By D. E. Finley
Shopping in Brazil as a gringo can be difficult, especially, when you don’t know the right word for the thing you want. It often leads to new leisure activities such as charades, pantomiming, modern dance, and telepathic messaging. Shopping is often more like being on a game show. But, instead of winning a free prize like a trip to Hawaii or a shiny new car, the prize is a more modest item like, panty hose, anti-fungal cream, Compound-W, plunger, dental floss, exfoliating scrub, soap, or latex gloves that you’re expected to pay for.

The other day, I needed panty hose to go with my dress for a party Saturday night. I asked my husband to go with me. We went to the Lojas Americanas store at the shopping mall. (The name sounded hopeful.) We realized that we were going to have to ask a sales associate for help AFTER combing through the store, first together, and then breaking off separately for more in-depth, CSI (Crime Scene Investigation)-type coverage.

Since we’d left our English-Portuguese dictionary at home, we tried just saying, Panty hose, por favor?”

We got no response from the sales associate other that the usual, confused look, like we’d just landed our space ship to shop at the mall.

I re-enacted how I put pantyhose on while I’m dressing to Eduardo. (His name was pinned on his sales associate vest.). This prompted the Eduardo to call over three other sales associates for backup. Actually, he only called over one – the other two tagged along out of curiosity. They’d never seen extra terrestrials before.

My attempts at acting out and drawing panty hose sadly failed.

“Fruiteria. Fruiteria,” they replied. They must have thought that I was playing the role of a banana unpeeling myself, and backed up their theory with my artistic rendering.

So, our last option was to call our translator, Claudia.

“How can I help you?” she asked in her usual, friendly tone.

“Our friends are having a party tonight, and we’re trying to get hose,” my husband, Bob, explained.

“Bob, I’m sorry, but, hose are illegal here in Brazil.”


“Yes, hose. They are illegal here. It’s not like Las Vegas, Bob. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m talking about panty hose like stockings, Claudia.”

“Oh, panty. You are in a painting store, Bob? You want to buy a hose in a paint store for your garden?”

“No, it’s to wear, Claudia. I’m talking about panty hose to wear – like leg stockings.”

“I’m so sorry, Bob. You don’t do that in Brazil either. Men don’t want to wear stockings to a party.”

“No, they’re for Debbie to wear.”

“Oh, yes. Now, I understand Bob. They are called, meia cala. But, you can’t buy them in a paint store. Try Carrefour. “

Bob thanked Claudia. We showed the word to the now seven curious sales associates and a few lurking customers who were hoping to help, and also practice their English on us. Now came the decision as to the color, length, texture, thickness, and size. We still hadn’t gotten to the other items on our shopping list like the soap and latex gloves. But, we wanted to be sure to make it to the party in time – in time to be fashionably late. We’d be playing charades. With the practice that we got shopping, we’d have a decent chance of wining.

Copyright D. E. Finley 2005.

To read previous articles by D. E. Finley click below:

Brazil Life: In-Laws In Town
Brazil Life: Got Floss
Brazil Life: Hiring a Maid
Brazil Life: Brazilians are so Nice
Brazil Life: Gringa Goes Shopping at Carrefour
Brazil Life: Amazon Encounter Lodge Vacation
Brazil Life: Keeping Track of My Purse

D.E. Finley is a writer and graphic artist. You can visit her website at

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