Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Five Facts For Foreigners - Vol. IV

Here are some additional pointers that might help you to understand why things are done a certain way here, as well as help you avoid standing out like a sore thumb.

Word to the wise: it is financially savvy to remain incognito...

  1. Just as Americans tend to say, "Oh," (as in the letter "O") instead of "zero," Brazilians may say "meia," (pronounced "may-uh") for the number six.

    Don't be confused... they aren't suddenly talking about socks [“meias(plural)].

    Meia” means half, as in (meia dúzia) half a dozen , which is: 6!

    For the record, meia calças aren’t “half pants,” either…
    They are pantyhose.

    Meio (pronounced "may-yo") can also mean “kinda.” Kinda confusing, huh? (Meio confuso, né?)

  2. Another thing about Dr.'s visits... Don't have a coronary when they ask you for your mom's & dad's full names, the city you were born in, and your nationality... all in “the loud voice” as they repeat it back to you, in case anyone cares to take notes. At first, I thought it was because identity theft isn't as much of an issue here, but I was mistaken.

    Privacy isn't as much of an issue here. To circumvent this system I have all of my info printed out on a slip of paper, and just hand it to them when they start with the 20 questions. It can sometimes make me feel like I’m a 10-year-old with a note from mommy, but at least not everyone within earshot is privy to my building address & apartment number.

    This also helps with spelling challenges that arise, with all of the family members in question having foreign names. Otherwise, you might feel a bit like you are the host of a game show, as the studio audience looks on.

  3. Do not flush toilet paper – for any reason – anywhere. The sanitation system is not the same as, say, the U.S. The long & the short of it is that the piping in the U.S. is physically bigger. There are step trashcans for your convenience, so that we aren't as troubled by certain sites & smells that could arise from multiple users.

    Generally, restrooms are either super clean – or very much the opposite of this. There are a few truck stops and gas stations that I’ve had the misfortune of happening across, while driving through other states, that stand out in my mind for the simple fact that they had nary a toilet - but rather: a shallow, ceramic hole groove in the floor with convenient no-slip grooves on the sides for your shoes. Uh-huh. Yes, you are supposed to use that.

    Please note that when you are setting out on a road trip, it is wise to bring your own stock of T.P. & soap. Not all gas stations provide these amenities.

  4. Hot showers are made with an electric heating device directly above your head. But electricity & water don't mix, right? Well, that's what I assumed to be the general rule, when sitting in the heart hospital ER at the age of 20, after trying to fix a leak in my washing machine. Going into it, I thought they had been made to coexist peacefully in the same area – otherwise, that would be dangerous!

    Needless to say, I was more than a little wary of the first 30 showers here. Then one day, it happened: zzzzzzzzt! I jumped out, screaming, "I knew it!" only to find out [what everyone else knew, but hadn't mentioned] that you can only be shocked if you have a cut on your hand, or something along the lines of #5.

    Yesterday, I congratulated my man on having the least scary real-life example on Google Images. See for yourself! Just type in "Electric Shower Head," and you'll see some of the downright hair-raising examples of various setups, that one might run across in their travels - all over the world.

  5. Ladies: if you plan on getting a manicure in Brazil, know this... The majority of Brazilian women are accustomed to getting weekly manicures so their cuticles have built up quite "a tolerance." Aside from this, there are some manicurists who like to remove THE. ENTIRE. CUTICLE, forming small red moats around your nails.

    The following tips are crucial not only to avoiding a shock or two (see #4) when showering, but in being able to grasp objects in the week to come.

    Dica [pronounced: “jee-kuh”] (Tip) 1:
    Let them know that you have “delicate” cuticles.
    (“As minhas cutículas são finas.”)

    Dica 2:
    Tell them you only want your cuticles trimmed, not removed entirely.
    (“Tirar as cutículas só de leve.”)

    Dica 3:
    This is straight from the Doc here in Brazil... Be sure you are up on *all of your Hepatitis shots before you make the jump.

    I didn't even know this until I had already been here almost 2 years! It is a series of 3 shots (A&B combined into one vaccine) that span 6 months. The first two doses are only a month apart. They hurt unlike any other shot I've ever had the displeasure of receiving. You will most likely be sore for about 4 days after each shot.

* You need Hep A for other arenas (contaminated water supply/poorly handled salads) & Hep B is for possible contamination in a salon - there is no vaccine for C, yet. Get these six months in advance of visiting, and you will be good to go!

Up next: Brazilian Bar-B-Que Brief

All images found on Google.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Five Facts For Foreigners - Vol. III

Party Etiquette...

Party fouls are awkward. Miss Manners didn't have this playbook, that's for sure. Here are a few moves that might score you some points.

  1. The protocol for arriving at and departing from a party is to personally greet and/or introduce yourself to all of the other guests. If you are going to a big party, and are an introvert like myself, you might want to arrive early so you only have to make the rounds once.

    I always feel a bit like a campaigning politician, as this is something [way] out of my personal comfort zone. If on the other hand, like Pink, you enjoy letting people know that you've officially arrived, and "now we are going to get this party started," then this is right up your alley. Same goes for the end of the party…

    Announcer: "Elvis has left the building."

  2. Be it a restaurant or Bar-B-Que setting where everyone is seated at a long table of about 30 or more, you may find yourself in conversation with someone across the table or to your immediate left or right. Perhaps the person in the opposite direction is not interested in holding a conversation with you, but that’s not a problem as someone else isright?

    As you can imagine, 30+ people will raise the volume a notch. This might prompt you to automatically lean into the engaging conversation you have found, which can result in a (previously-unknown-to-you) party foul. You absolutely may not turn in such a way as to cause someone else to have to look at your back – even if they could care less if you talk with them, or not. The back is bad.

    Note: I’m not talking about doing this for the entirety of the party. Even thirty seconds is frowned upon, and you may receive a “helpful” nudge on your shoulder, to get you properly aligned.

    People will also feel obliged to apologize to you if seating arrangements at, say, a cookout are such that they will be “giving you their back.” If you speak little to no Portuguese, this can seem to be a lot of ado over nothing.

    I have asked if this is such a big deal, why there aren’t more round tables circa King Arthur, but no one seems to think that is funny. (Except me, of course.) On the upside, I have perfected the art of amusing myself.

  3. Children’s parties are fancier than in the U.S. - be sure you dress to the nines. Forget any children’s parties you may have seen in movies or real life, back home. Women, wear high heels & lots o’ bling. Think: New Year’s or Wedding party. Guys, clean up reeeeal good.

  4. Image found here.

  5. When people sing the Happy Birthday song, they clap loudly… More often than not, the entire restaurant will join in. Sometimes there are 5 birthday parties in the same restaurant, at the same time.

    While it can be fun enjoying the cultural differences in festivities and hearing the roar of 200+ people getting into it, it’s best not to lead. Feel free to join in, once you’re sure that your table is participating.

  6. If you are attending a party with lots of balloons, be aware that if you stay until the end, there is a debatably thoughtful measure taken to make sure you are not too tired for the trip home. At least, that's what I’m guessing...

    Parties are generally done up right with bunches of balloons cascading around doorways and other areas of interest. Somewhere, at some point, some adult got creative in utilizing the help of the kids to pick up the party. They hand the most rambunctious children knives, forks, toothpicks or other pointy objects, and watch as they lay into the piles of balloons.

    If this is your first rodeo, it may cause you to spill whatever drink or plate of clothes-staining food you may be holding... raise up from your chair about 6 inches, inadvertently knocking someone else's drink or plate out of their hands... or even result in an accidental headbutt if you happen to be hugging someone on your way out, if no one has shown you the ropes. So there ya go. Warn anyone with a heart condition.

Missing a beat with these cultural protocols is a flashing neon sign that can inadvertently start you out on the wrong foot. Stick to these tips and you will not only blend seamlessly into the crowd, but you might also appear to be a natural – which is not only worth 10 cool points, but is priceless in the saving face dept.

All images found on Google.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Five Facts For Foreigners - Vol. II

Some additional pointers to keep you from being pointed out [or at]...

  1. If you happen to be here for Christmas, be sure to get your beauty sleep during the two days & nights prior to Christmas Eve. The traditional Christmas “dinner” is served at midnight on Christmas Eve, with partying and games to follow...

    It's something along the lines of Thanksgiving Dinner + Christmas Office Party (White Elephant Gift Exchange) + Rockin' New Year’s Eve + any or all of the following: Karaoke, Bingo, Card Games, Dancing, Masquerades, More Eating... That's a general idea of the itinerary, but you never know what Papai Noel (Santa Claus) has up his sleeve.

    edit: I forgot about the fireworks... lots of fireworks!

  2. When in Brazil, do yourself a favor and avoid our "A-Okay" gesture. (You know, the one that is completely innocuous in The States.) If inverted, it is worse than giving someone the middle finger... However, any semblance of this gesture may be frowned upon, so it's best to resort to the good ol' “thumbs up” which is used here for cool, great, thanks, good, super, go ahead, you rock, sure, okay, may I, etc.

  3. United States citizens: [Americans] don't try to explain why our nationality isn't "North American". (...or why Greenlanders, Canadians, Mexicans, Belizeans, Costa Ricans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Panamanians are all North Americans, too.)

    It's not that the geography classes are different here, it's that someone surmised at some point that United States citizens are pretentious elitists by laying claim to the term American, since there are 2 Americas: North & South...

    In actuality it is a political statement. What exactly that statement is alluding to remains to be seen. It's best just to refer to your state, to avoid unnecessary static... For example, I tell people I’m "Texan" (or "Tejana") – as opposed to saying American – because we could 'discuss' the finer points of geopolitical nonsense for hours on end, but who wants to do that on vacation, or otherwise?

  4. "Bife" (pronounced "Bee-fee") does not mean "Beef," although it runs in the same circles. There is "Bife de..." Pork or whatever cut of Beef you desire. However, bovines are divided differently than in The States, so you might want some clarification from a local before you order.

  5. What is Bife? It means "filet," although "filé" is only used with chicken ("filé de frango"), beef ("contra-filé" or "filé mignon") and fish (filé de merluza [Hake fish filet]) - never pork. Even though I know the name of certain cuts, I can still get it wrong on occasion.

    For example, the other day I got the Bife de Lombo. "Lombo" is the cut of meat along the top of the pig's back. There is also a "Contra-filé de Lombão" (a cut of beef sirloin) but it got all muddled in my little brain. I momentarily forgot that "bife" does not equal "beef." Needless to say, not knowing if something is beef or pork can be the deciding factor in a recipe breaker. Oops.

  6. Women: Here in Goiânia, the capital city of Goiás, there is no such thing as too much bling – be it at work, school, or out and about. Coming from the hippie capital city of Austin, Texas, it was quite a culture shock for me. (You Dallas ladies may fare better.)

    Dress like Morrissey meets Madonna: Everyday is Like Vogue, Vogue, Vogue, Vogue...

Next up: 5 Festa (Party) Facts For Foreigners

All images found on Google.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Five Facts For Foreigners - Vol. I

Here are 5 things this estrangeira [pronounced: "eh-strahn-zhay-duh" (fem.)] (foreigner) would have liked to have known before I arrived, so I wouldn't have seemed so... strange. Make a note of these cultural differences, and you'll benefit from blending in a lot easier – or at least, people will think this isn't your first time around the block.
  1. You may have seen the traditional Brazilian Beijos [pronounced: Bay-zhoo/zhoh-z] (Kisses) when greeting others in Brazil. Please note that they are not actually planting one on the other person (unless they really, really like them – yes, like THAT)…

    They are supposed to be “kissing the air” next to the cheek of the person they are greeting. Men, please note that you are not to try this with other men here. Go for a handshake, unless you have the strong desire to reenact a scene from The Godfather. The customary greeting is one cheek-to-cheek kiss-in-the-air for each side (m+w, w+w, w+m). However, some states such as Goiás employ not two, but three, kisses. It varies region to region.

    This can also be an indicator as to just how much somebody may like you (or your spouse) if they indeed decide to plant one on you... or how much they may despise you, as I found out after being kissed repeatedly on the cheek with bright red lipstick, every time I ran into a certain woman at various parties around town. I finally asked her to kiss a napkin for me so that I could treasure it longer, and not have to lose her token of affection when I washed my face. She stopped.

  2. There are no finger foods in Brazil. There are fork-&-knife foods and napkin-on-your-hand foods, but *finger foods as we know them (french fries, pizza slices, chicken nuggets) are frowned upon – and a dead giveaway that 'you're not from around here, are you?!'

    * Frogs' legs & chicken wings may be the exception – still, try to use a napkin (without ingesting any of it).

  3. Restaurant tables have Salt & Toothpicks, not Salt & Pepper. Don't draw attention to yourself by shooting toothpicks all over your plate in the middle of the restaurant. All parties at the table will have a heart attack – especially you.

  4. Not exactly what I was going for...

  5. When doing anything where your name will be called out, do not be surprised when they call out your first & middle name, instead of your first & last name. If you've been hiding some fossilized familial 10th-generation middle moniker, you're busted. The upside is that it will be completely unrecognizable by any English-speaking pals (as it will be pronounced in accordance with Portuguese pronunciation). To keep the mystery alive, just tell your English-speaking buddies it's an alias you use when traveling.

  6. You did not arrive mid-pandemic. "But people everywhere are sucking on Halls!” This is because Halls is sold as candy and/or breath freshener in Brazil. My only explanation is that there are no Starburst, Hot Tamales, Jolly Ranchers or Skittles in Brazil. All of you yummy candy manufacturers, this is an official plea to get that stuff to Brazil – Stat!

Marketed in the U.S. as soothing relief for coughs, sore throats & cooling nasal passages...


Marketed in Brazil as 3 out of 5 on the freshness scale.

Stay tuned for more tips for tourists in Brazil...

All images found on Google.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Attention Texans: Leave the Longhorns at Home

Ah, culture...

Sometimes we take for granted that what is celebrated in our culture might not be reviled in another. You might be wondering if you missed something. How could that have anything to do with Longhorns? I know...

That's how I felt when I arrived with all of my Longhorn apparel that reminded me of my home state. Longhorns are just cool, right? We can do the Longhorn hand gesture that could possibly double for "rock on." They look fierce on the front of a Cadillac... or SUV. Who wouldn't appreciate Longhorns?

Apparently a good portion of Central, South and the southernmost North American countries. Hmm... What kind of crazy talk is that? Why were people giving me dirty looks and/or snickering whenever I stepped outside of my home showing UT Longhorn spirit?

Okay, here's my true confession that my brother-in-law refuses to accept to this day: I'm not, in actuality, exclusively a Longhorn fan. There, I said it. I also root for A&M, the Rice Owls (btw: that was a cute trick with the whole designing the UT Tower to look like an owl, from any angle, thing) and pretty much any other Texas college or University... I'm true to Texas, in general - not only to the University of Texas.

Living in Austin, UT paraphernalia was just much easier to come by. Plus, Longhorns can be seen pretty much anywhere. Any big company on a large plot of land has at least 3 Longhorns munching grass on the front property, so that they can fall into a more forgiving tax bracket. Longhorns are inherently a part of Texas culture.

This is what I had in mind when making purchases of things that would remind me of home, before I made the big jump. This is also something that my husband conveniently forgot to mention before we arrived here, with my arsenal of Longhorn-themed home comforts. (I'm so glad that I didn't spring for any of the Longhorn throws or pillows...)

I know that the UT Longhorn fans are waiting for the punchline. Well, it's not funny - that's for sure. Apparently HORNS ("Chifres") are a big, shameful deal in this culture. It took me awhile to get my head around it, but it is said here that if someone cheats on you, then you'll "grow horns" or "get the horns," etc. Ex: "O marido dela é um chifrudo." ["Her husband has huge horns (is a cuckold)."] I know. Didn't make sense to me, either...

See this link for more UT attire.

I tried asking around to determine if there was any logic to this - to make sense of, and to try to determine the origin of this idiom. No one seemed to know. Some hypothesized that it was a reference to bovine mating behavior, but that still didn't explain how it entered the city-folk lingo. There was more to it than that.

After some research, I discovered that it went back to the Spanish King Felipe III. It is of legal origin. When the King of Portugal died and left no successor in 1578, the Spanish King Felipe II (known as Filipe I of Portugal) seized the opportunity to claim the throne in Lisbon for himself.  For a period of 60 years (1580 to 1640) Spain and Portugal were united under his royal family's rule (which is why this particular cultural phenomenon is also seen throughout Central, South & southernmost North America in the other countries colonized by the Spanish).

In 1603, the Ordenações Filipinas, or Filipine Code, was published at the request of King Felipe III of Spain (known as Filipe II of Portugal). The Filipine Code stated explicitly that the "offended" husband who caught his wife in adultery (so long as the offender was not a "Noble") should kill his enemy. If it was indeed your prerogative to kill, as the wronged man of the house, you must wear a hat-like thing decorated with two horns for the public to recognize you as a man whose marriage [manhood] was not "honored" (so that they would not try to prevent you from taking just measure). 

Perhaps Filipe II had a fascination with the Nordic Bronze Age? It is interesting that when the offending party was a Noble, the cuckolded husband could do nothing. You know, I'm glad that our modern definition of "noble," is something that must be linked to morals.

So this is why the stigma of "horns" is correlated to someone cheating on someone ...to this day!

De chifre + udo.
[of horns] + augmentative (pejorative)

Adjetivo masculino
[Masculine Adjective]
  1. que tem chifres [that which has horns]
    Ex: bode chifrudo [a horned goat]
  2. (Popular) diz se daquele que é traído pela esposa ou namorada
    [slang term for whoever is cheated on by their wife or girlfriend]

Substantivo masculino
[Masculine Noun]
  1. o que tem chifres [that which has horns]
  2. (Popular) homem que é traído pela esposa ou namorada
    [slang term for a man who is cheated on by their wife or girlfriend]

Unfortunately, now I'm relegated to wearing my UT Longhorn logo-only earrings, flip-flops & T-shirts when I am going to be around other Americans. Otherwise, people think I am demented. I can occasionally get away with wearing a T-shirt that includes the word "Texas" or the word "Longhorns" written out, in addition to the horns, (so people know it's probably nothing to do with Brazilian stigmas...) but that doesn't stop the snickering because they think the estrangeira, or foreign woman, doesn't know what it signifies here. I just pretend I don't.

image found here.

Any other Texas-themed gifts are welcomed with open arms.