Tuesday, May 15, 2012

eulogy to a cell phone

It took us a long time to finally get a cell phone plan when we moved here.  In retrospect, we should have got cheap cell phones in the states (Craigslist! Amazon.com!) with SIM cards, and then just gotten a prepaid chip when we were here.  Most bancas do jornais (the newpaper "stands" that you find all over in Brazil that sell everything from magazines to candy to cheap toys to parking passes to umbrellas...they deserve a post of their own...) sell chips that you can put in cell phones. You just pick the service (TIM, Vivo, Claro or OI...those are the major ones), and buy your pre-paid chip, which gives you a phone number and a limited amount of minutes to use.  You can recharge it as you go. Online. At the grocery. At the loteria (corner lottery stores where people pay their bills and buy lottery tickets). At the ATM machine.

But we didn't do that. We opted to wait until the orchestra got us signed up with the company plan. hen we got the free phones that came with the plan. The orchestra canceled this perk almost 9 months ago, but we got to keep our phones. But today, my phone is on the verge of dying. I can get calls. But my touch screen doesn't work anymore, so I can't make calls, check my texts, nor listen to the 15 Portuguese lessons that I saved on my phone to listen to on my commutes. 


So I'm now in the market to buy a phone.

Any followers have recommendations as to where to buy decent but cheap cell phones in Brazil?
And here is my eulogy:
Dearest LG, once Vivo then TIM
A long time you were with me, it did seem
But now your time is fim.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

...And how I've not become Brazilian

I  have changed.  And there are many things that I just haven't been able to do, and I'm not sure if I will ever really be able to accomplish.  I'm not saying that doing things of my list below "makes" someone Brazilian.  Nor am I saying that all Brazilians exhibit these kinds of behaviors.  But I speaking to my personal experience, and reflecting on situations when I realize that I do not "belong" here.  And with that, here's how I've not changed:

1.  I don't do my nails.  I would get pedicures in the states every once in a while, but I've never been a fingernail person.  I play guitar, I garden, I get my hands dirty.  I'm more of a person that sees my hands/fingers as a tool, and not a thing of beauty.  And I've been accused of having Fred Flinstone feet, and there isn't really much you can do to doll these stubby things up.

But I have to admit I was kind of excited before moving here about the idea of going to the local salon and getting pampered.  And then we moved here, and reality set in.  I realized that I'd have to hire someone to watch my kids so I could go and do that.  My husband offered one time, and I went and got a pedicure and a manicure.  And it hurt.  Really, REALLY bad!  They really dug into my cuticles and cleaned things up.  Ouch.  I know that many women believe that experiencing pain is just part of being beautiful, but I'm not one of them.

2.  I don't get things delivered.  I have never asked the bakery down the street (or our favorite bakery for that matter) to deliver bread.  I've never asked the grocery store or sacalão (fruit/veggie market) to deliver my order.  And I haven't even ordered pizza here (friends have come over and done it).  Part of it is that I'm cheap.  Part of it is that I (still) get nervous about making phone calls in Portuguese, especially those regarding specific instructions and time and money (numbers are hard).  And I think the biggest part of it is the American part of me that wants to do it myself and do it my way.  Or maybe that is just the Shelley party of me....

3.  I don't visit beauty salons nor have I had work done.  I have never had any of the following:  peeling, escova inteligente (I think this is the same things as a Brazilian blow out), laser, eyelash extensions, drenagem linfático (intense massage to rid your body of impurities), lightening, etcetera etcetera.  Getting pretty is big business in Brazil.  Heck, it's big business around the world.  But my informal survey of local business indicates that beauty salons and places to get beautified far outnumber bakeries.  Maybe that's why people in Brazil are thinner--there's more opportunity to get done up than to eat.

4.  I don't have my children's birthday parties at a "party place."  Renting a salão de festas will run you at least R$2000, and that's for a very basic party.  And in my experience, birthday parties at these kind of places really aren't about the kids.  They tend to be more about the parents and their ability to throw a great party.  It's kind of a status thing.  Because I'm not Brazilian, I just don't get how the status game works, and I know that even if I tried to pretend I was wealthy and had social graces oozing out of me it would come across as the "cold" American I am.  So we'll stick with sleep overs, family parties and snacks at school.

5.  I don't watch novelas (soap operas).  I'm not a big fan of TV.  I watch it because my husband likes it, but I can find many other things that I'd rather do.  I know that I'm missing out on a part of Brazilian culture, and an opportunity to practice my Portuguese.  But I just can't make myself do it.

6.  I don't know how to bargain.  I pay my fair share of the gringo tax.  We had dinner with some friends a few weeks back, and they were talking about just how good Mineira women are at bargaining.  She's married to an American, and she often will be at the store trying to buy something and she will send her husband away because she doesn't want to pay more because the American is in the room.  I sometimes will try, but even then I don't have the patience, finesse nor ability to form any kind of nuanced conversation ("me pay less, yes? This price too high, I find store there and it be less...").  I've just resigned myself to being taken advantage of.

7. I don't throw trash on the ground.  I carry around my candy wrappers, used kleenex, and I've walked blocks carrying an empty soda bottle until I find a trash can.  In our neighborhood, there are many "designated" places for trash (tree stumps, the base of a power pole, the little bit of grass that surrounds some plants).  But to me, it just looks like the ground.  I've caught my kids throwing trash on the ground, and I always make them go back and pick it up.  Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean that we are going to do it.

8.  I don't follow soccer.  I thought that when I lived here, I'd actually watch soccer games, and pay attention to what is happening with the number one sport in the whole entire world.  In our old apartment, I had the pleasure of hearing our neighbors have shouting matches before, during and after games (which I have learned take place on Wednesday and Sunday nights, and sometimes other days...).  But now I'm just oblivious.  I know who the two teams are in Belo Horizonte, and every once in a while I hear who has won or who is playing.  But for the most part, I'm absolutely clueless.  I still would like to go to a live soccer game someday, but there's this thing called the World Cup and there's this crazy situation with all the stadiums being built/remodeled...

9.  I don't let someone else do it.  A lot of Brazilian working moms take advantage of the opportunities that exist here to let someone else help you out.  It makes sense to me.  If you are working full time, how can you have time to go grocery shopping and cook for your family?  How do you have time to do all the laundry?  To help kids with their homework and take them to their school events?  Where's the time to take little João to soccer practice, and Maria Clara Julia to ballet class?  And also take care of yourself (see #1 and #3)?  Most women with the means hire help for the house, nannies, drivers to take their kids to school/music lessons, buy the kids snacks through the schools (that hire bakeries to make deliver healthy fried snacks, cookies and sugary juices....real healthy...) and eat out (or do #2).  I have a great job, that allows me to work mostly part-time, and work while  my kids are in school.  That means that I can be with them, go pick out my own fruit and vegetables at the store, cook for them, and make things like homemade cornbread, apple muffins and  bread for their school snacks.  And I wash their clothes myself.  And I want to do this.  I like it.  I think it's part of who I am (kind of earth mama, granola mommy) and it's that darn American guilt about having someone else do the work that I should be able to do because I should be able to do it all because I'm superwoman independence. 

10.  I don't do Brazilian clothes.  First of all, I'm cheap.  Secondly, I'm cheap.  And thirdly, I can stock up on good quality used and new clothes on trips to the US.  I've bought some clothes here, for myself and for my kids.  But I have such a hard time paying so much money, and for things that unfortunately don't last very long.  As a result, we don't look very Brazilian and we're not always very fashionable.  But then again, Brazilian fashion is different.  I will say that I've become a little bolder in my tastes since moving here, but I still don't think I can pull of heels, blouses with only one sleeve, jumpsuits, and backless shirts. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

How I've become Brazilian

Moving to another country requires adapting.  I was thinking the other day about how I've changed since moving here, and I thought I'd share about some of the ways that I've become "Brazilian" in the past 2 years.

1.  I don't feel like lunch (the main meal of the day) is complete without beans and rice.  I really like almoço.  I like to eat a big meal in the middle of the day.  It feels healthier to me, and I've grown to really, really like my beans and rice.

2.  I don't have a problem any more with motorcycles whizzing past me while driving.  And I have no problem crowding the other cars out as I "merge" at the stoplight.  Or create my own lane at the stop light.  I have no problem with that.

3.  I buy pão de sal every day at the bakery.  We eat these little crusty rolls for breakfast, as a snack, or with hotdogs or sandwiches for "dinner."  They are a staple in our household.
4.  I've learned to be more relaxed with time.  We left our house 15 minutes after the birthday party started (the one I mentioned last post).  We arrived 45 minutes after it started, and WE WERE NOT THE FIRST ONES THERE!   I think that was a first for me!

5.  I scrubbed my daughter's flip-flops before she went to her (Brazilian) friend's house the other day.  Why?  a) Clean shoes/feet/socks/flip flops are just assumed here.  b) It's "wrong" to let a child go barefoot inside, because walking barefoot on the tile will give them a cold.

6.  I socialized with the personal banker today.  I've learned that it's way too American to just jump right to the point of your meeting.  So often I'm internally freaking out prior to an interaction, trying to think about how to say basic things in Portuguese, and I get nervous and just try to say what I want right away.  But I'm' gradually learning that you have to ease into these things.  First, I need to ask about the family.  How is your child?  It's a girl right?  How is she?  How is school?  And how was your vacation?  And the weather?  And of course, the other person is going to ask you about your husband's work, your work, your Portuguese, what you think about Brazil, how long you've lived here, and so on and so on. 

7.  I've learned how to celebrate.  Most American birthday parties are about 2 or 3 hours.  Heck, 3 hours might be long.  An American wedding?  The ceremony and reception might be 4 hours, if it's at night and you know the couple well.  NOT SO IN BRAZIL!  I've been to lunches that have lasted 6 hours.  And we were the first to leave.  I've finally come to the point where I know that when we go to a churrasco (BBQ), birthday party, lunch, etcetera, we are going to be there for a while.  You have to get relaxed, linger, talk and talk and then talk some more.  I told a co-worker last week that American's unfortunately don't know how to have parties.  Brazilians know how to party.  Just take a look at the sheer number of party supply stores, salão de festas (places to rent to hold your big party), catering companies, cake vendors, party entertainers, salons to get your nails/hair/makeup done for parties, party dress stores, etcetera, etcetera.  And that's just for the kids (i.e. weddings is a whole other business...)

8. The Female Brazilian (Mineira?) Lilt.  I sometimes catch myself speaking English like I hear Brazilian women speak.  It's almost like singing, a bit whiny, in the higher range.  And I hear my 5 year old speaking like this all the time.  Sorry, I don't have a visual nor a video for this.  Anyone else out there know what I'm talking about?

9. I open the window every time I get into the car/bus.  It doesn't matter if it's raining, if it's cold, or if I'm right next to a big truck blowing fumes right in my face.  When we were in the states, my youngest kept asking to open the window in my parent's car.  In Washington state.  In the dead of winter.  She just couldn't understand why we wouldn't open the windows.

10.  I spontaneously say "nossa" (pronounced NO--sah) when I'm surprised.  Short for "Nossa Senhora," which I would translate as "jeeze," or "oh my god."  When I see a woman wearing 4 inch heels walking up a steep hill.  When I find out how much the bill will be at the restaurant.  When a child at school does something cute.  When the bus sits at a bus stop for 5 minutes because so many people are trying to crowd on and the bus driver won't go because there are too many people hanging out the door. 

I realize that most of these things are life changing, but they are certainly things I was NOT doing 2 years ago.  And if you want to read about a fellow-blogger who is trying to "become Brazilian" every day this year, check out Born Again Brazilian