By Ed Catchpole
January 8, 2014
I got a contract to teach English and was living in an apartment which I shared with 2 other teachers. A couple of weeks into the semester a third teacher arrived from England who we shall call Campbell”.
It was immediately obvious that Campbell was a couple of olives short of a pizza. Six foot tall, John Lennon specs, he was wearing a pink t-shirt (he said he had a lot of pink clothes after accidently putting a red sock in his white washing on his last contract) and some cut-off jeans. In an effort to look more “Brazilian” Campbell was also sporting a very large (women’s) sunhat and a shark’s tooth necklace.
We talked as he unpacked. He said he was a keen musician and asked me if I would like to help him find a piano in Recife to practice. I had nothing better to do and said yes.
After walking around our beach front neighborhood we eventually found one in the cocktail bar of a smart hotel. Campbell strode up to the reception and asked them loudly in English if he could play their piano.
The young hotel staff looked bemused – which is unsurprising as their travel and tourism course was unlikely to have included a module entitled “Coping with the Insane”. They eventually said that yes it was possible, but shorts were not allowed in the piano bar – trousers only.
This was my first insight into the idiosyncrasies of rules and regulations in Brazil because it seemed odd you could walk into a smart hotel wearing a pink t-shirt and an old lady’s hat and play their piano without first having had an audition – as long as no one can see your knees. But if the hotel staff thought they had dissuaded Campbell they were mistaken.
“Right!” he said marching out of the hotel and entering the beachwear shop next door. “How much money have you got on you?” he asked. I had about five reais to go with the ten he had brought with him.
He surveyed the “trousers” on offer and gradually realized the only pair he could afford were some pink neon leggings clearly designed for a 15 year old girl.
“These’ll do!” he said, whipped them of the rack and entered the changing area to try them on. Moments later the curtain flew back and Campbell stood in the doorway wearing his new “trousers”. It is an image I have since tried hard to cast from my mind. In order to get the trousers to cover his knees Campbell had had to pull them well below his waist.
He then marched back into the hotel. “Look no knees!” he said triumphantly, pointing down for added emphasis. The staff looked on open mouthed as he walked purposefully to the piano and sat down.
While Campbell’s trousers were pretty indecent when he was standing up, the situation got a lot worse when he sat down. And displaying the top half of his buttocks to the high paying guests he started to play.
This provided another insight into the Brazilian character – their remarkable toleration. The onlookers didn’t seem to mind Campbell’s show and continued with their drinks and conversations as if nothing were amiss. If Campbell had tried to play the piano at, let’s say the Bellagio in Las Vegas, while wearing perhaps a pirate’s hat and a pink leotard he would be cattle prodded within three feet of the front door (and rightly so).
A few minutes into Campbell’s recital a hotel employee approached me, “We like your friend’s music” he said happily.
“He’s not my friend”. I replied.
“Would you like to try our national drink? It is made with cachaa, lemon juice and sugar, it is called a Capirinha”. He asked.
“I should say so” I said, in what turned out to be my most important insight into Brazilian culture that day.
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