The five people you meet in TEFL

Yes, folks, that’s Avril Lavigne in your English textbook

The first story isn’t really mine to tell. I am not TEFL-certified to teach English even though Sam’s school technically requires it. From what Sam was saying, however, TEFL classes and English teaching abroad attract some real whackos with weird stories. This makes sense; the certification process is quick, there is often very little teacher accountability, and you can do it on the side to illegally earn money while fully committing to partying your face off. Sam said the school has tried out several teachers who she was afraid to leave alone in the classroom—it’s good to know I’ve edged out some fierce competition! Her strangest story though was about a man who, though too scary to leave alone in a classroom with students, was helping the school/company with some Portuguese to English translations. When Sam didn’t hear from him a week after a translation was due, she started to wonder what had happened. If nothing else, he had been successfully meeting his deadlines. Unable to contact the man, Sam ended up doing the translation herself before finding out weeks later that the man had been stabbed to death by his girlfriend.

I am sorry to report though that the teachers I’ve met here have been disappointingly normal. Maybe this is because there are only three of us at Sam’s school, and the Callan school has predominantly Brazilian teachers who are using it as their after-school job. In fact, with the exception of Joao, from Portugal, almost all of the international teachers at the Callan school live here because of a Brazilian significant other. Actually, Joao might be here for a Brazilian SO too; it’s just that no one’s ever bothered to find out. They’re too busy poking fun at his Portuguese: “did you understand what Joao said, Cat? No? That’s ok, no one can understand what he’s saying. He speaks totally wrong.”

Sam (in back) with her/our students and their English souvenir

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“Flavors” of home

Biscoito de polvilho (com quiejo) = a chance to eat cheese puffs without the guilt!

Anytime you move to a new country, it is totally normal to miss not only your friends but also certain creature comforts of your home country. As much as I enjoyed the food in Seville, when I was returning home, all I wanted was to eat a pound of peanut butter and something not fried or sautéed in olive oil. This time around has felt a little different, however. Perhaps this is because I had mentally prepared for everything to be really different, so when I am successfully able to find something, I am pleasantly surprised, but I think it has more to do with the difference in place and time period. Brazil is extremely interested in American culture and, as such, many “American” products are available here, although sometimes they are produced by Brazilian companies. In addition, a lot can change in ten years; for better or for worse, products that were once confined to their country of origin, are now ubiquitous, especially in major international cities such as Sao Paulo. I say this because on the one hand, it takes away some of the charm of bringing back something unique for a loved one, but on the other, it makes transitioning into a new language and culture a little bit easier.

The biggest difference for me however, has been being able to cook for myself here. Not that I don’t want to learn Brazilian dishes (and I’m excited because Maisa told me she would teach me how to make a simple savory pie-type thing I can try to replicate at home over Christmas. Durhamites everywhere, beware!), but as an alternative to grabbing a tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying “salgadinho” from a padoca every day, it has been a huge relief to do more cooking over the past few weeks. It took me a little bit of time to get started (ok, like 6 weeks!), but I was investing this time in learning what ingredients/foods are readily available, the Portuguese translations for certain spices, where to go for certain less-common ingredients and what I can reasonably make without my extensive arsenal of kitchen appliances. This led me to a lot of fun and interesting blogs online, and I plan to devote more blog posts just to cooking and grocery shopping in Sao Paulo in the hopes that it will be interesting and maybe even help another clueless soul. For today though, here are the top five foods that have been the most challenging to find or go without in Sao Paulo.

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Change Brazil

It’s been drizzling all day, never convincingly, but always just enough to give you hope that maybe it will all-out storm, finally making a dent in refilling the Cantareira water system that is currently at 3% of its capacity. All day today you could feel the air buzzing, everyone waiting for the election results to start rolling in. For the past month, people have been tuning in to presidential debates, usually with some mixture of interest and disgust. On the street, campaigners have been handing out stickers and waving giant flags, eager to persuade even a non-voting Gringa. I have learned there is no use trying to avoid it, especially with your advanced English students. Every conversation inevitably reverts back to Brazilian politics. Months of anticipation finally culminated today around 8pm, when Globo TV posted an update with 95% of the votes counted. Immediately after, we could hear people shouting in the street and car horns blaring. In one of the closest elections in Brazil’s history, the sitting president, Dilma Rousseff had won.

Though disappointing to many, this was a surprise to none. Dilma had been projected to win for weeks. Among the poor, especially in the country’s Northeast region, Dilma was the favored candidate, due in large part to her party’s welfare programs like the “Bolsa Familia.” Here in São Paulo, however, where people tend to be wealthier, Aécio, of the more centrist PSDB was far and away the favorite. Brazil’s economy has all but screeched to a halt, and inflation has increased as of late; as any good American also knows, who better to blame than the current president? Aécio, a former governor of Minas Gerais state, is staunchly pro-business and against the more interventionist policies of Dilma’s Worker’s Party. He was therefore the logical choice to steer the country’s economy back on course. And then there was the assertion that Dilma, as a former member of the Board of Directors, was involved in a major scandal involving the state-owned oil giant, Petrobras. Although many people weren’t extremely excited about Aécio, the election seemed like a good opportunity to start afresh after the Worker’s Party’s 12 years in power and let someone else make the mistakes for a while.

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Brazilian “curiosities”

Parque Ibirapuera

Over a year ago, a French man who had been living in Brazil (Minas Gerais) for some time posted a list of 65 Brazilian “curiosities” or “peculiarities.” For whatever reason, the list has just recently gone viral (again?), and I learned about it yesterday from both Stela and my roommate Maisa. Olivier’s tongue-in-cheek, exaggerated tone makes it clear that, though grounded in reality, the list is meant in good fun, and as such, it has resonated with Brazilians and Gringos alike. I would love to translate the whole list, but I’m not sure that this is such good blogger etiquette so I will just discuss some of my favorites.

Just another day, waiting in line

Many of Olivier’s observations are not particularly shocking. For example, Brazilians will be the first to admit that culturally, they are obsessed with forming lines. If it is not possible to physically form a line, you will receive a number in order to create a digital line such that the process might waste still more time. In addition, as many foreigners are well aware, music is a part of life here. Everywhere you go there is live music, and many Brazilians know how to play guitar although, according to Olivier, if you ask them, they will tell you they don’t know how. There is so much musical talent here, and yet everyone is busy playing covers! And of course, as Stela warned me before I arrived, many people here place extreme importance on external signs of wealth in the form owning imported cars, going to expensive restaurants in fancy neighborhoods, etc.

I foolishly thought I could pick up some black flats on the way to work at Iguatemi shopping mall---it turns out they only sell Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo. Not quite up to my standards, you know.
I foolishly thought I could pick up some black flats at Iguatemi shopping mall—it turns out they only sell brands like Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo. Not quite up to my standards, you know.

Like me (or, really rather, “I, like him,” since he kinda got here first), Olivier comments on the rigid requirement of using a napkin when eating finger food, making the additional observation that these napkins are invariably made of plastic such that they are solely useful for blocking the hands from touching the food—actually Tammy also pointed this out to me on my first day here. If you want to wipe your mouth or hands, you’re out of luck. Brazil also produces the best coffee in the world, yet it’s prepared so poorly, often with the addition of kilograms of sugar, that you would never know. I know nothing about coffee, but I agree that it is very common to see people dumping massive amounts of artificial sweetener into their tiny cafezinhos.

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Physicists and Popsicles


The city is running out of water just as temperatures are reaching the high 90s so free blueberry Red Bulls was a welcome surprise on the bus!
The city is running out of water just as temperatures are hitting the high 90’s so a free blueberry Red Bull was a welcome surprise on the bus!

As I may have mentioned in a recent, somewhat grumpy post, I spend a lot of time on public transit. In fact, I think I have now taken every form of public transportation available here. My first, and in my opinion by far the best, is the metro. It is pretty cheap (R$3), easy to use, relatively clean, and it reliably arrives every 2-3 of minutes. The huge downside, as anyone will tell you, is that it is far from extensive. In fact it’s kind of a nice surprise when I can get where I want to go using the metro. There is an upside to this too though. Once when I was in a particularly large hurry, I was pleased to see that I’d somehow caught the yellow line express, which apparently skipped about 3 stops I didn’t need. Curious to know for future reference how I would know which trains were express, I asked a friend. She laughed, telling me that there are no express trains in Sao Paulo; those three stations simply had yet to be built! Apparently the supposed completion of the metro is a big joke to Paulistanos, as is the construction of a monorail, which was to be completed prior to the World Cup.

Successfully made it through the bus turnstyle!
Successfully made it through the bus turnstyle!

All around the city, there are a number of train lines supplementing the metro. However, I’ve only used them once as they rarely go where I need to and they are slower than the metro. What all this amounts to is that I spend the vast majority of my time on buses, which is always something of an adventure. First, many parts of the city have bus stops delineated solely by a metal pole or stick in the ground. The other day, I asked a group of women standing around talking whether we were at a bus stop and, if so, how I could tell. They laughed and said, “Yes, of course it’s a bus stop. It’s obvious because two buses just stopped here!” The more established bus stops have shelters and occasionally even a posting with the numbers of the buses that pass by. And yet, even then, I have found that if you flag down a bus not included on the posting, the motorist will stop (for a millisecond) to snap you up. Usually you have just enough time to leap onto the bus before it jolts forward, flinging you toward the back. Luckily your flight is interrupted as your stomach jams into a turnstile, reminding you to hold up your “bilhete unico” bus pass or pay R$3 to the guy sitting next to it, who is calmly watching you flail. And somehow, now that you need to use all your strength to push through an inexplicably heavy turnstile while also employing enough finesse to lift your bag over the top, the momentum of the bus has changed to pull you back toward the front.

With a bilhete unico, the R$3 charge per ride reduces to R$1.65 when transferring between the metro and the bus and its free when transferring between buses
With a Bilhete Unico, the R$3 charge per ride reduces to R$1.65 when transferring between the metro and the bus, and its free when transferring between buses. Money can be added at most metro stations and stands on the street.

I think I remember a time, not so long ago, where I worried about how I appeared to strangers on public transportation, but that time has long past. Now I just want to stay upright. Just yesterday, I saw a woman fall headfirst down the stairs from her perch standing next to me. And even finding a seat is no great victory. The backs of the seats are plastic so your knees jam into them, bracing you from the curves and jolts resulting from a suspension system that easily rivals my childhood neighbor’s much-vaunted Gary Fisher’s Rockshox. Needless to say, I long since gave up trying to read or prepare for class on the bus. I also learned pretty quickly that buying the deliciously greasy mini Pão de queijo at the Vila Madalena bus station terminal, immediately prior to boarding, was a huge mistake. I think there is an expression here something like, “eat in the street, die at home.” I would just make a slight adjustment and replace home with bus.

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