Monday, July 5, 2010
Chame-me Senhora Fields
Oi gente! Within the span of a week, I will have made four batches of m&m cookies. We made some for Maria Luiza’s birthday and have since had several requests for follow-up batches for friends and family. There is nothing sweeter (teehee) than bringing American desserts to another country. At least now I know that if all other plans in life fail I can make a killing opening a cookie stand in Rio.
There was something uplifting about making the cookies on the 4th of July. For the first time since arriving in Rio de Janeiro, I felt a little homesick for Lake Minnetonka, fireworks, Excelsior Commons festivities, friends, and barbeques. I made a playlist with assorted American songs (think Glory Days, Sweet Home Alabama, and Party in the USA) for my walk along the beach but there is something very un-American about a bunch of fit, tan people in skimpy swimsuits drinking water out of coconuts. In hindsight, this may not be a negative thing.
Words, words, words
Spending time in a country that speaks a different language forces you to constantly be thinking about appropriate word choices. As I learned in the first week, there is a sharp distinction between memorizing vocabulary and knowing how and when to use it. I wish I had taken a linguistics class before coming here. I find it so mind-blowing that thinking in a specific language can frame your worldview in a completely different way than another language, simply because each will have different ways of expressing oneself. There are some words in the English language that are so specific they’re impossible to directly translate. Take the word awkward- a word Americans (especially my generation) have adopted to apply to everything from a simple conversation that doesn’t flow quite right to a preteen girl who is just learning how to put on eyeliner and is doing so with a heavy hand- we’ve all been there: it's rough. In Portuguese, awkward roughly translates to difficult, uncomfortable, or embarrassing- but to me none of these phrases can capture a truly awkward moment. As Katie Conroy would say, some situations are just A-Q-U-W-A-R-D (sorry, I had to).
At the same time, the many Brazilians, intead of using “nos” the word for “we,” say “a gente,” as in "the people". For example, if someone is going to say we should all meet at 10, they’ll instead say the people will all meet, and you’re supposed to assume you are one of the “gente.” I think there is something about this that is more communal and inclusive than we Americans are able to convey. I can’t quite describe it, but the word puts everyone in the vague “we” on an equal level.
Joking about appearances? A-OK. Mama jokes? Not so much…
Brazilians also tend to address the appearance of those they are talking to very directly. If you’re dark, people will call you negrao- basically a much less offensive equivalent of “blackey.” If you’re fat, you can’t kid yourself by ignoring mirrors, because you WILL be called gorda. I’ve been called “branquinha” on several occasions, which is basically an endearing way of calling me pasty and reminds me that I need to start hitting the beach. This lack of political correctness was surprising at first, but it also puts people less on guard in terms of racism- what you look like is simply how you look.
Fresh off the boat… from work on the island
Terrazul is still going well- today we began emailing universities that we’ve researched over the web and are known for having strong environmental science or Portuguese programs. We’re trying to set up future exchanges for Terrazul, so they can establish contact with American universities, get more student interns, and connect their students with northern counterparts. It’s weird to think that we’ve been here only four weeks and are already essentially searching for our more qualified replacements.
I also created the beginnings of a Facebook page for Instituto Terrazul. I have yet to post any news, pictures, or links but it is all on its way. Fortunately, Brazilians excel at social networking (my home page is always full of Portuguese status updates) so I have no doubt that the page will be left in very capable hands.
Finally, today Marcos (the director) and I discussed the idea of having a “Mesa de Inglês” discussion table each week for about an hour, where people would just pick topics to discuss in English. A lot of people at work and in the community have studied English for years, but have yet been able to apply it to real-life situations. There are only so many times the phrase “John had to buy milk at the grocery store” (courtesy of Carol’s English textbook) can be dropped into everday conversation. Something tells me this endeavor will prompt me to make another batch of cookies