Thursday, May 26, 2011


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 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 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!”