Monday, October 8, 2012

Five Facts for Foreigners - Vol. X

In this installment of 5 Facts for Foreigners I'm taking aim at Americans. Why? Because I am one! I'm going to spill it on the major differences in daily drinks. Of course, what might be the norm for me in Central Texas may not be all that similar to the status quo in Maine, Washington, Florida, Minnesota, or California.

...or the Panhandle. (You get the idea.)

Still, these are the main differences that not only I have noticed, but other U.S. expats, as well.

Bottoms up!
  1. Milk, as we know it in the states, is a hard thing to find. What is available at the supermarket is equivalent to a version of powdered milk that has already been liquefied. It is sold in cartons (available by the boxed dozen) that do not need to be refrigerated until opened. Boxed milk was developed to accommodate the lack of refrigeration in places that do not have electricity, and for the typically much smaller refrigerators, where a 1 liter box of milk will fit more easily than that of, say, a gallon (4 liters). We'd be naïve to assume this doesn't involve preservatives and/or artificial additives of some kind.

    For the record, the year I arrived there were a number of cases involving several companies, where consumers were sickened due to the ingredients. Apparently, someone got creative in trying to cut costs... and thought they'd spike the milk with bleach and peroxide, among other toxic ingredients. People were prosecuted, and boxed milk went back to being only mostly unnatural.

    Image found here.

    If the idea or taste of boxed milk isn't appealing, then you might try to find fresh milk (actual cow's milk)... at your own risk. You can find it at some of the local farmers' markets, or you might hear a vehicle roll past, booming, "o leite" (pronounced: "oh lay-ch") or "the milk." Depending on the source and scruples of the vendor, it might seem heavenly... or a few hours later, you could find yourself in the ER. I've seen it both ways—about once a year.

  2. You will find most noncarbonated 1 liter drinks (such as juice or coconut water) in these easily storable cartons, with the exception of water. While these boxed drinks are great for saving space in the fridge, they are the go-to snag at social functions, as they tend to spill all over the place (no matter how many years you've been at it). It's not just me!

    Image found here.

    Avoid obvious pitfalls like offering to pour some grape juice for your friend's great aunt, who is dressed in her Sunday best. Trust me on that one. I've developed an almost fool-proof pouring method, but it's taken lots of practice in the comfort of my own kitchen. Remind me to make a How To vid to help the newbies.

  3. There's a popular and innovative way to drink OJ that is like a natural version of the little juice boxes that the kids drink back home. Every time I've peeled an orange, and eaten it slice by slice, I've noticed that people were watching me intently. It's because here, they stick it in a peeler (or use a knife as shown in this video), peel it down to the white part of the rind (called the albedo), and then cut off the top. It is then used as a cross between a stress ball, and a juice box: squeeze & slurp, squeeze & slurp. The remaining hollow of the orange is usually tossed.

    To enlarge, right-click & open in a new window.

  4. Coffee is served black, syrupy sweet, and is so strong that it is served as a shot. If you were used to drinking large cups of Starbucks coffee (4 sugars, 5 creamers) back home, like I was, this amounts to nothing short of cruel & unusual punishment. I usually just pass on the coffee, since it is not customary to add milk; but if I'm at the home of a close friend then I might ask to add a bit to make it drinkable.
    Image found here.

    However... the business, doctors', and government offices that you may find yourself in will be bereft of milk or cream. Almost everywhere you go, the complimentary stuff will be there... mocking you. Freshly brewed coffee smells great even to those who don't partake, but for those of us used to coffee creamer, this can be torture. With nothing creamy to cut it with, you will need to learn how to steel yourself against the constant assault on your senses. (You should be good to go in about 6 months.)  When all is said & done, run back to your place, put on a pot, and pass the milk. Stat!

  5. Drinking directly out of a can or bottle is a no-no. (You heathen!) If you are at a snack bar, you will be offered a small plastic *cup or a **straw, or two, with your purchase of a canned or bottled beverage. This custom originated because cans are typically dirty, direct from the factory, and it isn't a good idea to willingly ingest germs. Of course, these days bottles have screw-on tops, and some beer companies now come with additional litter a nifty removable foil seal,  so... feel free to break protocol, but know that people might think you're a little different.

Awesome, right? Find them here.

  • Most cups are a standard 5oz (150ml) size. The bigger 250ml (8oz) is known as the "Americano" size, although in Central Texas we are actually used to [at least] 32oz (946ml) drinks.* They do say everything's bigger in Texas...
  • Please note that straws are generally 1/4 — 1/5 the size of our straws back home.**

Hope that wasn't too hard to swallow. Welcome to the deep end...



  1. Just out of curiosity: when I was in Brazil (26 years ago!) they bought bags of milk. In our family it was dumped into a pot and heated (I assume to pasteurize it) and then was dipped out as needed with a ladle for breakfast, bottles, etc. Have you ever seen those?

    And I can remember eating an orange and being told about the white skin, "Faz mal no estomago."

    So glad you're back from your hiatus! I subscribed right before you left... Love hearing about Goias and I'm from Texas, too.

  2. Hi there!

    :] I'm glad you approve. I'd love to hear some of your stories, as well. It's interesting to see that things haven't changed much.

    The fresh cow's milk now comes in recycled 2 liter coke bottles, and boiling it is a must -- even if the source claims they have already boiled it. Otherwise, you'll be seeing your favorite hospital. There is also an additional danger of receiving milk from a cow that has recently given birth (that can be just shy of deadly).

    Ha-ha. I still haven't figured out what exactly it is that is bad about the white part of the peel... I've heard things ranging from it being bad for the gallbladder, to slowing the digestive track... The same people say that the pulp of the orange after a meal will regulate that issue.

    Did you hear that the tomato seeds are bad for the gallbladder, as well? Since i've been here, at least 3 out of 10 of my friends have had to remove theirs... and they are otherwise some of the healthiest people i know. Perhaps there is something to it?

    Thanks for reaching out! It's great to get feedback. I'm intrigued that you've been there, done that, have the shirt, & are back in Texas. I can use all the tips i can get! :)

  3. When I was there I wanted some cream for my coffee - not milk. I bought it at Walmart and it was thicker than heavy whipping cream... like putting soft butter in my coffee. Glad you're back.


    1. Hey, Chris!

      Thanks. :) Good to see you, too!

      Yes, i did try the cream (which my MIL thought was a "fat American" move)... but it didn't quite do it for me.

      I then tried the sweetened, condensed milk (which was divine) ...but will pack on the pounds pretty fast.

      I finally settled on the "Integral" or Whole milk, which certain people still see as a F.A.M. ...but i don't care. I'm not willing to compromise any further. lol

      During the first few years, i imported powdered coffee creamer. Any time a friend was coming this way, or i went home to visit, i made sure that a few canisters were in tow. However, Brazil customs started cracking down canned food items, so it was no longer worth it. (Have i told you about my R$700 pack of Dr Pepper?!)

      Since then, i've made do with the whole milk. If nothing else, it makes the trips home even sweeter.

  4. I won't be able to thank you fully for the articles on your web-site. I know you'd put a lot of time and energy into all of them and hope you know how much I appreciate it. I hope I could do the same for someone else sometime.

  5. <>
    Walmart? I can't believe they have invaded Brazil too! Here in Texas they sell a can of what is called "table cream" on the hispanic foods aisle. Sounds like the same stuff.

    No, I never heard about tomato seeds being bad for your gallbladder. But then, I don't really remember eating any while I was there. Salad was greens, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and that was all.

    I was only in Brazil for 3 months as an exchange student. Not a day goes by that I don't dream about going back to see my "family" there. We're still in touch. It was an incredible experience. I stayed in a little town called Mococa in northern SP state, so I'll sign off as:

    MococaTX (Anonymous from Oct 9)

    1. Hey, MococaTX! :)

      Yes! Walmart, Sam's, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway, and most recently: Quiznos are here in Goiania, now. McDonald's is a given. Aren't they in every country & state?! I wouldn't be surprised if they have a MickyD's on the space station.

      Starbucks, on the other hand, hasn't made it here, or to Brasilia, yet. They are in Sao Paulo & Rio, though. I would think that they would have at least opened one in Brasilia, with so many foreigners there... ?

      We have 2 Walmarts in Goiania & 1 Sam's. They are the best (and cheapest) places to find any brand (like Doritos, etc.) from the U.S. or brands from other South American countries. There is a French chain called Carrefour which is the best place to find brands from Europe.

      I'm pretty sure the table cream is indeed the "creme de leite." I was looking into it last night, actually, in search for the delicious Camarão de Moranga recipe, so that i could pass it on to family back home. Some things just aren't easy to find, though, like azeite de dendê (palm oil) needed for Bobó de Camarão.

      If you are interested, check out the recipe (in Portuguese w/ video) here:

      The salad sounds about right. It's probably regional, as well. I've seen salads here with mango and tomato... together. (ew!) When i first got here, the only other option was balsamic vinegar or spritzing it with lime juice... but in the past few years Hellman's has arrived with Italian & Ranch ("caseiro") dressings. :q There is also a national brand called Liza.

      That's awesome that you are still in touch with your Brazilian family! I hope that if & when i return, i will still stay in touch with the family & friends i now have here. It's so much easier now with Skype, and even the smallest town seems to have a Lan House. It's amazing how much has changed, even in the past 6 years.


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