One Brazil Blogger Goes Bye-Bye

Fiona at Blood and Pearls has left us. In her latest two posts (and the last ones for a while on Brazil I’m guessing), she says goodbye as she jets off to Vancouver, then Germany. She relates her experience getting in line at the airport, which I found all too familiarly funny.

“Gustavo and I gave each other one last kiss, and then I entered the crowd of fat and rude Americans travelling home for the holidays. What a shock to understand everything that is being said around me. I wish I could close out things like… “What the hell is this third world treatment we’re receiving. Doesn’t anyone know what they’re doing?” or “That woman back there was nasty! Why did she tell you that? She wasn’t even that cute!” or “&(^#$^&^(#$&)Q&$*^&(Q$^(^” I was bombarded with vulgarity. Why were these people here? To exploit? To indulge? Seemingly.”

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Rethinking Phrases

There are some phrases in Portuguese, like any other language, that perhaps need some rephrasing. One of them is “fazer o quê?” which is sort of like a rhetorical way of saying “well, what do you want me to do about it?” Perhaps a better phrase would be “o que fazer?” While the first phrase suggests inaction, the second one suggests action.

Likewise, there’s another phrase (I mean, verb) which is “esperar“. When you wait for something, you may feel rather imprisoned by the feeling, as if someone else must act or something else must happen for that hope to turn into something real and tangible. Here, I suggest “esperançar” as a replacement. Over at Mitancunhã, a blog where I found the topic being proposed, the author references a song by Aldir Blanc called “O Bêbado e a Equilibrista” where one of the lines says “esperar sentados, porque em pé cansa” (“wait sitting down, because standing is tiresome”). The author continues to say that “if by waiting, we’re invited to sit, hoping invites us to dance” and “if waiting means standing still, hoping means to be already on one’s way”.

I’m sure all languages could benefit from a bit of rethinking in order to inspire its speakers to ask “why not?” instead of “why?” but who knows, maybe language used to be less cautious but human behavior somehow made our speech dictate our actions…or vice-versa.

More Info

Mitancunhã (in PT)

Effecting Change Alone – Observations

Danielle over at her blog recently posted on why she loves Brazil despite any particular reason an expat might find for eventually going back home. There’s a point she hits on that I think is the heart of the argument. Towards the end she says,

“…I’ve become a lot happier here after learning more and more about Brazilian history and laws and the reasons people have for doing things the way they do. It’s made me realize that I can only compare the countries to an extent, because the social and cultural context is just so, so different. This information also gave me the ability to realize which problems were true for all of Brazil, and which problems were specific to different places or social groups. Without that historical background or awareness, it’s easy to just blame every problem on Brazil in general.”

I think this is the real issue expats face and need to understand. Knowing why problems occur, what the reasons are behind it and just as important, how to approach such problems. Blindly going into a confusing situation, even the most basic one, will probably frustrate anyone, no matter where they are from. If you expect the problem, it is a little less stressful. If you understand the problem, again, you can see it for what it is and hopefully relax a bit more. All of that being said, neither of those solutions are complete. Something that sucks (ie, that even Brazilians complain about) will still suck if it can’t be fixed individually or as a group.

Brazil, when scaled-down to what the individual goes through on a daily basis , is still a country of certain basic processes that should never be complicated, yet they are. I refer to my ATM rant…I mean, observation for an example. Thinking back, I can safely say I expected lines at the ATM machine, though, I can’t say that I understood it as my understanding came in the solution (based on my experience in my own country, of course). It’s like, “well, I understand it’s a problem but I don’t understand why the way it’s done is on an infinite loop.” What I’m interested in is who will fix it and if it can only be fixed by an ‘important’ person, the type that would say, “do you realize who you are talking to?” (as some wealthy Brazilians are known to say to their less-well off fellow countrymen). In the meantime, I long for the day when the commoner in Brazil has power and can exercise it.

Describing the Brasileira

There’s a phrase in Brazilian Portuguese that a man might say about a woman with a nice Brazilian body and that’s “que saúde!” (literally, ‘what health!’). I’ve always found it interesting how a Brazilian woman describes herself physically and how health plays a role in that description.

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or beer holder, as the joke goes), the Brazilian concept for what is beautiful is quite different than our own here in the US. For instance, a Brazilian woman isn’t considered healthy if she isn’t forte (strong) and conversely, a normally thin woman (I’m not talking about model thin) is considered unhealthy, weak or possibly even sick. A thin woman, or one who has lost some weight, will receive comments from other women in her life about how she looked better when she was ‘strong’ and they’ll probably ask if she’s been feeling alright lately.

When Brazilian women speak of being forte, they aren’t speaking of raw strength as we would initially think when thinking of the word ‘strong’ in English. To Brazilians, the kind of strong they are talking about would be bordering what we might call ‘thick’ (grosso, in Portuguese) in the US, except that the Brazilian woman who is forte is supposed to be forte in all the right places, so to speak. So forte is a more general term for a woman who is healthy (or ‘with some meat on the bones’ as we also say) while grosso is more used for speaking about one’s thighs (coxas, in Portuguese) or perhaps lips.

If we were to look for a Portuguese term that was similar to ‘hour-glass figure’, the best bet would be corpo violão (or ‘guitar body’ when directly translated) which emulates the shape of the base of a guitar and in real terms correlates with the ‘perfect’ shape of a 0.7 hip/waist ratio. In Brazil, the typically thought of female body (corpo padrão) is a small ‘upper body’ with a large ‘lower body’ while most American men consider a woman with a large upper body to be ideal (or perhaps it’s just the media putting thoughts in their heads). Hip-hop culture, for one, suggests that a beautiful woman is a combination of both the American and Brazilian concepts.

As far as hair (cabelo) goes, it can get complicated so I’ll try to stick with some basic terms. In Brazil, it seems that most women who don’t naturally have straight hair seek out ways they can straighten it, which probably has to do with how beauty is portrayed in the Brazilian media. In terms of the different types, there’s liso (straight), cacheado (wavy/curly) and crespo (frizzy/really curly). Tell me if I’m wrong, but an afro hairstyle (afro/’black power’ in ‘Portuguese’) is basically the same as crespo. Lastly, highlights are luzes.

If there’s anything I missed in terms of differences in our concepts of beauty, let me know. My main point was the whole forte thing and how being healthy is seen differently, nonetheless it’s important to remember that research says that only 4% of real women have a body that reflects the idealized bodies in the media.

Unfiltered English – Observations

I was reading a post on Danielle’s blog about a fellow-English-speaking blogger going to meet her this last weekend and she mentioned how great it was to be able to speak ‘unfiltered English’ with her new friend. This got me thinking about how nice it is and how we don’t even think about this once back in the States. While I do have a considerable amount of foreign friends here in California (and select few online), there are of course plenty of places I can go or people I can talk to if I wish to speak unfiltered.

The reason bumping into a native speaker of your own language is so nice while in another country is that a foreign wall falls, the one that makes you question everything you see, hear and do (like “What does this person mean by that?”, “Why is the bus I just got on going away from my destination?”, etc). When I do meet someone who speaks English natively, I find myself piling on the linguistic layers and all of a sudden, there are tones, turns on phrases and all kinds of nuances circling about.

I call myself fluent in Portuguese and for all intents and purposes, I am…but there’s always that little voice nagging me about the fact that if I stop learning, I’ll never become like a native speaker. That’s the thing, though, I’m not sure anyone ever really does reach that level and it seems to be something you have to achieve to believe. What it comes down to is the difference between treating language like a machine with certain parts (got that, check, got this, check) and having it be a living thing that flows through you.

In another post, I alluded to the fact that being yourself linguistically in a foreign place can be hard to do. Those who are getting to know us are really seeing a slice of ourselves and this can be frustrating, even when the other person speaks English relatively well. By taking liberties with what you perceive is their level of knowledge, the other person may not be understanding exactly what you’re saying, which brings me to a related point.

I love that on profiles for certain websites, there’s a question about fluency in other languages and the only choices they give are ‘beginner, intermediate, fluent’. Does anyone making these sites actually consider that language is much more difficult to measure than this? In the least, there should be a low, medium and high for each of the three choices (meaning a total of 9). Unfiltered English, being…well, not on the list because high-fluent is still not native. In its most basic form, native to me means I don’t have to question myself, even if that means pausing to think of the best way to get a point across.

What do you think? Can someone ever become just like a native-speaker?

More Info

Danielle In Brazil post
Why Being Oneself in Brazil Isn’t a Breeze – EOB

Problems of Vision Create Division


(Complex with 1,176 apartments in Rio)

According to a story in O Globo today, no less than 121 construction sites have popped up in Rio recently, many of them, no doubt, set to be large complexes such as the one in the photo above. In effect, this is what Rio will look like in the somewhat near future. No, I’m not talking about the contrast we see here, but the upper half of the photo only (go ahead, feel free to use your hand to cover up the bottom half). Back when I lived in Rio, which feels like ages ago, in 2005-2006, I witnessed scenes like this all the time and from my obviously non-realtor point of view, I wondered, why is there such a contrast and not a compromise?

The answer lies somewhere between a Gabriel O Pensador song and an episode of Cidade dos Homens, although I forget which exactly. The rich delegate themselves to create their own ‘prisons’ (gated communities, etc) while the poor are relegated to ‘prisons’ made for them (favelas, etc). The rich are allowed to wear ankle-bracelets while the poor are seemingly sentenced to life in confinement. There’s a parallel with the idea of the Prisoner’s dilemma, an important element of game theory mathematics. Game theory led to the continued armament of both sides in the Cold War because neither side knew how many weapons the other had, so by both parties having more and more weapons, they created a deterrent. In this sense, a section of the poor (in the eyes of the rich) are armed with guns while the rich are armed with high walls, bulletproof cars, etc. In terms of the Prisoner’s dilemma, one could say that both sides are being philosophically interrogated by society at large. The only difference is when both defect (blame each other), the rich have a monopoly, as it were, on the ‘get out of jail free’ cards.

Will the beautiful panoramic views and sunsets no longer be seen by those who live on the hillsides and instead, by those that can afford it (in a high-rise apt. complex)? Will Rio become the next Brasília in terms of the poor living far away in satellite cities? Are more ‘prison’ walls the only forseeable solution to the growing problem, a problem of vision (de visão) that creates division (divisão)? It’s obvious that these questions are being addressed already, each side with its own answers, but when will the day come when they decide on them together? I’m tempted to say ‘only time will tell’ but it’s my personal belief that time does nothing, it’s what you do with that time that counts. The passage of time merely removes the matter of importance from the center of your mind’s attention. In the minds of the rich, I’m sure they are satisfied enough that they never really need to turn around to be reminded of the favelas. The favela residents, on the other hand, will be reminded of their exclusion no matter which way they face.

More Info

Prisoner’s dilemma
Rio’s Landscape & the Construction Boom
– O Globo (in PT)
Realty Price In Rio Increase 76%
Hottest Properties in Brazil
Building Walls Doesn’t Mend Fences
Rio’s Beaches – Where the Sun Won’t Shine
Rio Na Cabeça – O Globo’s Guide to Public Works in Rio (in PT)

The Tale of Two Countries – Observations

When it comes down to it (and if my poor math skills are correct), I’ve spent about 1/29th of my life in Brazil, which equals a number of months just shy of one year. That’s not a lot of time but let’s say it’s ‘just shy of one year’ more than most people. While that’s great and all, what it boils down to is a concept, my own personal concept of how I piece together everything I’ve learned in the decade nine months I’ve been learning it lived there.

A wise guy once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “First you like it, then you don’t, then you make your peace”. Ok, so he didn’t say “you make your peace” but he did say “you find a way to balance it all”. Now, I’m not sure if he put that phrase in my head and therefore made me conceptualize my experiences into this mode of thinking or if it was just a real honest look at a foreigner’s take on (living in) Brazil, but either way it stays on my mind. In fact, his idea is the reason for my title, which can be simply seen as my country and Brazil or if you choose, the two Brazils.

It’s a balancing act that keeps my feet on the ground because when I like it, I’m reminded that I shouldn’t be so touristically naive and when I don’t like it, something eventually shows me why I should like it again. If I had to guess, this is the third plane. After typing “third plane” right now, I decided to look it up and found the following true/false statement “Two planes may intersect a third plane without intersecting each other” and the answer is true, but only if they are parallel to each other. This pretty much explains what I was getting at, that the third plane is me and everyone else who has experienced Brazil from a non-tourist viewpoint.

On if there will ever be an answer, a peace found within my pieces, I just don’t know, but I do hold out hope for balance.

Buying Concert DVDs – Observations

If you’ve visited Brazil or even gone to any Brazilian market in your country, you’ve probably noticed concert DVDs (‘shows‘ in Anglicized Portuguese) for sale in the stores. Sometimes there will be more shows than films for sale and this has always made me wonder why this is so.

Is it a way to feel like you didn’t miss a concert that you actually did miss?
Are some of the recordings of the same singer/band known to be better than others?
Do you actually watch it or is it treated like a CD just with the added bonus of visuals?

I suppose that since Brazil is a visual culture and since such recordings can be bought on the street there for the price of a normal CD then it makes sense that these shows would become popular. In the States, it’s different. Personally, I’ve never heard of anyone I know wanting to buy a concert DVD and thus why a lot of stores don’t offer them. If a Brazil-lover wandered into a Brazilian market to buy one, they would be confronted with a $30 price tag per show, which is a bit of a deterrent for a practice that might not be understood nor for an experience that might be underappreciated. In Brazil, it’s another story.

At Submarino, they have over 5,000 of them for sale.

One mans trash, no one’s treasure – Observations

I was skimming headlines on O Globo today when I saw a photograph of a pile of rubbish that a reader sent in which angered her but sadly didn’t shock me.

I’m not sure where these piles of trash come from or why someone or some company thinks any ol’ spot will do when looking for a place to dump their waste but when living in Brazil, I got quite used to seeing them. They weren’t all the size of the pile in the photo (most were smaller) but still, I was baffled at an assortment of things…

1. Why is someone doing this?
2. Why do they think it’s okay to do this?
3. Where do responsible people dump things?
4. If there aren’t better options, why not?
5. Are the local governments doing anything about this?
6. Is this considered illegal (dumping)?
7. What do onlookers do when they see this happening?
8. Does it somehow stem from the practice of littering?*

* – I’ve witnessed people throwing their trash on the ground many times in Brazil…and I’m sure you have too.

Pride shouldn’t just pertain to football, right? Brazil banned smoking in many public spaces, which might as well be seen as air-littering, so why not ban ground-littering too? In São Paulo there was the Clean City law but that only banned billboards. I could talk about this until the cows come home but I’d rather come up with some ways of stamping out this problem.

How about imposing heavy fines for littering? This seems to work well in other countries. What kind of measures are in place to prevent this from happening? Is this a “everyone else does it so why shouldn’t I?” issue that probably won’t change or is it just that no one has spearheaded a large enough campaign against it?

“Beijo se dá, não se pede!” – Observations

“Beijo se dá, não se pede!”

The phrase above basically means “a kiss isn’t asked for, it’s given!” and throughout my years on the Brazilian ‘dating scene’ (most of my friends are Brazilian so it just happens that way) and during my extended trips to Brazil, I’ve noticed that phrase isn’t just a phrase, but an unwritten philosophy.

Brazilian women are receivers of affection, not takers. The sooner you learn that, the better off you will be if your goal is finding a Brazilian girlfriend. Go to a bar, a club, a park, the beach or the middle of the sertão, and you will find the same thing…machismo, and in a country where there’s an excess of machismo, there will be women who have learned to respond to it.

“But we’re in the 21st century!”

I know, I know. I’m not endorsing it as a lifestyle, but merely as a means to attracting and being attractive to women in Brazil. Men must do all the ‘work’ in Brazil (and in most ‘latin’ countries) and it is a woman’s job to let you know if she’s interested or not. Argue with me on this point if you will, but Brazilian women don’t give signals…period. If you like a woman and want to get to know her, you have to do more than flirt and be affectionate towards her (because many guys will do this). You have to approach her, start a conversation, make sure her reaction isn’t negative and as long as it’s normal or positive, then you can assume you are on the right track. This track might lead to a kiss a little bit later, which you will have to completely initiate (as she will give you no signs she wants one) and it can lead to seeing her another night, etc.

There’s a sentence I recently read (not a popular saying though) that says “Se gostou, pega pela cintura” and that means “if you like her, take her by the waist”. What that translates to in other terms, is you need to have a certain forwardness about you while in a social setting (bar, club, party) and in proximity to a woman you are interested in, otherwise you are doomed to have very little luck. Unfortunately, I know what I’m talking about.

During most of my 10 months in Brazil in total, I didn’t act accordingly and I got nowhere. No extra-long glances nor smiles that hide something more, no reason to think any woman in any social setting had the least bit interest. I’m no hermit, I’m not super shy nor do I share any similarities with Mr. Bean, I just wasn’t forward enough for the average Brazilian woman. Mind you, I’ve had long-term relationships with brasileiras but I didn’t initially meet them in social places.

So how do I know these things if I’ve never been the macho man, with the forwardness to prove it? Learned it all secondhand. I’ve seen it happen a million times but I’m fairly happy with how I am so this is a lesson for you. Take it or leave it.