Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Attune to Prunes

Remember the 5 things you might think of when you hear the word Brazil? Now you can add another aspect: prunes.

I'm not sure why prunes are so reviled in American culture, or so revered in Brazilian culture. Perhaps if prunes had the marketing that the California Raisins did, it would be a different story in the U.S. today.

Coming from a place where a good portion of people aren't even aware that prunes are dried plums - to somewhere that has prune yogurt, ice cream and cake has been a real adjustment. Pretty much anything that we have in the U.S. that would be available in cinnamon flavor, is available in Brazil in prune flavor. Prune-flavored gum would not shock me. I don't know if it exists, but I’m sure it is only a matter of time.

Prunes are added to otherwise normal food here, too... I'm talking chicken dishes, pizza... I may have even chanced upon prunes in lasagna once. I can't talk about it, though. It pushed me over the edge.

The "olho-de-sogra" or "mother-in-law's eye" is a popular treat at Brazilian parties. It is made with prunes and coconut filling, garnished with a clove. It truly looks like a plate of eyes staring at you. The symbolism of your mother-in-law... watching you... from every angle... is both horrifying and hilarious. Oh, and it's a bunch of prunes. More prunes...

Don't get me wrong: I think prunes (by themselves) are a healthy dried fruit snack, not just for old people or toddlers as seen by the American culture, and not to be used in place of salt or sugar as it seems to be, in the Brazilian culture. They have their place, and I’m hoping it is found between the two extremes of American and Brazilian cultures...

Anyone from anywhere else have a good example of a happy medium? I'd love to hear it.

All images found on Google

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cultural Quirks and Perks - Vol. I

Figuring out what makes a culture tick can be tough. It is more than likely you will inadvertently offend people on a regular basis, until you are able to get in the groove of things. Likewise, you might find yourself offended if unaware of regional protocols. This is part of the growing experience. Try to be flexible - it will be less painful.

Then again, you might just find yourself laughing until you can't breathe... perhaps in the sorting of mixed signals, or at something as simple as a refreshingly realistic, but different, approach to things.

One such example is the name for what we know as "Party Blowers" in American English. In Brazil, they are known by the name: "língua-de-sogra" (pronounced "leen-goo-uh... jee... s-oh-gruh") or "Tongue of the Mother-in-Law".

Ingenious! It's both fun and educational. At least kids know what they will be getting into, at some point in the future.

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

~ William Arthur Ward

All images found on Google

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Note on Translating

Before I spoke Portuguese, my friends used to tell me that you cannot directly translate things from Portuguese to English, and I didn’t really understand why. Once I moved here I immediately noticed how movies and TV series were translated – with jokes being the main switcheroo. It started to make sense. Jokes are inherently a cultural thing, whether it be regional or international. Likewise, slang can vary with the dialect of a language.

Although I am writing to acquaint the international English-speaking community with the state of Goiás, and the Portuguese spoken here, I write from a distinctly American perspective. I will convert the kilometers to miles, as well as kilos to pounds. A good example of something that is not a direct translation, but the “American English equivalent” was found in the last article.

Grades are earned as a percentage of 100 in the U.S. – a 70% is passing, but a D. Here they use a scale of 1 – 10 (pretty easy to convert to a percentage of 100). This is where the phrase, “nota dez” comes from. Directly translated it means “10 note,” which further explained means “a grade of a perfect 10” …but for ease of translation in writing from an American standpoint I’ll say, “a score of 100%.”

In translating one language to another, sometimes it can take an entire paragraph to explain a one or two word saying. Here are a few words and phrases, and their meanings. It will be helpful, if you decide to visit, to have these phrases under your belt.

For you to see the difference in what it would be as a direct translation, versus the equivalent in American English, I will denote the direct translation in [brackets] and the equivalent in (parentheses).

  • Achado não é roubado.
    [Found is not stolen.] ----- (Finders keepers, losers weepers.)

  • É melhor prevenir do que remediar.
    [It's better to prevent than to remedy.] ----- (Better safe than sorry.)

  • Ninguém é de ferro.
    [No one is of iron.] ----- (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.)

  • O barato sai caro.
    [Cheaper comes out expensive.] ----- (You get what you pay for.)

  • Querer é poder.
    [Want is power.] ----- (Where there's a will there's a way.)

Here’s a little known fact about Brazilian Portuguese: the verbs have 17 different conjugations! (I feel like 17 exclamations here would be overkill, but somehow appropriate.) According to wikipedia, a typical regular verb has over fifty different forms, expressing up to six different grammatical tenses and three moods. Be glad that Brazilian Portuguese has one less verb conjugation than European Portuguese!

Before you freak out, know that I am interested in helping you as much as possible. For ease in helping English speakers to get a small grasp on the language, I will use the infinitive form in Portuguese alongside whichever English tense reads appropriately in the sentence. Looking these verbs up on both English & Portuguese conjugation tables will be the easiest way for the reader to figure out which Portuguese tense is appropriate, while learning the main (infinitive form) verb. I've found that this seems to be the least painful method for native English speakers to wrap their head around the verbs. Truthfully, we can get away with only learning 3 or 4 forms of the verbs, but more on that later

Please note that some online conjugation tables list "you" as "tu" which is predominantly used in European Portuguese, and in Brazil: only a small region still uses this [antiquated] form. The correct and accepted way to say "you" in Brazilian Portuguese is "você" [pronounced: "v-oh-say"]. The plural form of you ("you all" - or y'all if you are from Texas) is "vocês" [pronounced: "v-oh-say-z"].

Fortunately, there are some phrases that remain the same in both languages. Here are a few...

  • É dando que se recebe.
    [Whoever gives, receives.] ----- (It is in giving that we receive.)

  • Isto é bom demais para ser verdade. (It’s too good to be true.)

  • Nem tudo que reluz é ouro. (Not all that glitters is gold.)

  • Melhor do que nada. (It's better than nothing.)

  • Não julgue pelas aparências. (Do not judge by appearances.)

  • Onde há fumaça, há fogo. (Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.)

  • Quem ri por último, ri melhor. (He who laughs last, laughs best.)

  • Uma coisa de cada vez. (One thing at a time.)

  • Ver para crer.
    [See to believe.] ----- (Seeing is believing.)

It's good to know that some things translate directly in any language!

For more Portuguese verb help, see the following links...

Portuguese : Verb Tense Usage

Flashcards for Your Android Phone - Free App by Street Smart Brazil

Brazilian Portuguese Grammar Guide

Verb Conjugation in Brazilian Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese info on Wikipedia

All images found on Google

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Good-Lookin' Capital City of Goiás

*This is a reprint of an article originally posted on my personal blog this past January. It is updated with additional pics & information.*

I thought i'd tell you a little about the capital city of Goiânia, Goiás. It shares many similarities with the capital city that i hail from: Austin, Texas.

Capitol in Austin, Texas at Night by Eric Hunt

  • Both are considered "small" for a capital city, although Goiânia is 13th-largest city in the country; and Austin is the 14th most populous city in the United States.
  • Both have a great live music scene.
  • Both are very safe cities in which to live. Goiânia is considered a safer city compared to most other state capitals within Brazil. The average yearly murder rate within the metro area stands at just under 450 persons per year according to the Goiás State Police. Austin is consistently ranked among the three safest cities per capita of any size in many categories. Its annual murder rate is fewer than five people per 100,000 residents.
  • Both are mistakenly thought of as Cowboy Capitals, where everyone owns a horse, wears boots and a ten-gallon hat.
  • Both are beautifully manicured, with more parks than other capital cities. Goiânia has the largest green area per inhabitant in Brazil, and is adding additional green areas under the newly-elected city & state government parties. Austin has 18,994.45 acres of land containing 251 parks, 15 preserves (sanctuaries for native plants, native animals and unique natural features), and 40 greenways (parkland on creeks and canyons).
  • Both are cities that have fluctuating residency, whether it be seasonal and/or temporary.

Austin, Texas Skyline along The Colorado River

Austin is a "College Town," (voted America's #1 College Town by the Travel Channel in 2006) which is quite evident during the summer months free of traffic and general congestion. Goiânia is very much the same, not only in the summer, but every 3-or-4-day holiday weekend. The city just empties: there is zero traffic - almost nobody on the streets, parking is available anywhere, and some stores simply do not open.

In Goiânia, a good portion of the population is from somewhere else - another similarity with Austin. Meeting a native"Goianiense" (person from Goiânia) on the streets of Goiânia is about as common as meeting a native Austinite in Austin. Most of the seasonal residents which make up the workforce are from the "interior" (country) small towns in Goiás, and go to see their families & hometowns, every opportunity they get. It is a little surreal to stay here in Goiânia during the holidays. It feels like a ghost town.

This is such a noisy city Monday through Saturday, 24 hours a day; so when everyone makes the big exodus it's weird - refreshing & calm, but weird. We go from this:

pic found here this:

pic found here

Just like that.

People are always surprised that we don't "viajar" (travel) every holiday. This is another aspect to the paradise city of Goiânia. Jet setting appears to be a way of life for the middle & upper class. What i've been told, is that the upper class majority here in Goiânia are people that choose to live in a city where their money will go further; rather than live in Brasília, Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, where the cost of living is much higher. This is most noticeable in the disproportionate number of high-end luxury sports cars & SUVs running the city streets.

For the 2010-2011 State of the World's Cities report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Goiânia remained as the most economically unequal city of Latin America, with a Gini index above 60; while Brazil as a whole, has reached an all time low inequality index in the past five years. Apparently, Goiânia isn't following the national trend. However, Goiânia prides itself in being the sole metropolis in Brazil to have grown into a city with few homeless, and a noted absence of "favelas" (squatter settlements made from scrap materials) such as in Rio.

Viaduto Latif Sebba photo credit: Prefeitura de Goiânia

The fact that there are many people from the "interior" (country) has caused other Brazilians who are from larger, more international cities like Brasília, Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, to remark that although Goiânia is a modern metropolis it still has a "small town mentality." People used to say the same about Austin - until they realized what a gem it is.

Parque Vaca Brava by Ian Nascimento

Overall, i have enjoyed living here. It has been a learning experience, a roller coaster ride and occasionally: a refreshing walk in the park. I hope that in the end i'll have not only earned an "E for Effort" with my peers and newfound friends here, but a "nota dez" (100%) in acquainting those back home with my new one.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Goiás, Brazil's Best Kept Secret

The World Cup is coming up in 2014. Do you know where it will be? The Olympics are all but around the corner, in 2016. Can you guess the locale? The answer to both questions is Brazil!

What comes to mind when you think of Brazil? Quick, 5 things:

If all that we know of Brazil is what the media tells us a few times a year, it went something like…
  1. Rio [de Janeiro]
  2. São Paulo
  3. Soccer
  4. Carnival
  5. Samba
    - (or possibly…) Victoria’s Secret Models
Wow. We can do a little better than that! You know, it’s similar to what I hear from people when they learn I’m from Texas… Wanna try? 5 Things – go!
  1. Cowboys (They don’t mean the NFL team.)
  2. Ranches (True. Although contrary to popular belief, they are outside of the city limits.)
  3. Desert (We have that, too. …in about 8% of the state.)
  4. Oil (We are blessed, it’s true. We also have natural gas, and a nearly unlimited supply of venison during the months of November through January.)
  5. And… “That’s where Bush is from, right?” (That is mostly correct. He was our governor, and has lived in Texas on & off, for most of his life; although he is actually from Connecticut. I’m pretty sure he sports one of the popular bumper stickers that we see everywhere that says, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” I would. {{grin}})
Just as I like to broaden the horizons on what all makes up the beautiful & historic state of Texas, I’d like to introduce you to what is hailed by many as the “Brazilian Texas”…the state of Goiás, a state rich in biodiversity and natural beauty.

Centrally located, Goiás is the perfect launch point to any area of the country. Although landlocked, Goiás has many lakes, springs, rivers and waterfalls to explore. If beaches are more your thing, they are only a few short hours away by plane. Goiânia, the capital city of the state of Goiás lies only 125 miles away (45 minutes by plane, or 2 hours by car) from the country’s capital, Brasília. Just as Washington D.C. is a federal district, and not a part of any state, Brasília, D.F. is the same. Brasília is wholly encompassed by the beautiful state of Goiás, not far from one of the main gems of the state of Goiás, Chapada dos Veadeiros.

Chapada dos Veadeiros is a national park that is not only listed as a World Heritage Site, but due to the large amount of crystals in the ground, it is officially earth’s brightest spot, according to NASA. Within this 65,515-hectare slice of paradise there are mountains, waterfalls, exotic plants & animals, and a “Valley of the Moon” that even NASA would appreciate.

To the northwest, forming the border with the states of Tocantins and Mato Grosso, is the Araguaia River. Each year, as the Araguaia River starts to recede due to the annual period of drought, or dry season, miles of white sandy islands emerge in the middle of this large river. These temporary islands serve as campgrounds for the month of July, which draw thousands of vacationers during the peak of the season each year. For the rest of the dry season through October, fishermen make use of the biodegradable huts and structures left behind, until the river reclaims the islands with the return of the rains.

From one side of the state to the other, you will see sprawling ranchlands full of cattle, or expanses of farmlands that seemingly go on forever. The state of Goiás is a plateau that is covered in woodland savannah, or “Cerrado,” which is one of the richest regions in the world in biodiversity, boasting more than 1600 species of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Plants are the richest resource, though, with 10,000 different species in this region alone. There are several ice cream companies that sell a variety of fruit flavors found only in this cerrado. The exotic fruits and their corresponding flowering plants are sometimes strange, sometimes surprising, but always a delight. It is such a pleasure to drive through the countryside and enjoy the panoramic views of the varying trees and plants in bloom – almost year-round.

With the exception of the national or main highways (noted with BR-#) there are over sixty 2-lane state highways that crisscross this scenic state. It is best to let someone familiar with local passing and road rules drive, until you get a feel for how things are done here.

The speed limit is typically 80km/hr or 50 miles an hour, but it is not unusual for people to travel in excess of 130km/hr or 80 miles an hour. This is not advised, as not all roads are as well maintained as, say, the U.S. Seasonal rains combined with heavy cargo trucks can result in a surprise hole in the road that wasn’t necessarily there the day before. When smaller cars hit these, it is a recipe for a flat tire. Keeping in mind that most of these are two-lane roads, it is prudent to drive conscientiously.

Photo Credit: Victor Calaa

Getting back to the capital city, you will find that you might want to let a local do the driving, until you adjust to the rhythm. Goiânia boasts more cars per capita than any other Brazilian city, and there are over 1,000,000 registered motorcycles (that are allowed to weave in & out, and drive between the lanes of cars, FYI). Goiânia is currently replacing all of the largest “praças,” or rotary traffic circles, (roundabouts) with regular four-way intersections to help control the traffic congestion. Goiânia is a well-manicured city, and has decorative structures and sculptures throughout.

Photo Credit: Joventino Neto

Goiânia is very similar to another state capital: Austin, Texas. Like Austin, it is a diverse mix of businesspeople, hippies, artists, musicians, college students, speedway racing aficionados, athletes, blue-collar workers, government employees, and everyone in between; and is home to several specialized hospitals that bring in people from all over the state. Although there aren’t nearly as many foreigners as Rio, São Paulo or Brasília, there are several who consider Goiânia, Goiás to be their own well-kept secret.

That is, until now…

(To enlarge pictures, right-click and open in a new window.)