By Joe Lopes
Continuing from last week here’s part 20 of Joe’s excellent guide to teaching English in Brazil. To read the previous parts click the relevant links at the bottom of the page.
Language & Cultural Barriers
I get to Santana and immediately mount the long flight of stairs down to street level to transfer to a bus. When I was a rookie paulistano and still green in the ways of commuting, I used to wait on those interminable queues at the subway station for the next bus to take me home. Later, I learned to walk to the next corner, a mere two blocks away, where the choice in bus lines was far greater and the waiting time next to nothing.
Today, I happen to take a bus that I’m not too familiar with, and notice that it turns into a side street I’ve never been on before. Realizing I probably took the wrong conveyance in error, I walk up to the cobrador (change-maker) and ask him if the bus goes to Avenida Nova Cantareira. He stares at me for a moment and doesn’t answer.
Equally perplexed, I ask him a second time if the bus goes to Nova Cantareira. He rattles off some incomprehensible riposte, but then I notice a metal sign behind him that indicates this bus definitely does not go to my desired destination. I hurriedly get off and take the next one to the correct stop.
For someone such as myself – born in Brazil, but raised in the good ole USA – the impenetrable parlance of many of the Nordestinos (people from the Northeast), who populate the greater metropolitan area, both intrigued and exasperated me. But there was more than just their accent at work here. After being away from the country for close to 40 years, the native culture was now as alien to me as that of Afghanistan’s.
As an example, I once went with my wife to the Santana subway station in preparation for a trip to downtown. I decided to make a quick pit stop into the men’s room before venturing forth. It was the first time I had been in a Brazilian public restroom in nearly a quarter century, but I rightly assumed it to be similar (in most respects) to every other restroom I had ever used in my life, so I did not expect much in the way of difficulty.
When I got inside, I was greeted by a long and glistening metallic trough. It was slightly higher than my waist and covered the entire length of the bathroom wall. Not finding any of the usual stalls or urinals I had been accustomed to seeing in the States, I deduced that this must be where the guys did their thing, so I opened up the old fly, stood on my tiptoes, and proceeded to relieve myself.
No sooner had I begun, than a highly indignant subway employee – dressed somewhat like the janitor, I suppose – came over and started yelling at me. He rudely pushed me aside, the action of which led me to inquire as to the reason for his belligerent behavior. I gathered from his loud demeanor that I had committed some grievous faux pas, but couldn’t imagine what it might have been.
Zipping up my trousers, I attempted to explain myself to this hothead. From what I could fathom of the janitor’s shrill reprove, I shouldn’t have been doing what I had just done. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had urinated in the public sink tank, set aside for the main purpose of washing one’s hands and face.
I beat a hasty retreat from the restroom, flushed with enough vergonha (embarrassment) to light up Jardim Frana at Christmastime, and ran right into the protective arms of my dear and loving wife – who laughed uncontrollably at my discomfort when I told her what had transpired.
Let this particular incident serve as notice to any-and-all male newcomers to Brazil: when in doubt as to the public rest facilities, make sure you ask around before dipping your paintbrush into an unknown well.
It should also demonstrate to all foreign teachers that you must bring your Portuguese language and culture skills up to an acceptable communicative level, or you will be left by the wayside should a truly serious situation develop that necessitates your total involvement.
Part 21 next week…
Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes
A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.
To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:
Teaching English In Brazil Part 19
Teaching English In Brazil Part 18
Teaching English In Brazil Part 17
Teaching English In Brazil Part 16
Teaching English In Brazil Part 15
Teaching English In Brazil Part 14
Teaching English In Brazil Part 13
Teaching English In Brazil Part 12
Teaching English In Brazil Part 11
Brazil: Thrills, Spills, and… Oh Yes, No Ifs, Ands or Head-Butts, Please
Teaching English In Brazil Part 10
Teaching English In Brazil Part 9
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 4
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 4
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 3
Brazilian World Cup Debacle: Just Wait Till 2010! Part 2
Brazilian World Cup Debacle: Just Wait Till 2010! Part 1
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 3
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 2
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 2
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 1
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 1
Teaching English In Brazil Part 8
Teaching English In Brazil Part 7
Teaching English In Brazil Part 6
Teaching English In Brazil Part 5
Teaching English In Brazil Part 4
Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?“