Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dillo - The Other White Meat

I know. It just keeps coming up.

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to explore Austin's coolest store. If you find yourself in the capital city, do yourself a favor and set aside about 5 hours to peruse Austin Gift Company.

Over the years, I have been able to find the perfect gifts for people near & dear to me in this wonderland of Willie, wacky and way cool. There's a little bit of everything, and something for everyone. Guaranteed. I only wish I'd have had my camera with me, to show you all of the amazing art.

Note to comic book fans: There are phenomenal sketched fan art coasters that you should check out. I'll be back for some of the Batman, X-men & Wonder Woman pieces.

Sans camera, I asked a buddy to get a snapshot of this awesomeness.

Photo credit: Johnny Bonez

I recently spoke with a Texas gentleman who shared some of the old stories. He told me that people used to eat armadillos here, too. I had no idea!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Late Bloomer

I am a late bloomer, it seems, when it comes to bloomin' buds (and I'm not talking horticulture or British expletives). I'm talking about taste buds. Being an expat changed my palette, and not in the way you'd think.

I've always enjoyed trying new foods. I grew up in Austin, a city where well over a third of my meals were Tex-Mex punctuated by Vietnamese, Italian, and Texas Bar-B-Que, and peppered with Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Cajun, Brazilian and "Southern" foods.

I'd say that my tastes are well-rounded, though some people would beg to differ. People who seem to think that not liking PBJs ...and mayo, coleslaw, stuffing, candied yams, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, Caesar salad, banana splits, chicken fried steak, breakfast sandwiches or anything chocolaty with peanut butter is downright Un-American.

I understand that I may seem to be building a case against myself (and am probably setting myself up for a round of hate mail), but I also don't like corned beef, meatloaf, dinner rolls, dumplings or gravy, so it's not only "traditional American dishes" that are on my Try Another Day list.

True, Thanksgiving Day meals have always been a challenge, but it isn't like I didn't give these things a try for a good decade or so. I think I was about 19 when I started having a taste [teaspoon] of peanut butter, every now and then (which was promptly followed by a tall glass of milk). I only ate mayo with tuna, egg, or potato salads, and opted for mustard when possible.

Then I moved to Goiânia.

We all know the old adage, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," but it appears to apply to taste buds, as well.

It wasn't until I was living in a particular part of the country where everything is pretty much same-same (whether you happen to be at a cookout, restaurant, or relative's house), and things like peanut butter are hard to come by, that I suddenly decided that I really couldn't stand another day without it. And that I inexplicably missed it so badly that I'd eat an entire jar (in a matter of weeks) when I found it.

Then came the mayo urges.

I didn't even know who I was anymore.

Finally, I found myself turning into more of a mad scientist than cook, concocting strange food mixtures born out of desperation (things that would make any decent cook or food lover cringe).

The horror... the horror...

I don't want you to be naive regarding the culinary purgatory that awaits expats who are not headed to major cultural hubs. Those of you bound for global cities can file this away under, "Whew! Dodged that one."

Those of you moving into the middle of nowhere, or worse, somewhere that for no logical or logistical reason, curiously and unnecessarily resists change like a cat resists bath time, take heed:

There will come a day when you try, against all odds, to recreate a particularly elusive taste from home. Your desperation will be directly linked — not unlike your threshold for weird combos — to just how bland the local stuff is, or how homogeneous the condiment and spice aisles are at local stores.

While I will neither confirm nor deny certain attempts at recreating gumbo, enchiladas, and/or queso without the aid of anything remotely resembling what was needed, I can tell you that through shared expat stories & recipes, I was able to successfully make sour cream (or as we labeled that kitchen experiment: "Cloud Nine").

Just watch yourself. No one back home needs to know the frightening depths to which you were willing to sink in order to appease your sense of taste. Don't get caught tweaking a bowl of already-prepared salsa with a squirt of ketchup once you are back where these things are not only unheard of, but a crime.

Of course, other things might be tip-offs that you've been shaken to the core. Things like a 180 in your stance on mayo & peanut butter.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


While speaking with a loved one recently, she reminded me of a Brazilian Portuguese idiom that put some things in perspective. She told me not to look back, because there's nothing that can be done about the decisions we've made in the past, and not to give up because there are so many things worth fighting for in the future. While hindsight is 20/20, it's a waste to mull over the details (unless you are writing a biography, or it's in your job description).

The saying goes like this:

"Quem anda para trás é caranguejo. Quem fica parado é poste. Quem evolui é ser humano."

Crabs walk backwards. Posts are stationary. Humans evolve.

I immediately thought of this little guy that I met on a beach in Fortaleza. It was the first crab that I've come across that not only didn't scurry away, but hunkered down and observed... me? (Cutest thing ever!)

This expression also brought to mind that thing that I like to do on the beach, where I get just within reach of the retreating waves as they are pulled back to sea. I like to stand there in the shifting sand, seeing how far I can burrow down with each wave, becoming a human post. It's pretty easy to keep your balance until you're about mid-calf down, and a really big wave comes in. That's usually when I realize I'm stuck, and hope an even bigger one isn't right behind. Risky business. I suppose I've been guilty of this type of behavior in other arenas, as well. Hmm...

Then I remembered this commercial by Fiat. I guess the beach brings out the philosopher in all of us (or it's just a really good backdrop for marketing), or something.

The commercial shows a dog walker who tells himself that he should have been an executive, looking at an exec, who is at what appears to be an impressive lunch meeting. The executive, catching a glimpse of the seemingly glamorous life of a famous band, sighs and laments that he should have been a rock star. Later, in his tour bus, the rock star passes a beach and yearns for the more laid-back lifestyle of a lifeguard. The lifeguard, feeling overwhelmed, wishes that he had been born a crab. The crab just laughs, and says that he can't stand walking sideways anymore.  The announcer says, "Sometimes we just want to leave it all behind."

The grass is always greener on the other side, even on the beach.

Monday, February 10, 2014

OFL - Onomatopoeia as a Foreign Language

As an adult, I came to realize that not everyone grew up in an onomatopoeically and ideophonically inclined household. It was only after the 20th comment, or so, by a random stranger that I noticed not everyone's O.I. vocabulary is quite as, um, "developed." (Okay, okay... I use weird sound effects in place of regular words sometimes.)

Onomatopoeias and ideophones are words that phonetically imitate the sound of something that we otherwise wouldn't have a word for. They may eventually reach the point that they're officially recognized words which is how oink, swoosh, bam, and meow came into being. These kinds of words are vital to the comic book industry.

The need for onomatopoeic and ideophonic words is universal, as most languages incorporate a handful into the language. There are those that argue this is how some languages developed at a base level.

One might think that this shared phenomenon could be used as a bridge to cross language barriers, but strangely enough, that is most often not the case. Whatever language we speak and whatever sounds we are accustomed to hearing, directly influences our perception of other sounds.

To see some interesting differences in how we hear animal sounds in different languages, check out this video. I found it intriguing that every language featured, with the exception of Japanese, does hear a version of "Meow."

The differing perceptions of everyday sounds is why I feel so strongly that the absolute first step to getting a grasp on any language is to learn the sounds of the language.

For example:

I used to be unable to correctly hear the name of one of the doormen at my apartment in Goiânia — a guy that I depended on for my safety & security. Not only did I need to get to know him, but I needed him to get to know me (which isn't easy, most times, when there's a language barrier — the average person doesn't care enough to take the time). ...but I couldn't even understand his name, much less say it.

So I tried.

...and tried.

I must have asked him to repeat his name about a dozen times, before I finally asked him how to spell it. And after this experience, I no longer hesitated to ask how to spell anything.

Why didn't I ask him in the first place?

My husband, giver of unending bad adaptation/assimilation advice, had told me that I "shouldn't ask people how to spell their names because they'd think it was weird."

I think that meeting someone regularly, and never being able to say their name is more weird, personally.

I also think that he only said that because he thought it was embarrassing, for some reason. Or maybe I seemed too nerdy with my pen & mini spiral that I could whip out at a moment's notice. Whatever the reasoning, it was bad advice, and as soon as I ignored it the doors to understanding opened up.

Prior to getting the correct spelling so that I could sound it out, it went something like:

Me: "I'm sorry, what is your name, again?"
Him: "Jblblbz%tuiblblblblϟgkblblblo@iwblblblber." (...or something?)
Me: "Oh... Okay. Thanks!" (not getting it, at all)

So when I finally asked him to spell it, it went like this:

Me: "I'm sorry, but could you spell your name for me? It's hard for me to understand because Portuguese is my second language."
Him: "Sure. It's J-U-R-A-N-D-I-R."
Me: "Oh, 'Zhuuur-rdahhhhn-zheer'"
Him: "Yes. That's it." (probably thinking, "Finally!")
Me: "Okay, great, Jurandir! Thank you!" (thinking, "Wow, that was easy ...and I'll never have to ask again!")

Although knowing the sounds of a language makes it easier to understand how another culture hears the world, homegrown sounds that you may have taken for granted to fall back on (if your language isn't up to par) may not help you out as much as you think they will.

For instance, there is 1 very basic and simple onomatopoeic sound that is identical in both English & Portuguese, that is in no way related to the other.

The same clicking sound made with the tongue, used for getting a horse to "giddyap" in the United States, is used in Brazil as a big fat "negatory," or "não." They are not telling you to get along, little dogie, they are just saying no, without an actual word.

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

Then there's this classic.

The first time you're in a place where you are supposed to be quiet, but are needing to get the attention of someone, you might think that the good ol' fashioned, "Psssssssst!" will suffice in getting someone's attention.

Uh, not in Brazil.

It seriously irked me when I found out how similar (to me, anyway) the Brazilian Portuguese version is to the "Psssssst" I was using (because I didn't know how the other one went, yet).

It was like everyone had Pssssst-cancelling headphones on.

When I later discovered that the way to do it in Brazil is "Psiu" (pronounced: "P-see-you") I just couldn't believe that no one got my American English version.

Really?!? No one thought that I might be discreetly trying to get their attention? Huh.

Speaking of classics, it reminded me of this comic by Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side.

So now ya know, and we all know that is half the battle.

Psiu! Pass it on!