not interested.

"How do I go down there into that clearing?" I tried to ask.
"You can't," he said sympathetically, though he didn't give me a reason as to why not.

I tried to call Alexandre to come see, but he was too involved in the puzzle game on his cell phone and he said, "that's great, honey" without even looking up.


I was kicking myself for not having my camera or monocular with me. I restored to taking notes to describe the birds to remind myself later -- it was all very British-explorer-in-the-rainforest of me, channeling Charles Darwin or Richard Francis Burton. But my notes proved helpful, and, with the help of the "search by city" feature on WikiAves, I was able to identify most of the ones I saw (I did recognize some from my book, which helped):

 I saw two cambacicas, which are called bananaquits in English

I saw this sanhaço-cinzento, or sayaca tanager. My bird book says it's common, so I'd always wondered why I hadn't come across it.

I also saw this couple: Their name is saí-azul in Portuguese, aka Blue Dancis

I saw this graúna, which is also referred to as a chopi blackbird

and the highlight of the sighting was this little guy, whose singing called me out there in the first place: 

It's called a tiê-galo, or a flame-crested tanager. It was easily distinguishable by the big tuft of red and yellow hair on its head. Cooooooool

There were two different hummingbirds and a little yellow bird that were just too quick for me to identify. But we definitely have to go back to that restaurant! I'm totally going to figure out a way to get down to the clearing. It seemed easy enough, but I didn't want to embarrass Alexandre by trekking around in the rain in a pair of heels. But next time, I'll be prepared!

The Rio Trip! Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

So let's see -- where did I leave off? Oh yes, Ipanema!

After our afternoon in Ipanema, Lindsey and I said our goodbyes to Jim and Rachel and made our way back to her place. We stopped off for dinner at her husband's restaurant, which I won't say the name of for privacy reasons but which was DELICIOUS and awesome and which had a cool setup. After our dinner and his shift, we collected him and the three of us went to their apartment.

I got to play with their kittiesssssss OMG so hyper and cute!
kitties kitties kitties

Our night at the restaurant and at the apartment also consisted of endless amounts of chatter. I can't remember the last time I talked this much.

Monday morning, I went to Lindsey's class with her because the guy said he had questions about the US, except he was totally not talkative and the class was pretty anti-climactic. Oh, students...

Then I had the long bus ride back to Niteroi. It took almost three hours, all told! But it was like a free scenic tour of Rio. The bus I took followed this highway that went along this cliff and followed the coast. Gorgeous!

Once back at Jim's, I joined him in the fajita feast he'd already started preparing. I learned that the secret to fantastic Mexican re-friend beans is to add BUTTER to them. Oh, the decadence!

Luiz came out to help us with the meat (best to let the Brazilian take over for that part!).

During our feast preparation, Jim and I took a break and went for a stroll along the beach -- you know, because we were in Niteroi, and we could.

After dinner was an early bedtime for me. Our plan was to wake up early and go to Ilha de Paquetá, but even the best intentions couldn't get us up early enough for that ferry! So instead, Jim and I slept in and then spent the morning meandering around Niteroi until I left to meet up with Lindsey.

yes, it's the same shirt in a different color

We went to MAC, the famous art museum. The quality of the "art" inside was questionable, but the building itself was so interesting. Can you see the reflection of the shore in the black windows? 

The stuff around the museum was also interesting, especially the fisherman families making a living by catching fish and mussels around the bay (thanks to Jim for explaining -- he's the Niteroi expert!). I got some pictures from the museum windows (click on them for a better look):

After the museum, Jim and I had a lovely time strolling down the walking path that follows the bay. 

you are so jealous
look at the color of that moss!

metonymic picture of my trip (feel free to steal)

During our walk, Jim and I had a great conversation, saw the views of Rio, and also made friends with a dog, who followed us for a while, hoping we'd buy him some food at one of the beach stands:

Oh, and we also stopped over to explore this old house in Niteroi. Jim will have to leave a comment with the name of it. It was basically a house that foreign diplomats owned and stayed in during visits to Rio. Now it's been converted into a government administration building where public employees pretend to work.

even the awnings were tiled! I thought you'd like it, Nanny :)

So yes, after that fabulous tour with Jim, I took the ferry over to meet up with Lindsey. We went to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a huge lagoon in Rio that's surrounded by fantastic outdoor activity options (like tennis courts and bike paths), as well as cute little restaurants and food booths. 
So you can probably guess what we did: ate, drank, talked, talked, and talked some more. And then drank some more, and then ate some more. The place we went to served Middle Eastern food. Yum. 

view of the lagoon at night from the restaurant

Lindsey and I were talking so much and so excitedly that we eventually succumbed to our nerdy teacher sides and started taking notes about things we wanted to talk about and didn't want to forget, since we changed the topic and thought of new things to tell each other every 5 seconds. After a few caipirinhas, attempts at maintaining the list proved futile, but the intention was there. 

Lindsey somehow manages to get more and more glamorous and photogenic as the night wears on. I, on the other hand, obviously don't.

So, as reluctant as we were to end the night, we both had to get home, and I had to get to bed in order to get up early for my bus ride home. I was so sad when the trip was over! I really enjoyed everyone's company. Since Rio is so expensive, I think it would be far more logical for all of you to move out to live closer to me. ;P

But yes, the trip was a success! And since Alexandre didn't end up coming, and because I had to change my bus ticket because of the passport drama, we've already got 3 of the 4 tickets purchased for our next trip. :D Just tell me when! I miss you all already.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Rio Trip! Part 1

So Jim totally beat me and updated first, but now it's my turn to talk about the trip. :D I'm writing too much so I'm going to divide it into 2 entries.

First important point, I was sooooo sad that Alexandre couldn't come. I pouted and whined. I begged. I suggested that he wasn't as sick as he said he was. But when I said, "well, I'm going anyway. I'll be an American in Rio ALL BY MYSELF," he winced, but said OK. So I knew he really was sick.

Second important point: a HUGE FYI in the Brazilian land of lawlessness: technically, there is a law that, to board a Brazilian bus, you must show your ID. If you don't have an RG, it must be an original passport (or a copy of your passport that has been certified at a cartório). My Brazilian CPF, my California ID, and a copy of my passport were not enough. It was irrelevant that I've taken literally hundreds of buses around this country in the last 3 years and that I've never had to show my original passport. (When Elena and I came back to Sao Paulo on a bus from Foz do Iguaçu, the guy said a passport was necessary, but only because we were at a bus station at an international border, not because it was, you know, Brazilian law that everyone else ignores. I happened to have my original because we'd gone into Argentina, so I'm not sure if a copy would've been accepted at that time.)

The bus driver this weekend did not appreciate my argument that acquiring a fake certified copy of my passport would be MUCH easier than acquiring a fake CPF. He did not appreciate my swearing and declaration that nothing works correctly in his country. I had to change my bus time and instead get a bus from Santos to Sao Paulo, and then take the SP metro and get ANOTHER bus from Sao Paulo to Niteroi. Poor Jim waited for me until 4am!

But yes. I share this story as a warning to you all, in case you get a stickler of a bus driver like I did. I'm not mad at him for following the law-- I was mad that no one else had, ever.  I told Lindsey and Alexandre that maybe it meant I got all of my traveling drama out of the way at the beginning, which it turns out I did, because the rest of my vacation was smooth sailing!

After an hour of gabbing and another hour or so of sleep, Jim, Luiz, and I took the ferry to the blogger meetup! It was so great to talk to all of you, to see you in the flesh, to hear your stories in greater detail, to make jokes and have people laugh at them (I AM NEVER FUNNY IN PORTUGUESE). I was too busy chatting to take many pictures, but here are a couple that I got:

After the meetup, Lindsey and I went back to Jim's apartment on the ferry. Ferries are fun and never get old. Oh, but apparently, Cariocas call ferries barcas. I had a bus driver stare at me blankly when I said I needed to get to the balsa. Come on! An older woman sitting in the front of the bus sensed the confusion and called to the bus driver that I meant to say barca, not balsa. Maybe we can just stick to the English "ferry boat," which is used here in Santos (though I think some people use "ferry boat" to refer to the mall next to the ferry). What a mess! OK. Focus Danielle, focus.

While on the ferry, one of us (not gonna say which) requested a picture of an attractive boy. We pretended to take a picture of Lindsey in order to get his picture. Then he turned around. And Lindsey laughed. And you clearly missed out on all the fun of the balsa -- I mean barca.

Once we were back at Jim's, we gabbed gabbed gabbed some more, shared stories about teaching English, drank wine, ate Jim's delicious tomato and ricotta pie, went for a walk and drank coconut juice (I REFUSE TO CALL IT WATER IN ENGLISH), and eventually made our way to a bar in Jim's neighborhood. More gabbing and drinking ensued, followed by my slumber party with Lindsey (defined as even more gabbing gabbing gabbing until like 3am). As you can see, there was not much sleeping on this trip! And there was so, so, so much talking. I mentioned to Lindsey at one point that it felt like I had this huge ball of yarn in my brain that was unraveling everywhere, with threads that everyone's conversations were just pulling out and all over the place.

Sunday was the sort of second, last-minute blogger meetup. Lindsey, Jim, and I went to Ipanema to meet up with Rachel. On the way there, I sang the song in my head like 100 times (except I only know that one line -- the girl from Ipanema goes walking... -- so it started to make me a little crazy).

the cool kids!!!!

We drank caipirinhas and coconut juice, watched the passersby, and chatted some more at a million miles an hour. Oh, and the bartender waiter guy from the beach kiosk complimented Rachel on her impeccable Carioca Portuguese. :D 

At one point we briefly met up with Sandy, a friend of Rachel's. She and I didn't get to talk much, mostly because I was too busy admiring her fabulous apartment and the views from it: 

That mountain in the picture may or may not be Pão de Açucar. Can I just say one thing that may be sacreligious to Brazilians reading this but that perhaps is not common knowledge? So Pão de Açucar (I REFUSE TO CALL IT 'SUGAR LOAF') is the famous rock formation mountain thing in Rio. But it turns out there are a ton of rock formation mountain things around the bay!! No one told me that! How the heck am I supposed to know which one is Pão de Açucar, especially from far away?! Is that something everyone else knows easily, which would mean that I'm just like, silly and uncultured? Or is it some big secret everyone keeps? I mean, I saw quite a few of these rock formations, and they all looked the same to me from a distance.

I know I was totally lame and didn't do the typical tourist things while in Rio (Pão de Açucar and the Christ statue, which I prefer to refer to as 'the Big Jesus'), but that wasn't really the point of this trip.

Ok I'm gonna stop here. Tomorrow will be Part 2: the rest of the trip!

Read Part 2 here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In Rio...

In Rio...

...the kisses keep on going!
...nature is smashed right up against the metropolis. The views are AMAAAAAZING can sit on buses for 3 hours and still be in the same area code.
...the eshes in coda position are hard to understand at first, but are physically easier for my lazy California tongue (though you won't catch me giving up my pseudo-Paulista identity anytime soon, which I have had to adopt here to explain my lack of said esh).
...things don't seem to be any more dangerous than they are in Sao Paulo, so residents from each city can quit with the paranoia about the other one!
...the hospitality can't be beat! Thanks so much to everyone for coming out to the meetup, and especially to Jim and Lindsey for hosting me and letting me make their bathrooms messy. Everyone I've met has been 10x cooler than I thought it was possible for them to be.

Alexandre came down with PNEUMONIA the day before we were scheduled to come. So our agreement was that he wouldn't have to go, but that he'd have to take care of himself (he's a doctor and can do that, minus the part of having no one to whine to).  Poor guy! That just means we'll have to come back together and hang out with everyone again. :)

Having a great time, and it's not over yet! More later!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cambridge Day!

So I know I said my next post would be a Caught Being Good story. I'll get to that soon. I wanted to let you guys now that Cambridge University Press (the English textbook publishing company) is hosting a series of conferences around Brazil this month. They're calling each one "Cambridge Day".

I went to one of these in the US once. It's essentially an ESL teacher conference. You can watch different lectures, network, and hopefully get some free stuff. :)

One of the lectures this year is called, "Where do I go from here? Ten strategies for professional development." Some of the speakers are American.

It's free -- all you have to bring is 1kg of food to donate (like a bag of rice or beans), and, if you're feeling extra generous, a children's book in Portuguese.

The company is hosting its Cambridge Day in 13 different cities in Brazil, so there's a chance that one is close by you. I'll be going to the São Paulo day on the 29th. (If anyone else wants to go, email me at cookingbrazil @ and we can try to meet up!)

Here's the site:

Yay! English teacher nerdy-ness!!

This is Why I Don't Teach Teenagers

So an 18-year-old boy at the gym told me he wanted to have English classes with me, that the trainer (who is also my student) told him that I was good, etc etc.

So we got to talking.

He insisted that he only wanted "conversation". This is what every.single. student says, because they've had bad, grammar-for-the-sake-of-grammar lessons and because they have no notion of how to learn a language correctly.

I told him that I use a book in my classes, but that the book is conversation-based.

He insisted that he did NOT want a book, that he only wanted CONVERSATION, that that's how all of his private classes had been since he started learning English (red flags!), that he was using a grammar book at the English school where he studies and that it was boring.

I agreed to try his way for a month to prove to him that things are better with the structure and review system of a well-made book.

Well. What I didn't realize was that his definition of a "conversation class" was that I just let him talk and talk and talk, and that if he's wrong, I don't correct him. Because apparently, correcting his Google-translator-esque English is rude and not fun.

For our first class, I gave him a list of questions about his experience studying English.  It's a neutral topic that I like to use to get to know their educational history a bit better. I asked him things like who he speaks English with outside of class, why he wants to learn, who his best and worst teachers were, etc. His speaking really is horrible. I mean, he's fluent in the sense that he's fast, but he's bad in that if I didn't speak Portuguese, I wouldn't understand a word he was saying.

Sentences like "have a good fair this neighbor at Friday, but the fair on Santos is great that her."
No joke.
(To the baffled people reading, he wanted to say, "There's a good farmer's market in this neighborhood on Fridays, but the farmer's market in Santos is bigger than this one.")

Also, every consonant in coda position was butchered. So he said things like, "I wantchee thciu have-y conversation anjee speakiee mucheee!" ("I want to have conversation and speak much [sic].")

So in the second class, I printed out an activity that I use to improve pronunciation. I've used it with many other students, and it always goes over well. I explain that Portuguese has some different rules than English when it comes to sounds. So you pronounce some sounds one way in Portuguese, but in English, you have to move your mouth a little differently. Nothing criticizing. I'm a linguist and obviously I don't think people are stupid if they pronounce things incorrectly. I think their mistakes are logical, and that they haven't heard many native speakers and that no one has ever corrected them.

So I gave him some words to practice, and after only a couple of tries, the boy improved dramatically. Great job! Fast learner, etc.

But he was not pleased. Apparently, I'd broken 2 cardinal rules of conversation class-ee. I'd corrected him and I hadn't let him talk about nothing the whole time. He left the class in a huff, and promptly went to the trainer to complain about me. (Mature.) Then she told me about everything he said. (Equally mature.)

We had class scheduled for today, and I was planning to talk to him adult-to-adult, explaining that his English was good, but that my goal was to help him sound more natural, or something nice like that. Except he didn't show up. No call, no nothing.

I'll have a little talk with him next time I see him at the gym. Perhaps there's something else that no one has ever taught him: Don't be a punk and flake out without even paying.If you make a commitment, at least have the balls to back out formally.

Eighteen-year-olds are an annoying age group to teach. They're too old for me to orchestrate the admin stuff with their parents, but too young to be responsible enough themselves.

Oh well. It's probably for the best. I won't have to deal with him and his "I don't want a book" whining.

Can't win 'em all!

The next post will be a Caught Being Good one, and then after that, Rio!!!! I hope you (yes, you!) can come to the blogger meet-up! As Rachel pointed out, you don't have to have a blog to come. The more the merrier. :D :D Also, you can hear my super funny caipira-with-an-accent Portuguese. You'll be amused, if nothing else.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I have so many posts that I'd like to put up, and no time to give them the full write-up they deserve. So in my drunken almost-stupor-but-mostly-un-abashed-ness, I'll summarize:

* There's an old woman who lives on the first (technically second) floor of our building. She is old and painfully lonely. She sits on her balcony all day. That means she sees me every time I take out the trash or leave or return to the apartment building. And every.single.time. she sees me (and Alexandre too), she says, "Nossa, mas é frio, hein?" or, "Isn't it cold?!" At first, that was all she said, but now she has graduated to mothering me from above: Where's your umbrella? Are you going out at this time of night? I oscillate between antisocial irritation and suffocating pity, but the pity always wins out, and I always indulge her and humor her and talk to her for a bit.

*I just read over some old emails from former blogger Julie. I wish she'd come back! To blogging or email, Julie, either one works.

*I found this amazing recipe for potato and "green garlic" soup. I'd never heard of green garlic in English, let alone in Portuguese. Some internet research gave me enough information to babble on to the farmer's market guys in hopes of figuring out the name in Portuguese. Surprisingly enough, it was the Japanese immigrants at the feira who were finally able to help me. One of them actually seemed like, deeply touched that I was looking for some vegetable for which he only knew the word in his native language. Nipá, Nipá, he insisted. It's hard to find here, he said. Check with the lettuce guy down the road a bit. Arigato. The 'thank you' came out in Japanese as if he couldn't help it. I recognized the feeling because I myself have done it and know it well: the rare moment when it's more important to express yourself in a certain way than to guarantee that you'll be understood.

Oh yeah, well, he was right. The lettuce guy down the road said he had something that was what I described. It looks a little different from what the guy used in the video, but we'll see how it goes.

*My ranting post about body issues and Latin American honesty was much more widely received than I thought it'd be. Here's a Joanna Newsom quote to summarize it:
I wasn't born of a whistle or milked from a thistle at twilight!
No, I was all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright!

*Does anyone else think that the last 2 Joanna Newsom albums (especially this song) are essentially about either an abortion or a miscarriage (concepts which are the same word in Portuguese)?

*Does anyone else worry that they're not being understood correctly when they use Portuguese words that have 2 or more translations into English? like aborto, or legal, or ficar, or esperar, or história, or ganhar...ok, I'll stop.

*I've been super good about going to the gym since I moved to the beach town. I don't want to brag, but I've lost a good deal of body fat, and gained some muscle to boot. An hour a day keeps the self-esteem issues away! I would say I'm in the best shape I've been in since I was on the high school swim team when I was 14. 12 years?! That's saying something. (Now you know how old I am!)

*Gatinha vomited up rubber about a week ago. I think it was a piece of one of my hair ties. Since then, she's been acting totally normal, except that she has thrown up like 4 more times. So tomorrow, she has an ultrasound scheduled. That's right. We're paying for an ultrasound for the cat. I've gotta get out my maternal instinct somehow.

*I think that's enough rambling (and wine!) for tonight!!!!

Please, comment, but focus on yourself and compare these experiences to yours. Be as self-indulgent as I just was.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Can I "Make It" There? Teaching English in Brazil

So now that my email's up on the blog again, the steady stream of "can you help me with my life?" emails have resurfaced. Most of you are generally friendly and fun to respond to, which is why the email's still up. But I get a lot of questions that I can't really answer for people, the most common of which being "can I make it as a teacher in Brazil?"

Jim wrote a very honest but helpful blog entry about the reality on (not) finding a job as a foreigner in Brazil. Hell, it's hard enough for Brazilians to find a job here, and they're fluent in Portuguese and have all the documents to work legally (not to mention that they're, ya know, from here).

So my entry is going to focus on teaching English in Brazil. I'll try to make the answer short and concise, but you know how much luck I have with that...

So to answer the question if "Can I make it in Brazil as an English teacher?" the short answer is: it depends, but probably, though it'll take a while. 

Some explanations:

1. Your connections and how well you're known in your Brazilian city or town are more important than whether or not you have a CELTA or some equivalent, especially when it comes to private classes. Go ahead and get the CELTA or the TESOL or whatever -- not because the school will require it, but because it'll make you a better teacher. I've stated my opinions on this topic before.

2. You can't work legally without your permanent resident card, which you'll likely get only if you're married to a Brazilian (and that whole nightmare process of getting your card can take up to 2 years). Most small English schools in smaller towns don't care; schools in bigger cities will care more. When I say "they don't care," I mean that Brazil is not the US, and even some Brazilians opt to work under the table at a regular job to avoid paying taxes. Not working with a carteira de trabalho (the equivalent of a W-2, I guess) is illegal, but most people turn a blind eye. Welcome to Brazil.

A SMALL percentage of international schools (i.e. private schools for kids and teenagers that are all in English) will offer you a visa and help you with moving and all that, but don't count on it. Check out Meredith's blog for details on doing that (though her husband is Brazilian, so her visa situation might be different).

It's much easier to work under the table a private English teacher, but finding students will take time. See below.

3. If you have no teaching experience, if you don't know many people in your new city, and if you don't speak Portuguese, you'll need to start by working at a school. (Some of you in the big cities -- Rio and Sao Paulo --  have been able to find good amounts of private students without actually working in a school first. Perhaps you guys can enlighten us on how you did that.)

4. People like to ask me, "but how much will I make?" I can't answer that specifically. At the time of my writing this, schools are paying anywhere from R$15 an hour to R$30 an hour, depending on the city and the school. Most schools will start out by giving you only 1 or 2 classes (so like 6 hours a week of work, tops) to decide if they like you and to see if you're reliable and all that. Depending on the school's need (so if you're in the right place at the right time or not), they might quickly up your hours, or it might take up to 6 months to get a full-time schedule.

Note that, in the world of chain English schools, a "full-time schedule" is about 25-30 hours a week, not 40. I've yet to hear of a school paying for prep time, and few pay for meetings or training. So basically you'll actually be working 40 hours a week or more, but the most you'll get paid for is about 30 hours of teaching time. And those teaching times are early in the morning, later in the evening, and on Saturdays.

You can work at 2 schools to get more hours. Just know that your bosses at each place will get on your case for you to work exclusively for them (some schools actually require that as a condition of hiring). But almost every English teacher working exclusively in schools works at 2 schools. So don't cave in to the whining. (Look at all those whining posts! Jeez.)

How far your money goes depends on a million factors, so I can't answer the question of "well I did the math and I think I'll make X. Can I live on that?" Check out Jim's post on purchasing power parity, the conclusion of which is "Brazil is an expensive place to live."

5. Like I said, building up private students takes time, especially if you're going for a full-time schedule of it. And remember that, in the case of private students, you're the teacher and the administrator. Teaching private classes it not all blue skies and banana roses. People are difficult. They don't want to pay you on time; they whine about having to buy material; and the biggest problem is that they want to cancel their classes and receive a make-up class, which is so common that it has its own word: reposição. So on top of planning your own classes from scratch (no school to give you the book and the homework and the rules), you've gotta deal with all the back end stuff, too. It's a pain, but in my opinion, it's better than dealing with a boss.

(When I complain about it, Alexandre says, "look: you can have a boss, or you can have a client. Pick one." Always the wise one, that husfriend of mine.)

How quickly you can find students depends on where you live (is it a place with lots of hospitals and universities and big companies?), whether you have a Brazilian partner (can they help you with the Portuguese-required stuff and introduce you to people?), if you live close to your partner's family (can they start spreading the word for you?), what your partner does for a living (do his colleagues need English classes?), and whether you start at a school (do your school students have friends and family that want private classes?).

It took me 2 years to finally transition out of schools and to have a full-time private schedule. Seven months later, we moved, and now I'm starting from scratch (though there's definitely a learning curve). We've been in the new town for 4 months, and I have 3 students. So take what you want from that.

6. I don't know how much you should charge for private classes. Your price depends on:
(a) Where you're living
(b) How much schools in the area charge
(c) What the student wants out of their classes (lots of prep? TOEFL? they pay more)
(d) How much the student who recommended them is paying
(e) Whether you go to them or they go to you
(f) How much of a demand you have (lots of people wanting you means you have the luxury of only accepting the high-paying ones)
(g) How much the students whine and try to barter (notice a pattern?)
(h) How many hours a week the students want class, whether they're in a group, and whether you want to offer discounts for those things

Ask around. When you're talking about teaching with people in your city, ask them what they think a fair price is for the area. Locals will have a better instinct for that.

I guess that's the main stuff. My conclusion is that teaching English here is fun, especially if you already have teaching experience in the US, but the Brazilian economy has its own share of problems, and you might be coming in without any kind of foundation, so you shouldn't expect to be able to start a life in Brazil on a new teacher's salary. If you're super passionate about the idea and are moving here alone, just save up thousands of dollars beforehand, and view your teaching salary as your "allowance" or something. Easy, right? :)

Please leave comments about your experiences as a teacher in Brazil if you have them. My opinions are the things I've experienced personally, things I've read about in other blogs, and things other teachers (Brazilians and ex-pats) have told me they've experienced. If you disagree, if you've had a different experience, leave a helpful comment to explain it rather than being rude and nasty, OK? :D :D :D

Good luck!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Caught Being Good: The Ink People

So I have kind of a strange Caught Being Good winner today. It's the people from the little kiosk in the mall that refills ink cartridges for printers.

I mean, first, they should get an award just for performing this service in the first place. In the US, there are always battles between consumers and printer company lobbyists to make refilling ink cartridges as difficult as possible. So these little kiosks would be unheard of in the US. The result is that ink cartridges often cost more than a new printer (at least when I was still living there... maybe things are better now).

So anyway, for my America-residing friends, you can be jealous that, for about 10 bucks, I can take my empty ink cartridge to the mall and someone will refill it. I can refill the same cartridge about 6 times before I need to buy a new one. And the Brazilians reading can be proud that their consumer rights trump big company profits (should we say Big Ink? har har).

OK, back to the Caught Being Good award! The flaw in this ink refilling service is that it's hard to prove if the person refilling it messed up. You can bring it back to them, but how do they know it's not just a different cartridge, or that you didn't just use it all? Back in Caipirópolis, the kiosk lady messed up only once, and the colors printed out all crazy. But when I told her about it, she said, "your settings were probably just wrong." LAME. I know how to use a printer, thankyouverymuch.

So the kiosk in our new beach town is much more professional. They refill the cartridges, and then they have a bunch of printers that they use to test them out out once they've filled them. They give you the successful test page printout and ask you what you think. If you say "great!", then the deal's done. If something's wrong, they'll fix it (usually just by adding more ink). Then they put this little plastic protector piece on the cartridge and remind you not to touch the ink-y part of the cartridge directly, or the computer won't be able to read it. On top of all that good service, they have a sort of "frequent filler" program whereby if you refill 5 times, the 6th one is free (and at that point, they encourage you to buy a new cartridge). And they except debit cards.

But the real reason I want to give them their Caught Being Good award is because they have to deal with totally clueless customers all day. See, they're selling a product that most of their costumers don't know how to use correctly. So for example, while I was there waiting, two customers came up to complain. In most cases, you'd worry about the product you were buying if there were 2 complaints in the span of 5 minutes. But let's have a gander at the conversations:

Customer 1: Waving a black ink cartridge box in the attendant's face Hey! You didn't refill my cartridge! It's not working! [classy and respectful!]
Attendant: What seems to be the problem, ma'am?
Customer: Whips out a piece of paper printed in color and grey.  Look! I tried to print out this page, and it's all grey and bad!
Attendant: Ma'am, the cartridge you refilled is black. This page is printed badly in color. You need to refill your color ink or set your printer to print only in black.
Customer: No, but the text on the computer screen is black, so this part is going to use the black ink!
Attendant: I'm sorry ma'am, the printer doesn't work like that. It can only print a given document with the black cartridge or with the color cartridge.

This went on for a while until the attendant convinced the lady to take her color ink cartridge out of the printer and to try again.

Customer 2: Excuse me, but my ink cartridge isn't working anymore now that you've refilled it. I think you broke it.
Attendant: Well, can I see the cartridge, please?

Customer 2 proceeded to dig around in her purse for the ink cartridge. She finally found it, out of its box, without its protective plastic cover, and covered in crap from the bottom of her bag. The attendant then spent the next couple of minutes arguing with her about how of course her cartridge isn't going to work if she treats it like that. Customer 2 still insisted that it was the attendant's fault. The attendant held her off a bit by telling her to wait so she could finish my order, so I missed the final outcome.

But that poor girl! She and her colleagues do their job as fairly as possible. They try to cover all their bases with the test printout and the plastic cover and the whole bit. But it turns out they are no match for computer illiteracy.

And for that, and because I feel a little bit sorry for them, they get the Caught Being Good award today:
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