Tag Archives: Living in Brazil

They say you can’t go home again

Brazilian Santa wears havaianas of course! I didn’t learn until my last few weeks that Oscar Freire (and not Avenida Paulista) is Latin America’s true 5th avenue analogue. I think that’s probably for the better…

I wanted to write something upbeat on January 1 to usher in the new year and contemplate the many things I learned over the course of a challenging 2014. Instead, I woke up, made a feeble attempt to bid farewell to my last party-goers and spent the rest of the day musing at the irony that after a year of feeling like I had no voice, I would ring in the next in its literal absence. It was in this way that I also discovered that I had unknowingly made a tacit promise to myself to never blog when I was upset. On the other hand, it’s also possible that when I was in Sao Paulo, I viewed everything as an exciting and “novel” experience that I could blog about, allowing me to view even the most frustrating of encounters in a positive light.

I’ll admit, not having to aliquot drinking water from this monster has been nice!

Here in NC, that’s a little more difficult. Of course, it was easy to come back and re-adjust to the luxury of having my water glass constantly refilled at every bar and restaurant. It also wasn’t that exciting to once again have access to my full wardrobe—it turns out I only wear about three different outfits anyway. And I immediately took it for granted that I had a car to take out at 11pm and buy as many groceries as I wanted at the 24/7 Harris Teeter. These were the simple things, and they seamlessly integrated themselves back into my life.

Other things have been harder. I bump into someone on the street and instinctively, murmur, “ah! desculpa!” Similarly, sometimes when mentally formulating an e-mail, I get several lines in before realizing that I am writing an American and can (well, probably should) write in English. Before, I never understood it when my Brazilian friends would tell me that they missed speaking English. “How can you miss having even the simplest tasks being made more difficult?!” I would marvel. When I came home from studying abroad in Sevilla many years ago, I remember feeling as if a shroud was being removed and the sites and sounds around me were finally coming back into focus. There were certainly no feelings of saudades that time when I ordered my first meal back in English.

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Why I’m thankful for Thanksgiving

Some Niemeyer architecture overlooking the beach

Here in Sao Paulo, there are three November holidays: Day of the Dead on November 2nd, Day of the Republic on the 15th, and something that  translates literally as “Black consciousness day” on the 20th. This last I originally interpreted to be an ancient religious holiday, a day to atone for your sins perhaps. It turns out it’s a recent creation that is recognized only in Sao Paulo state and is actually somewhat akin to “MLK Day” or “Civil Rights Day.” No one could really tell me much about it, although one student did say it’s sad we still need this holiday, given how many black people there are in Brazil. Still, especially since the other two November holidays fell on weekends, everyone is happy to have the day off. In fact, because this one falls on a Thursday, a lot of people have Friday off as well. There is even a Portuguese verb specific to this method of extending the weekend. My students were surprised to find that no such verb exists in English and, unlike in Brazil, it is not standard to have 30 days off (plus holidays) in the US.

All this is a long way of saying that things have been quite busy. Because today (Thursday) is a holiday, many of my students moved their classes to Mon-Wed, so between that and my poorly-timed decision to pick up a particularly difficult editing assignment in the meantime (think, a French manuscript barely google-translated into English), I was working nonstop from 7am-10pm the past few days. Needless to say, I am quite relieved it’s finally Thursday. I went out for a beer with co-workers last night and even slept until 7:30!

Where the party’s at!

I also had last Saturday off thanks to the Day of the Republic (Independence Day #2?), and Maisa brought me to her hometown of São Vincente, a small coastal town in São Paulo state. There, she introduced me to her family, and everywhere we went, we ran into another sister or friend. When I remarked on how popular she is, she just shrugged and said, small towns are that way. At night, we went to her friend’s birthday party, which was held at an open-air bar overlooking the ocean, and because the bar is closed on Saturdays, we had the place to ourselves. It was pretty cool. Here, birthday parties (and probably parties in general) are more family affairs. The bar was filled with 20/30-somethings, their parents, and young children. At first it felt uncomfortable seeing young children running around in a bar while people were getting sloppy drunk, but it is a normal part of the culture here. To my benefit as well (no one asked, “why the heck is this Gringa here?”), everyone is included in everything. At one point I was talking to someone when we were interrupted by the arrival of his mother and aunt who he immediately called me over to meet.

Some crazies we picked up along the way

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Mama said there’d be days like this

A few weeks ago, Stela made the apt observation that my blog doesn’t include much of “o ruim” with “o bom.” And it’s true that I have been focusing almost exclusively on the good parts of life here when of course I’ve certainly had my fair share of frustration and loneliness. I knew going into this experience, however, that I would have to keep a positive attitude, be open to new experiences and making lots of mistakes (apparently I just ordered hard-boiled eggs—the only kind of eggs I don’t like), and most of all, cede control over a number the things in my life. This last may have been the easiest, since, as my dad would put it, in my PhD program, there was a train going and, when I left, I hadn’t been conducting it for a long time. Overall, my frustrations here have not necessarily been specific to Brazil either but more to things that could happen anywhere or in any major city. Still, without further ado, in honor of my first month here, Stela, here are my personal ups and downs of life in Sao Paulo.

O Bom

The people here are the friendliest you’ll ever meet, especially in a city with 20 million busy, hardworking people. Every single person I have stopped in the street for directions has patiently tried to understand my Portuguese and to give me directions at a pace I can understand. Bus drivers are happy to tell me when we’re approaching my stop. In fact, any time I try to surreptitiously open a map on a bus, someone nearby will ask me if I need help. Whether I’m walking down the street or waiting for my pupils on the 20th floor of an office building, everyone who walks by will smile at me and the secretary and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity, saying, “Bom dia! Tudo bem?” This is in stark contrast with most cities, where people think I’m strange for smiling, never mind saying “good morning” to people I don’t know.

Maisa and Tammy in Parque Villa-Lobos

That people in general are extremely friendly here does not take away from the fact that I am incredibly lucky to have the friends I have here. My roommates are always checking in on me to make sure things are ok and that I don’t need anything. When my credit card was cloned two weeks in (at this point I’m thinking Wellsfargo doesn’t know how to find Brazil…), they offered to chip in so that I wouldn’t have money problems. When my roommates went to their hometown to vote last weekend, they invited me to come along. I of course know many very kind and thoughtful Americans as well, but we, as a people, tend to be less immediately open and trusting and warm with new people. Heck, I still haven’t figured out a great way to pay Maisa and Bruna rent (I will!!!), but they were offering to lend me money!

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Home sweet home

View from Tammy’s apartment complex

Somehow my first two weeks in Sao Paulo are over, which means so is my Airbnb stay with Tammy. I think I originally tried to give myself credit for making the brilliant decision to find a place through Airbnb, but in all reality, I just lucked out to have such an excellent host as Tammy. Yesterday was my last day staying with her, and I was very sad to leave!

IMG_1823In addition to the critical fact that all of her previous residents had only the most positive things to say about Tammy herself, I chose Tammy’s listing because of its proximity to Paulista and a metro station, the fact that it has its own gym, and the constant presence of a “porteiro” or doorman for enhanced security. The irony of this last is that, at least initially, the porteiro did a better job of keeping me in than non-residents out. What do you say, especially when your language skills are poor, to a doorman you can’t even see?

And so, I was terrified of leaving and not knowing what to say over an intercom to get back in. When I left the apartment alone for the first time, I felt like I was sneaking out furtively, hoping I could somehow con my way back in. My fears were far from assuaged when I returned later that first day and pushed the little blue button at the first gate. A few seconds later, a man’s voice mumbled something to me through the speaker. Without being able to see the person I was talking to, I felt at a loss for what to say to make myself understood. I attempted some Portunhol iteration of, “I’m staying with Tammy on the 11th floor,” but this only elicited more uninterpretable (to me at least) questions. Eventually I seemed to have provided enough information to enter, and I smiled and nodded, “Boa noite, obrigada” at an opaque window as I passed through a second gate.

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Cheese, Glorious Cheese

Borat would have been impressed
Borat would be shocked

It’s really impressive that I’ve made it this long without talking about food! I am even more surprised to find that there is a country in the Americas that appreciates cheese more than the US. In my extensive four-day experience here (I have a feeling there will be lots of food updates in my blogging future) I have found that, if it can be done, cheese, or queijo, will be baked or injected into every snack or meal. Many kinds are available, but the ubiquitous queijo here is Catupiry, a mild, creamy cheese, ideal for its chameleon-like abilities.

My short history with coxinha: my attempts (left) vs. the real deal
My short history with coxinha: my attempts (left) vs. the real deal (right)

I tried my first Brazilian snack or salgadinho at Ana’s house a month or so ago. As an appetizer, she had made coxinhas, which are fried drumstick-shaped balls of dough, filled with shredded chicken and catupiry. Piping hot and dipped in hot sauce, how could I not instantly fall in love? I learned the hard way when I made them for my Brazilian party though, that they are also quite time intensive, so I was excited to get to Brazil where I could leave it to the experts. Needless to say, a giant coxinha was an integral part of my first meal here at Bella Paulista. The other component of my first “meal” was pão de queijo. These are, of course, made mainly from cheese (although not catupiry) and cassava flour, making it the ideal healthy gluten free snack, in much the same way that nutella is a healthy part of this complete breakfast. My pão de queijo was served with another white cheese grilled on top, and of course, the first breakfast I ate was parmesan-cheese encrusted bread, smothered in grilled cheese. I am not complaining (queixando?! If only that x were a j, that would be much more clever).

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