Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock!

Well, after about a year and three months living in Brazil, today it’s finally time for me to pack my bags and head home. So for those of you who don’t know my (newest!) life plan yet, here it is....I applied for, got, and accepted a job teaching English in Moscow. I’ve always wanted to go to Russia.
BUT then I thought about it some more, and realised....I’m not done with Brazil yet.
So as soon as my work visa is processed, I’ll be flying straight back to Brazil. This means I’ll be in the UK for at least the next 2 ½ to 3 months. And I now find myself in a position I’ve not been in for over five years....I’m coming back to live in England for a while! I’m really looking forward to getting back and seeing everyone again, but at the risk of sounding dramatic (Who.....ME? DRAMATIC!?!), at the same time past experience tell me I need to brace myself for some reverse culture shock. 
"Yes, mine was the Big Mac with fries!"
 I guess coming back from Brazil will be easier to get used to than it was coming back from Japan (I won't be bowing at people who serve me in Tesco for a start!). Here is one thing I'm worried about though: that my overuse of Facebook may come back to haunt me. Facebook has become massive in the five years I’ve been away. I like using it because it’s pretty easy to keep track of what my friends get up to. But then Facebook isn’t only for my good friends....because over time I’ve found I’ve added quite a few acquaintances on here too. Some of these people I remember clearly how we met (it really didn’t take a long time for some of my friends to leave a lasting impression! Especially some of the guys I met in Japan.)...but some I really don’t remember how we met, or if I have actually ever spoken. You see, I'm really good with faces...but after that, my memory isn't so good! But these people appear on my Facebook wall; and I know as much about what they has been getting up to as I do about some of my ‘real’ friends! 

"Now then BFF! It's only bloody ME!!!"
Last time I was home I saw someone I know in a pub, and I enthusiastically went over for a chat. I knew a lot about what was going on in her life because she frequently updated her status on Facebook. Unfortunately for me in my drunken state, I’d completely forgotten this girl was someone I barely knew in ‘real life’. So she looked really confused when I bounded over for a catch up, because well, we had barely spoken before, and I guess my over familiarity made for an awkward moment! So here is a warning, don’t be my ‘friend’ on Facebook unless you want me to greet you like a long lost friend in ‘real life’, my memory isn’t great and I get confused!
  Another thing I find challenging to get my head around is how normal being back home is after such a short space of time. It doesn’t seem to matter how long I’ve been away for, after a few hours of being back it’s almost like I’ve never been away. Of course, this is great, but it lulls me into a false sense of security, because it’s like everything you have done before didn’t actually happen. Only it did happen, and people have moved on. So when you are laughing and joking with your friends, and they reference a private joke you know nothing about...then you stop laughing and need to ask what they are talking about, it's weird! You have to remind yourself that the reason you don’t know what they are laughing at is because you have been away, and not because they have been sneakily doing stuff without you!
  Slotting back into life at home can be quite frustrating when you forget small things too. I’ll give you an example of this; the first time I went home after being away for a year and a half, I turned on my Orange pay as you go phone, and found it was still working! Wheeeeeeeeeeey! So me and my sister Hannah went into the phone shop and called over one of the sales men. Maybe I’m wrong, but in England there are only two types of people who work in these shops. First there are those people who are really good at what they do, and know exactly what they are talking about. Then there are those guys who really shouldn’t be there and don’t seem to know anything about phones.

"Sorry, I'm kinda lost! What networks
are there in England?"
   So I was in this phone shop when this second type of phone shop guy walked over. When we started talking to him he looked like he was having trouble remembering to breathe, let alone breathe AND remember to answer my questions at the same time. The conversation went a bit like this:
 
“How much does a phone call cost to other Orange users?”
“5p a minute”
 “How much does it cost to call other networks, like O2 and, erm....sorry, what other networks are there again?”
The next five seconds were really uncomfortable, as me, Hannah and the phone shop guy all stood there staring at each other. I could see I'd surprised the phone shop guy. He might not have been able to spell his own name without the help of his name badge, but at this moment in time he had kicked my ass at, well....life!
I stood there feeling pretty stupid....how could I have forgotten something so basic? I turned to Hannah, who thought this was hilarious! Whilst staring at me she said, “oh my God, Andrew!” Then she turned to the phone shop guy and said “I’m really sorry, he has been in Japan for a few years, that’s why he can’t remember!”  
"Seriously, don't piss Mummy off....off you little shit!"
And on the same afternoon when we were walking down the high street, I saw a woman walking hand in hand with her kid not too far away. This kid must have really done something to piss Mummy off, because as we got closer to them, she stopped walking, looked at her kid, and slapped his backside really hard! Not surprisingly he started crying. I turned to Hannah and said “Jesus, did you see that woman smacking her kid?” Hannah looked at me like I hadn’t finished what I was saying....and simply said this,”and?” I was reminded that I was now in Scarborough and this was quite normal down Scarborough high street! I’d forgotten how the same standards didn’t apply here.


"And this one time,
in Brazil!"

  Also, the three times I have been home since I was living in Japan, I couldn’t stop starting the majority of my stories with “In Japan (and I am pretty sure I will be starting all my stories with ‘in Brazil’ when I get back). I get annoyed with myself for doing this after a while, so I imagine I must really be quite annoying for other people....so please bear with me whilst I settle back in guys (and get some new stories!).
   I guess me and this blog will be having a vacation from each other for a good few months. Thanks for taking the time to check it out; and for everyone reading in the UK, I hope to see as many of you as I can whilst I’m back...even if you don’t really know me that well but you have me on your Facebook list! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Attitudes Towards Sexuality and, erm...Beer Bottles!

This blog was written a few weeks ago, at the same time I wrote my ‘New Year in Ubatuba’ blog. Whilst the tone of that blog was quite pleasant, I realised that what I wrote alongside it didn't sit so well. I guess you could say this blog also links well with my last blog about Sao Paulo gay pride too, in that, from what I’ve seen of Brazil in the year or so I’ve been here, it would appear it is no accident one of the biggest gay pride events in the world happens here....because people appear much more open about sex, and how they express their sexualities.
To describe why, let me start by taking this opportunity to go back to the New Year’s house party I previously described in Ubatuba. Myself and my housemates had left the beach to continue partying, and someone plugged their ipod into some speakers, and pumped out some dance music. As I walked inside to get a beer, the music changed from the bubble gum pop we were listening to, to some Funk Carioca. I doubt I will forget in a hurry what I saw next....as I walked outside, the group of about 8 women that I was sharing a house with (whom I had thought were lovely up until this point!) were dancing obscenely! They had their asses a few inches off the ground, and were thrusting their crotches quite aggressively, in time to the music, like they were something out of a banned rap video/dogs on heat!
"Right, I've got me bottle,
now get them 'choons on!"
This on its own wasn’t shocking, after all, we were at a party. However not long after this, these girls then upped the stakes. I had NEVER up until this point seen ladies dancing in public like this before....they started doing the ‘bottle dance’! There were beer bottles strategically placed on the floor, and the women were grinding their hips and lowering their crotches in the direction of the beer bottles. They were contorting their bodies as they moved up and down over the neck of the bottle...in a very erotic way!
The almost middle aged guy in me was wondering if this was safe, imagine if one of these women, in their shit-faced state, slipped onto of these glass bottles, how would you explain that down at A&E! But I think it was the sheer shamelessness of it that struck me as very different to what I’m used to. They looked so comfortable with themselves dancing like this. I’m from England (the country that gave the world Jane Austen), and generally, in England the women don’t dance like this, because I guess it’s not how women are supposed to behave.


Actually, scrap that, women kind of do sometimes behave like this. Anyone who has been in a nightclub ten minutes before closing time will vouch for me here, when I say it’s not uncommon to see a group of women stampeding onto the dance floor to dance to something like Beyonce or Christina Aguilaira just before chucking out time. By doing so, the women who walked in to the club sober, are now after a skin full of drinks, more likely to be going all out, and be throwing themselves around, tits and asses swinging all over the place!

Well ladies, over here this provocative dancing has been taken to a WHOLE new level....and some! I later found this on Wikipedia to describe what I'd been listening to:

Funk carioca (English: Rio Funk), favela funk and, elsewhere in the world, baile funk, is a type of dance music from Rio de Janeiro, derived from Miami bass.[1][2]
 Although originated in Rio, funk carioca has become increasingly popular amongst (mainly) low classes in other parts of Brazil.

In Brazil, Funk Carioca lyrics are often criticized due to their violent and sexually explicit, as well as misogynistic content - the degradation of women as objects for sex is a recurring theme in funk Carioca. Girls are called "cachorras" (dogs) - meaning bitches - and "popozudas" - large asses, and many songs revolve around casual and degrading sex practices with them.

"Novinhas" (young/underaged girls) as sexual objects are also a frequent theme in funk songs.[19]

I've included a bit of funk for you here, without the bottles!


It did make me wonder why I had been so surprised to see women dancing in such an unrestrained way. Why was I so pruish? A few days later though I was reading a British tabloid newspaper online, and it was discussing the X Factor final. I quote:

The X Factor final was the most controversial broadcast of recent times.Rihanna stripped to a bikini to perform What's My Name alongside a troupe of scantily-dressed dancers.

Later in the programme, watched by a peak audience of 18.8million, Miss Aguilera gave a provocative performance as she sang Burlesque alongside dancers in risqué lingerie. Parents were furious about the 'soft porn' routines, which featured lewd poses and provocative costumes, and described the scenes as a 'terrible role model' for children.
Christina, doing it for the kids!
In England one tabloid in particular, The Sun, is famous for having topless women on its page three. Tabloids are also known to print kiss and tells, and where some slapper will rate a footballers performance in bed. They often accompany this story with a picture of a 'kiss-and-tell girl' in HER 'lingerie' capturing HER 'lewd poses'.

Arguably parents can choose if their children can watch the X Factor and its risque performances; but any kid can walk into a newsagents and buy a tabloid. This seems to be ok, but Christina dancing in her underwear on TV doesn't. The lines of what are and what aren't acceptable when it comes to sex are quite blurred in England...which on reflection, is pretty strange.
But the lines appear to be anything but over here!

Originally I had assumed that it’s unlikely that you would go to a Brazilian family party, and they would do the bottle dance in between something like A-Ha and Britney Spears. Surely what I’d seen at the party was not something everyone would rush to the dance floor to do!?!
Well, I was wrong!

I was recently talking to my flat mate Kiko about what I was going to be writing in this blog. He told me that he was once at a family party, and he looked over to see his mother doing this dance. I incorrectly assumed he would be mortified that his mother was basically simulating a sex act in front him, all of his friends and relatives. His response however was far from what I had expected!
“Andrew, everybody does this only to enjoy, there is no problem!” I explained that I’d be quite embarrassed if I ever saw my Mum do the ‘bottle dance’, because, well, she would look like a whore it would be very out of character...”Andrew, you absolutely have a dirty mind!” And before I go any further, I must point out that Kiko’s mother is actually a lovely woman. From what I’ve seen of Brazilian mothers, she seems to be quite typical in that she is very family oriented, loves to cook and takes a very active role in her childrens lives....she just happens to do the bottle dance at parties! And from other conversations with Brazilians, she isn’t the only one!

"That's right ladies, you just go over there
and dance around a bit!"
Arguably the bottle dance has been around for about 15 years now, so everyone over here might have become a little desensitised to it. Yet you just have to watch Brazilian TV to see that Brazilians seem to be much more open about sex and sexuality than us Brits. I have seen quite a few shows (some during the day) that tend to include dancing women in bikinis, scattered around the studio.
I don’t watch these because I am a big perve, but because these are what are on over here. These women are never spoken to by the presenters, they are there simply to dance on the spot, and to occasionally pout at the camera. And often there isn’t actually any music on for them to dance to, but they still dance anyway! (And when I say ‘dance’, I mean they stand on the spot and sway a bit, so their breasts jiggle about!)
One Sunday afternoon I asked Kiko why there were women in bikini’s having their asses washed, with sponges, by a male contestant on a game show?”  “Well, erm.....why wouldn’t they be Andrew!?!"
Perhaps this is how Christina should have danced
on the X Factor!
Sex is very in-your-face over here, but who am I to judge? I might be from the country that gave the world Jane Austen, but I am also from the country with one of the highest teen pregnancies in Western Europe.
I’ll let you read between the lines as to what I’m getting at...but I will say this, to those British tabloid newspapers with a problem with Rihanna and Christina dancing in their underwear, get yourself over to Brazil....there are plenty of mothers over here, with a few bottles, and a few dance moves they would like to show you!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sao Paulo Gay Pride 2011 (Photo Sabotage!)

Since I wrote my last blog a few weeks back, Sao Paulo gay pride rolled into town! Last Sunday was the biggest gay pride in the world, with about 4 million people out on the streets. I have not been to a gay pride outside of Sao Paulo, so I'm not sure how similar it is to other 'pride' events out there. But it was very similar to the 'blocos' I went to during Rio carnival, in that large lorries would drive very slowly down the street, pumping out dance music...and everyone would follow. On top of these lorries were mainly dancing guys wearing speedos, with bodies very similar to mine...obviously!

I had planned to stay for just a few hours, take a few pictures of some horrendous trannies and be home in time for tea....but I ended up staying much longer because despite the rain, there was a great party atmosphere. Perhaps the most random thing that happened was documented by this picture.

Of course there were a load of transvestites out to party; there were actually times when I felt like I was in some kind of transvestite zoo! Along with a lot of other snap-happy party goers, I took plenty of pictures of the (mainly bad) transvestites! I guess if you are a big exhibitionist and into dressing flamboyantly, gay pride must be your idea of heaven, because it really is an attention seekers paradise! One tranny in particular had me reaching for my camera, to make sure I had a picture before he had chance to disappear into the crowd.
So this guy was dressed as a ballet dancer, and had the whole ballet get-up on. However, he was really going all out to be noticed in his tu-tu, and he was walking around on his tip toes. He actually looked like he was in pain as he was tottering around, trying to draw attention to himself. So naturally, he was very happy to pose for a picture with me and my friend Bruno! Just as my friend Kiko was about to take the picture, the ballet tranny’s friend came running over. This transvestite was wearing some kind of slutty marching band outfit, and without saying a word, he dramatically did the splits in front of us.
Sensing Kodak gold, an excited woman (who as you can see, could quite easily have passed for a Brazilian bag woman) ran over just in time for the picture to be taken. So there was me and my friend Bruno, ballet tranny, splits tranny and random bag woman all posing for this picture (above). The reason I love this picture is because, by splits tranny doing the splits, she has made sure ballet tranny’s really pointy feet can’t be seen (the reason I wanted this picture!).
I’d like to think this was done deliberately, ands that splits tranny was being malicious!
After this picture was taken, and as we all started to break the pose, splits tranny was still in the splits position and needed a bit of help to get up....not surprising! But when he eventually got up, he looked mortified! In his rush to be the main focus of my picture, he had forgotten that it had been raining quite a lot, and that the road still had a lot of rain on it. His beige knickers were now soaking and a bit wet! Well, when I say a bit, I am lying....they were a lot wet, and he definitely looked like he had just wet himself in his cheerleading knickers. I couldn’t help but laugh a lot at his sad face, yet at the same time 100% admire him for doing the splits just for my picture!




As I walked off I wondered if ballet tranny would have been angry with splits tranny for stealing the limelight and would now be just a few minutes away from kicking splits tranny's wet ass.....with her toes and feet perfectly positioned!





Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ubatuba New Year

One thing I hadn’t thought about as I was leaving Brazil, was how cold it could get over here. And why would I!?! I guess on each rare occasion Brazil is on the news back home, the news crews don't tend to film Brazilians wearing jumpers or jackets in winter. Perhaps I had naively imagined tropical weather here, all day, every day...with people doing a bit of samba round the supermarkets, as they did their weekly shopping in their bikinis.

Well I’m here now, and not only does this not happen, but I am happy I packed those sweaters!
Kiko and Larissa, on route to Ubatuba.
Whilst mornings over here aren’t nearly as cold as they can be in England, it can still be pretty chilly. On a night it gets to about as low as 5/10 degrees. For me this is a bit cold, but not nearly as cold as I’m used to. I was fascinated when I saw one elderly woman on the news recently, and she was stood there with all of her clothes on, warming up her bed sheets with a hairdryer. Then she got into bed, put the hairdryer under the sheets and again turned it on (Oi, Oi!) to get a bit warmer. Why she hadn’t gone out to buy a heater, or why she had invited the news crews into her bedroom to film her, as she lay there with a hairdryer under the sheets, I have no idea! But you get the idea...she was cold (and a little bit mental!). Hearing Brazilians complain about cold weather any time they need to put a sweater on is quite surprising for me! 
But let me take this opportunity to reminisce about at time when the weather was much warmer, during my summer vacation in December (And yea, I still think it’s weird that the seasons fall on different months of the year!).
Last November when my friend Kiko invited me to join him and his friends on a trip to Ubatuba, I jumped at the chance. Ubatuba is a coastal city, and not particularly famous with foreigners outside of Brazil, so going there for New Year gave me the opportunity to experience how New Year is commonly celebrated by Brazilians!
Compared to the hustle and bustle of the Sao Paulo life I have become used to, Ubatuba is a much more relaxing place to be. Our place was just one block from the beach and there was not nearly as much traffic, so needless to say, during the day we spent plenty of our time relaxing on the beach. I was pretty excited about spending my first New Year on a beach too (and I mean in a hot country...I am not counting being on Scarborough beach in England here!).
After going out for a meal on New Year’s Eve at about 10pm (I have just made myself sound really sophisticated haven’t I, we just went out for some pizza!), we drove towards our house near the beach. There were so many people out on the streets, all wearing white and drinking beer. Over here white is worn to see in the New Year here because it is supposed to bring peace for the upcoming year.

After going back to the house and grabbing a few beers, myself and the other eleven people I was sharing the house with headed down to the beach to join the party.
 
But just as we were leaving the house, it started chucking it down! So five minutes later I was stood on the beach; in the rain, in my white tee-shirt, wet and a little cold (I apologise now to the ladies imagining me like this, I didn’t mean to excite you!)....wondering what the hell I was doing! The rain didn’t dampen the party spirit though, and as luck would have it, about ten minutes before midnight, the rain stopped. The fireworks went off at midnight to signal the start of the New Year.
The guys I shared a house with in Ubatuba.
Two of my good friends, Kiko and Larissa, popped open their sparkling wine at the stroke of midnight. As you can imagine, midnight was pretty rowdy, and they shook these bottles and sprayed everyone around them with sparkling wine. It was obvious from looking at one girl, who was stood next to Kiko, that she had spent a while putting her make up on before leaving the house. One moment she was jumping up and down celebrating with everyone, and the next, Kiko had managed to absolutely soak her with a huge spray of sparkling wine...completely wiping the smile (and half her make up) off her face! She stopped jumping around after this. After everyone had finished hugging and kissing (I have come to realise that Brazilian’s need much of an excuse to do this! Although kissing on the lips was a big no-no, apparently this is weird. So by default, this made me weird until about 12.02am, when I was told not to do this anymore!), what happened next was quite bizarre! I had been told what to expect, but seeing it with my own eyes was a real eye opener.
Everyone ran towards the sea. And when I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE! 
The drive home.
You had grannies, teenagers, some kids and parents all running over towards the sea (in the dark), and everyone started jumping over the waves! Doing this is supposed to bring good luck. If you live by the beach in Brazil, I was told that it’s tradition for you to jump over the waves, seven times, as soon as it hits midnight, and make your wishes to the sea gods for the new year.
The sight of overweight, elderly women running into the sea at midnight, in the dark, jumping over the waves (like Sally Gunnell)...well, it was pretty surreal! There were also a lot of people on the beach lighting candles and placing gifts on the sand (I later found out these were being offered to the goddess of the sea, so my pleasure at seeing free things people had left on the beach turned to disappointment when I learnt the finders-keepers rule didn’t apply here!). And for the next twenty minutes, everyone celebrated on the beach against the backdrop of fireworks.

After this, myself and my housemates went back to the house to continue partying, and someone plugged their ipod into the speakers and blasted out some music. I remember going inside to get a beer, and I doubt I will forget in a hurry what I saw next as I walked back outside. I had NEVER seen ladies dancing in public like this before......

 
But this deserves a whole blog of its own!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Speedos, Nudity and Watermelons!

About a month ago I was at home reading (cough) The Sun Online (cough!), when I came across an article about the ‘sizzling hot weather’ Britain was experiencing. Under this headline was a picture of a crowded Brighton beach. “I really no understand why the peoples go the beach with many clothes” was what my Brazilian housemate said when he saw this picture. I explained to him that going to the beach in England was very different to going to the beach here in Brazil; because it is rarely hot enough to be walking around in just your swimwear. “I really no imagine going to the beach in many clothes! Where are the bikikis and where is the sunga?” The word sunga means speedo in Portuguese, and I know this because of a previous conversation I had had with him.
A week or so before travelling to the beach, Kiko asked me “do you have your clothes for the beach?”, “Of course I do” I replied. “So what colour are your sunga?” I remember being bemused as to how I should answer this question, I thought it must surely have been a joke. Yet it was apparent from the look on his face that he was being deadly serious! I explained how British people don’t really wear speedos...because they are pretty tight, and, well, pretty revealing! As I was soon to discover though, for an overwhelmingly large number of Brazilian men this is not an issue, sungas are considered to be staple beach wear. A few weeks after this conversation I was on the beach, and literally every guy was sporting a sunga! Before coming to Brazil, when I had imagined being on a beach over here, I had pictured the sun, clear blue seas, golden beaches and palm trees, and this was what I got...but what I definitely hadn’t imagined was all of this AND trying to avert my eyes....as some middle aged, hairy, Brazilian men ran out of the cold sea (Baywatch style) in speedos!
The only rule I have been told that applies for speedo use over here is that they shouldn’t be white, because as you can imagine, these reveal a little too much!
When I enquired about using my local gym a few months back, I discovered that sungas are not simply worn at the beach. I was told I could use the pool, but only if I wore a pair of speedos. Board shorts there are not acceptable. I remember being pretty surprised by this, as it was only a few months ago I read a story about how a British holiday park had banned men from wearing speedos in their pools. I had naively assumed most other countires would share the same British view when it came to attitudes towards speedos. For an area used by so many women and children, it’s easy for me to imagine why men wearing tight spandex may cause some discomfort to people using the pool's facilities. However this attitude is evidently not adopted here in Brazil, or indeed in the majority of countries around the world...which got me thinking. 
I had no qualms about wearing speedos up until the age of 17, when I used to be into competitive swimming. I guess back then I considered them to be practical, and besides, everyone else in my team wore them. As I have got older I have come to accept that not only are they very unfashionable in England, but there are cultural ramifications for wearing a speedo. As a man, if your ball bag is visible at the beach or at a swimming pool in the UK, people are quick to assume you are either gay, or (how should I word this)....a bit of a perv.
A Japanese onsen, and these guys are just
 in the buff! This onsen definitely looked a little different
to the onsen at my local gym!
I remember it was not long after arriving in Japan that I started to use my local gym (I'm making myself sound like I'm really into the gym aren't I!). After using the gym for the first time I took a shower, and then I used the large, outdoor bath(called an onsen). But to use the onsen, you need to get butt naked! Foreigners in Japan will talk about the first time they bit the bullet, took off all their clothes in front of their Japanese friends and/or co-workers, and used the onsen; because this concept is pretty alien to us at first. Unless of course (and perhaps a little randomly!) you are a rugby player, then it is perfectly acceptable to be naked in a bath with your team mates. At first, this onsen experience felt a bit strange, yet by the time it came to leaving Japan I really thought nothing of whipping off my clothes for a soak in the bath, regardless of who I was with. I guess each culture has its own set of rules about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to the beach/bath/swimming pool...and that I have come to realise British men are definitely a little prudish in comparison to some of out international neighbours! My Brazilian friend's attitude is "so you might be able to see my dick through my sunga. And? Don't look if it's a problem!"
While I was at the beach, one of the girls I was with asked me what British women usually wear when they visit the beach. I explained when women go abroad, it is not uncommon for them to go topless. As that, this girl looked very shocked (almost disgusted), and explained that over here this would be considered low class behaviour. Walking around in a skimpy bikini (that could easily have been made with dental floss) is acceptable, but fully exposing your breasts is not. This of course seemed quite surprising to me, perhaps because to Brits abroad seeing a topless woman on the beach is not really a big deal!
Over here you get all kinds of shapes and sizes on the beach. I remember the first time I was at the beach in Rio, and I was sunbathing. I looked over at one woman who, with the greatest respect to her, was fookin’ enormous! She had on a tiny thong, and had maybe the biggest behind I’d ever seen. Then when she bent down to get something out of her bag, what I was looking at could quite easily have been the back end of a horse! If she was English this woman would probably have been one of those women who goes into the sea in a big, black, baggy tee-shirt to hide her body, whilst at the same time looking slightly uncomfortable splashing around in the waves.

But this woman definitely wasn’t British! She was walking around with such confidence and not a hint of being self conscious and with all of her curves spilling out in her tiny bikini, I was taken aback!
Watermelon woman, just helping out with the bins!
From what I have noticed, women with curves seem to be celebrated much more over here than they do in back in England. And when talking about curvy Brazilians, now seems like a good opportunity to introduce you to one unique Brazilian celebrity. She became famous simply because of her natural curves...and the woman I am talking about is Watermelon woman.
I have included a picture of Watermelon woman, so I can leave it to your imagination as to why she has been given this name! I have seen her on a few afternoon TV shows now, and she tends to walk out in her bikini, and her purpose for being there is simply to show her curvy ass off to the viewers! Then when she dances, her large ass shakes, and at this the audience claps and cheers at her ass. Sometimes Watermelon woman may even bend down to pick something up (without bending her knees of course!); which gets the same response from the audience!

I still find it difficult to believe this is an actual person....but you can give us Watermelon woman over skinny Victoria Beckham any day!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Shopping

I am really enjoying living in Brazil, and am quite surprised at how quickly my time here has gone...over a year already! Although the language is still a challenge for me, I feel like I have adapted quite well to the Brazilian culture. However, there is just one thing I have difficulties getting used to.....the supermarkets! For me going to the supermarket can often be stressful. Let me explain why.

When I finish my shopping in the supermarket I head to to the check out, and usually wait a few minutes before being served. Of course is pretty standard; but then comes the part that really gets to me, I come face to face with the check out woman! The woman sitting on a checkout in any given supermarket in Sao Paulo usually hates her life . It doesn’t seem to matter which supermarket you go to, the woman looks like she hates it with a passion, so it is guaranteed that she will never smile at you. And you can see, just by looking at her face, she hates you too!
My friend Renata pretending to work in a supermarket,
obviously she is pretending and not really working there....
because she is smiling!

Before the last customer has had chance to pack all of their food, this woman is scanning and flinging your food down to the other side of the check out...and because the last person to buy their food is still packing their things (and so is in your way), you have to wait a while before you are able to start packing (Hoping the other person does not accidentally pack your food too!)
I’ve been packing my things before, when the check out woman has seen her friend shopping, and without so much as a sorry afterwards, she has stopped what she is doing to have a minute long conversation with this shopper.

Sometimes if her friend on the next check out wants to have a chat, this woman will definitely stop what she is doing for a while to turn around have a gossip with her check out buddy...as you stand there waiting!
Then it comes to paying. If you have the correct change, then you are ok. If the check out woman has a lot of money in her till, then usually, there won’t be any problems either. However, if you pull a note out of your pocket...this is what usually happens.
The woman will glare at you, like you have just gone into her house on Christmas morning....and pissed all over her kids Christmas presents. She will then look at the note, and then again look at you, then ask you if you have change. When you say no, it’s pretty common for this woman to sigh at you, like you have REALLY inconvenienced her life, and then call someone over to get some change!

If you are shopping in a large supermarket, when that assistant arives at the checkout they are usually wearing roller skates! Despite being here a while now, it still makes me smile when I see one of these roller-skating-till-supervisors. These roller skaters need to get around the supermarket quickly, doing emergency price checks; so to be on the safe side, as well as roller skates they wear crash helmests and knee and elbow pads. In the minute or so it takes for the change to arrive, the checkout woman will be glaring up at the ceiling, checking out the dirt under her finger nails...anything really, to avoid speaking to, or looking at you. And in doing this, she is making sure that everyone waiting knows you are the reason there is a hold up, because you are paying with a note (I’d love it if my notes are massive too, but they never are!)! When the check out woman eventually gets the change, she will drop it into your hand without looking at you, and then immediately start scanning the next customers food; again, throwing their food down to the other side of the check out....so you have to make sure you don’t get their food mixed in with your own food (unless of course, they have bought something delicious!).

Me and a roller-skating till supervisor!

I am not exaggerating when I say that this happens often when you go to the supermarket.  I think these women seem so much ruder compared to the rest of the Brazilian’s living in Sao Paulo, because the majority of people here are so friendly.  When I asked my students why these women are so rude, they simply say “well, these people don’t get paid so much. But if you go to (they then name an expensive supermarket), they are a little friendlier in there!” It is quite interesting how people with low paid jobs are almost excused for having a bad attitude! But to be honest, I couldn’t care less how much money these check out women are on....I want a smile with my loaf of bread, milk and Frosties!
And you get the other extreme from the ‘I hate life’ supermarket women too....the clothing shop assistants. Just yesterday I had a bit of time to kill, and so I went into the shopping centre and had a look in one of the clothes shops. The assistant saw me walk in, and straight away came over to start making conversation. After telling him I wasn’t looking for anything specific, I then started looking through the racks. I wasn’t sure how rude I needed to be to this guy, before he took the hint that I didn’t want his help or to talk to him....but he stood about a foot behind me, still trying to talk to me, watching over me as I looked at the clothes on the racks. I couldn’t relax with him stood there, especially when he saw a tee-shirt he thought I might like (one I had already looked at on the rack), and started asking me if I would like to try it on!
I resisted the urge to push him into the rack of clothes behind me, said no, and left not long after! And this happens quite often in clothes shops in Sao Paulo (this guys wasn't lonely, he was just doing his job!), where the staff must be on commission.

I am not good at handling people who are too pushy or too friendly in shops...or too miserable and rude! There doesn't seem to be much of a balance when shopping in Sao Paulo. Having said that the roller-skating till supervisors almost make up for the bad customer service. They definitely need a few of these down at Tesco!  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Teaching- Part Two


Sao Paulo from my old apartment-
the city I am soon to be leaving behind.

Last week I bought my ticket back to England because I have wedding to get back for (sister Creel’s!). So I have just a few months left working as an English teacher in Brazil (for this year at least, I bought a return ticket coming back in January!). Recently I was teaching a class in my student’s offices. My students were reading from the text book, and one of the exercises focused on a guy at an airport. He was complaining about airports, and said that now he is “sick of flying”. One of my students asked me for the meaning of the term ‘sick of’, and I explained to this student it was when you were fed up with something/when you no longer liked doing something. I then said, “so, can you give me an example of something you are sick of?” “Yes” she replied confidently, “I’m sick of your classes”. Ouch! After a couple of seconds of silence she then started to polite-laugh/sneer at me....I have a feeling me and this student won’t be swapping email addresses when I leave!

This incident aside, work has been going well recently. For those of you I haven’t told about my set-up to, let me explain. I split half of my working hours teaching for a business school, and the other half is spent teaching private classes. Because Brazil is a third world country, I had previously been under the impression teaching would not have been very well paid over here. However after doing a little research, it quickly became apparent that I would be able to support myself as a teacher over here. Within a few days of looking for a teaching job, I’d secured interviews with a couple of schools around the area I am living in. Before attending the first interview, I checked out the school’s address on Google maps, and with my hand-drawn map I set off. I was surprised to follow this map down a very dodgy residential area (So....a shit hole!), and found the ‘school’ was actually someone’s house. There was digging going on outside as I knocked on the door. I was greeted by a Swedish woman, who invited me in, and alarm bells definitely started ringing when she locked the door behind me! This woman then told me to take a seat in the hall (next to a student who was waiting for class with her teacher, and this teacher was just finishing up her class in the classroom/kitchen). It was pretty hot, so all the windows were open, and all the noise from the construction outside was filtering into the hallway.
The woman pulled up a chair opposite me, and told me she hadn’t had a chance to look at my CV, but if I wanted a job I could start the following evening. She then briefly described pay (in front of this student)....but just before she had finished talking, there was a power cut! The workers must have done something to affect the cables! I was literally sat there in the dark, with this woman’s laptop lighting up her embarrassed face. She was apologising on one hand, but on the other, asking me to recommend her school to ANY friends I might have had who were looking for a teaching job. Needless to say, I didn’t take her up on her offer nor did I recommend her school to my friends, and I went with a different school.
"Hey guys, Andrew's here!"
The majority of my classes are in offices within a 5 to 10 minute walk from either a bus stop or a train station...which of course isn’t bad at all. However, for those classes 15 minutes or more away I have a bit of a problem. And that problem is....sweating! Walking around in temperatures between 30-35 degrees in my work clothes and my heavy backpack, means that when I enter a company’s office, I often look like I’ve just got out of a swimming pool....fully clothed!
And it is only recently (after being here for over a year) that I have given in, and started using my umbrella to shield me from this aggressive sun shine! Yea, I might look like Michael Jackson walking round a theme park, but at least now I don’t need to worry about dripping as much sweat all over those company carpets!
As speaking English is important for my students, the majority have a very good attitude towards learning. They often actively study outside the classroom, and have a very positive attitude whilst in class. However I used to teach a woman who contradicted everything I have just said! Let’s just say...she was very bizarre! After dragging my ass out of bed at some ungodly hour, I would often wait for a long time for her to arrive at her company’s reception. When she eventually arrived (anything up to an hour late), she would stand there in the hallway and scream my name. Then she would turn, power walk down the hall to her office, expecting me to catch up with her. She never apologised for being late, and would glare at me when I asked her my standard ‘tell me about your weekend’ question. Once she simply replied, “you know I don’t do much on a weekend. Why do you always ask me that!?!” I know I’m not the easiest person to be around first thing in the morning, but this woman was something else!
Then there was the time she completely surprised me, and was so nice to me I was wondering what was wrong with her! On this particular day she must have had time to brush her hair, she was wearing a short skirt, and had plastered some very red lipstick on her lips (and quite a bit smeared across one of her front teeth). After about 5 minutes of her telling to me about her weekend, I drew her attention to some mistakes I’d written down in my notebook for her. She looked at me, mid-sentence, flicked her hair to one side, and said in a slightly sexy/maybe-she-needs-to-cough-type voice, “oh Andrew, you are such a BAD BOY!” Seriously, this actually happened! I don't teach her anymore! 
When I first came to Sao Paulo, I remember walking down Paulista Avenue and being quite taken back by how many people of different nationalities, races, shapes and sizes there were (having come from Japan where I was told less than 1%  of the population are foreign residents). Sao Paulo is a real cultural melting pot, and naturally I fully expected this to be reflected in the offices I taught in. I was quite surprised then, to find that this is not the case. I teach in quite a few multinational companies, and have yet to see one person of African or Caribbean heritage represented in the office environment in a non security/cleaning role. I saw a black guy walking around an office once, and later when I talked my student, I commented on how refreshing it was for me to see this; however my student informed me that although this guy was wearing a suit, he was merely there to shine shoes. So of all the students I teach in companies, not one of them is of African or Caribbean heritage.
Seu Jorge
I teach in an area of Sao Paulo very close to an extremely wealthy residential area. My student informed me that one of the most popular singers in Brazil, Seu Jorge, also lives in the area. For those of you who have never heard of him, he is a black singer who was born in a favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro. He was discovered, and is now a multimillion selling artist (youtube him if you get the chance, he is pretty good!). My student told me that one day Seu was outside his house  cleaning his Porsche, when he was approached by some thieves who demanded his car keys.  Seu Jorge calmly told these thieves that he was a cleaner, and not actually the owner of the car so he didn’t have the keys to this car. After hearing this, these guys immediately accepted the story and walked away. I guess this story goes some way to illustrate how black people are perceived in this city.
I teach a lot of my classes ‘in company’. This means I teach in my student’s offices, and with security in this city being the way it is, I am required to identify myself with some ID each time I enter a building. As I hand over my ID, I let the person on the front desk know that the “Professor de Ingles” has arrived. That’s right, I might have skipped the masters and PHD, but over here, yours truly is already a professor! “Yes my name is Andrew...he is expecting me, I am his professor!” Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeey! It’s quite depressing to think when I next look for work in a few months, it could be in recession hit England....


”Yes, my name is Andrew. Yes, that’s correct, the caravan cleaner. Can you get someone to show me where the Jif is please!”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Teaching- Part One

Since my last blog, I have moved into a new apartment...and I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is not to have tramps chilling outside my front door (and then of course there was the human shit incident, which I would quite like to forget!). I now live with my Brazilian friend Kiko, and we have quite an eccentric landlord. The guy is in his 50’s, and he had previously told me his twenty-something-year-old daughter is an actress on a popular Brazilian soap. So within the first few days of being in our new apartment, we were sat in his study about to sign our leases for the apartment.

My eyes were drawn to a picture of a blonde woman in a photo frame on his desk. This woman was leaning (a little inappropriately!) over a banister with a low cut dress on, and to fill the silence I asked, “is this your daughter?” I certainly wasn’t expecting the reply that followed, “No Andrew, this is not my daughter. That is my wife”.  AWKWARD! He then explained how his daughter is about the same age as his wife.

Our landlord’s front door is just a few meters from ours, and whenever he wants to speak to either me or my friend, instead of just knocking, he will walk over to the frosted glass window on the door, and press his face up against it. I guess this way he can check if anyone is moving before he knocks! Only he doesn’t knock, he stands there and calls out our names (with his face still pressed against the window!). As you can imagine, the curtain over the door is now permanently drawn! 


View from the window of my school.

So let me describe a little bit about the world of English teaching in Sao Paulo to you. When I realised my life in telesales was coming to an end, (around the same time that I was so poor I had to stop myself rummaging through other peoples bin bags for food!), I seriously began looking into teaching English full time. Because Brazil is a third world country, I had previously been under the impression teaching was not going to be very well paid over here. However it quickly became apparent to me that this was not necessarily the case, and that I would certainly be able to support myself teaching.

I spent four years teaching in Japan, and it would be fair to say a large portion of my adult students tended to be quite quiet in class, and if you explained something to them, then asked if they understood...and answer of 'yes' didn’t always mean they had really understood. Often you would have to check this, to ensure they weren’t simply trying to save face in front of the other students.

However, my Brazilian students aren’t in the slightest bit embarrassed about letting me know they don’t understand. One of the things that shocked me the most within my first few classes here, was when I was teaching a man and a woman in their 30s. The guy I was talking to mispronounced a word, and after he had finished talking, I told him to be careful...because to me it sounded like he had said the word ‘slag’. I explained this was a bad word, and then attempted to move on to the next section of the text book. However, as soon as I had said this, I noticed the woman’s eyes had lit up, and she asked “so what does slag mean?”

As I explained to this business executive that ‘a slag’ was a negative term for a woman who enjoys sex, and has multiple sexual partners, she smiled. Then responded by asking, “well....what’s negative about that? As long as she isn’t taking money for sex, this isn’t a bad thing!” I’m British, and get embarrassed a lot easier than I would like when talking about things like this in formal settings. And as my face turned a light shade of red, it was at this moment I realised that teaching in Brazil would be a whole different ball game to the one I had been used to!
 Yet I do not want to give the impression that my experience was that ALL of my Japanese students were shy, quiet and reluctant to reveal anything about themselves. This was simply not the case, as one of the most shocking things I have had to deal with happened in a Japanese classroom!


Nova-The first school I worked at in Japan
 (obviously I couldn't put a picture up of
the woman who had had a smear test!)

I learnt that the Japanese have no qualms about letting you know all about their aliments! I remember on more than one occasion respectable middle aged women going into detail about how they were unable to enjoy their weekend because of really bad diarrhoea! And don’t even get me started on the woman who brought pictures the doctors had taken....internally....of her intestines! 
Whilst I have yet to discuss smear tests with my Brazilian students, I have definitely also been shocked during some of my classes over here. I was once asked by an older lady, “do you like bitches?” Turns out the 'ee' and 'i' sound is difficult for them to differentiate. So this woman wasn’t actually enquiring about my choice of hoes!
Also, a lot of people have told me about affairs they have had....and it took me a while to work out they simply just meant relationships (with single people), and that they were not telling me about the married men and women they were sleeping with!
I had a student ask me, in front of the rest of the class, with a straight face, if I wanted to see a picture of his fantasy! As he pulled out his camera phone to show me the picture, I gasped in horror! Thankfully though, over here fantasy simply refers to a fancy dress costume, so he showed me a picture of him in his carnival costume...and not a picture of Angelina Jolie in a gimp mask or something!
However nothing tops the class I gave to the owner of a security firm. He was explaining to me how advanced security systems are nowadays in airports; and to illustrate his point, he put his backpack on the table. He then told me how someone would only need to scan the top of the bag with a high tech device to find out what is inside the whole bag. He then said “for example, they could easily detect my gun at the bottom of this bag, without even looking inside”. At that, he pulled out his pistol and casually put it on to the table (next to his textbook). Well, I absolutely SHIT myself! I later told my boss about this, who said to me “I’m sorry Andrew; we should have warned you! He likes to get his gun out for the new teachers!” 
It is illegal for Brazilian’s to carry guns around with them unless they have a licence, and I guess the nature of this guy's job meant it was necessary for him to have one. So it’s really not common for people to be carrying guns around with them in Sao Paulo. Luckily!
The guy had blatantly done this to get a reaction out of me, and it had worked! And of course...I couldn’t fault his English at all for the rest of our class!