Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Yep, I'm DEFINITELY Still a Foreigner in Brazil!

I've lived and worked in Brazil for almost two years, and I feel like I am now quite used to the Sao Paulo way of life. 

For example, I take it as a given that I will need to wait in queues for a really long time, I really appreciate the fantastic nightlife, and also I expect to have a ‘bj’ at the end of most of my texts and emails (Over here bj is short for beijo, which means kiss in Portuguese….for those Brazilians reading this, I’m pointing this out because in English, a BJ refers to....a blow job. If you don't know what a blow job is, Google it! Go on...I dare you, especially if you're reading this at work!).

Yep, I’ve slowly become used to life over here, but every once in a while something happens that serves as a reminder that I’m definitely still a foreigner over here, like this first example:

What's My Name!?!

Let me set the scene, I’d just ordered a cappuccino from Starbucks (Living the dream on a rainy Tuesday afternoon), and the woman behind the counter was holding her pen, ready to write my name down on my paper cup.

“Qual é o seu nome?”, she asked me, chewing the shit out of her gum. She looked bored. Really bored. She was built like a cigarette box, and she was giving off A LOT of attitude.

I smiled at her and politely said “Andrew!” BOOM! I thought, ‘those Portuguese classes are really starting to pay off’.

There was a pause, then she grunted at me, 


"You're called f*@king WHAT!?!?!"
I repeated my name, this time a little louder and a little slower. “And-rew”. She looked visibly bothered; in fact, she looked like she wanted to smash my face in.

I sensed she didn’t know how to write Andrew.

“Ehhhh?” she repeated, only this time her face was REALLY screwed up, she was clearly irritated and she’d even stopped chewing. She obviously wasn't someone you messed with.

“Meu nome é A-N-DE-RE-W” I said, almost sounding like I was giving some attitude back.

She glared at me.

If looks could kill, I’d be a dead man right now. She made no attempt to hide her distain. She sighed like I’d just really inconvenienced her life, shrugged her shoulders, chewed her gum again and then wrote my name down on the cup.

After she’d put the receipt into my hand, I found myself a seat. A good few minutes later the scrawny woman making drinks began to shout out a name. 

"Come get your coffee!!!"

Nobody claimed the drink.

She repeated herself, “Alluhandraou"


Still nothing.

“Alluhandraou, Alluhandraou"

I appreciated the Lady Gaga impersonation, but at the same time I started wondering how long it would be until my cappuccino was ready.

Those people who’d gone to Starbucks to chill out and read their books were getting visibly irritated as she kept on shouting out the same name, with this weird diction that made her sound like she was fighting back a hairball.

A minute or so later it dawned on me. “Alluhandraou” could actually be ME. I went up to check, and when I got to the counter the scrawny woman shot me a filthy look, put the cappuccino down, turned around and then walked off (presumably to bitch about me to the brick-shit-house on the till!). 

I was Alluhanhraou! 

I retreated back to my seat, avoiding eye contact with the three pissed off book readers, then with my cappuccino in hand, I looked at my cup. That woman had made up a name.

To be fair to them, I am foreign. Foreign people sometimes have unusual sounding names, I just hadn't realised mine was one of them. I thought this was odd, because I don't usually have problems with Brazilian's understanding my name.

However to prevent this from happening again, after discussing this with my Brazilian friends, from now on my Starbucks name is a Brazilian one, Andre.


So this next example is pretty morbid, but quite interesting at the same time; a bit like an episode of the Tricia Goddard show! One evening my Facebook poking was interrupted by a text message I received from a student. It read like this:

Andrew, I’m sorry, but I need to cancel our class tomorrow. My neighbour died today, so I need to go to the funeral. Bjs.

My first reaction was to reply by letting my student know how sorry I was to hear her sad news…but midway through doing this, I stopped. HANG ON A MINUTE, why was she going to a funeral 24 hours after someone had died? I thought either this person’s family is really keen to get this guy six feet under, or my student had simply come up with an elaborate story to get out of class!
Tricia Goddard, the only appropriate picture I could
use for this part of my blog. But,

Well, as I later learnt, Brazilians tend to bury their dead within 24 hours, with family members keeping vigil until the burial/cremation. I guess with the weather being so hot, and with morgues not being very common, it makes sense to bury a body as soon as possible.

I am aware that that for some customs and religions, burying a dead body in this short time frame is common practice. Yet I’d assumed that because Brazil is a Christian country like my own, they too would have the funeral a week or so later. Well, I was wrong.

A few days later I quizzed another of my students on this subject. “So what happens if a family member dies and you’re, I don't know, you're abroad on holiday?” (Yes, I know what you’re thinking…and you’d be correct, my classes are such a good laugh!)

My student looked a little confused. Perhaps she was wondering what this question had to do with the class I was giving on finance. But with little hesitation, she replied. 

“Then you would miss the funeral”

Wow, I thought to myself.

If a member of my family died tomorrow I guess I take for granted that I'd have a few days to organise my trip back for the funeral. If I was a Brazilian, it is unlikely that I would have this luxury. I find this incredibly interesting.

But before this blog sounds too serious, let's move on to....

Brazilian Tooth Fairies

 “Andrew, my nephew lost his first tooth yesterday!” my friend proudly announced after finishing a phone call to his family. “Aaaaaaaaawww!” I replied, “I bet he’s excited to put it under his pillow tonight then.”

“His pillow? Andrew, why would he want to put his tooth under his pillow?”

“Well, for the tooth fairies” I responded, looking at him in surprise. I mean, how could my friend have forgotten about the tooth fairies already? He’s only in his early twenties.

A silence followed.

“What is a tooth fairy?”

I was stunned; I’d assumed that the tooth fairies were universal. I then began to explain, “a tooth fairy is a small, erm, person, with wings. They come into your room when you’re sleeping, climb under your pillow and then swap your old tooth for money!”

My friend looked at me like I was cracking up.

I could see a mixture of surprise and concern etched into his face as he went on to ask, “so in England, small people with money fly into your bedroom, and swap money for your tits? Seriously?”

Don't even think about waking up....you're Brazilian,
you  probably don't know me....
and I will DEFINITELY freak the shit out of you!!!
Of course, he hadn’t meant tits at all, he’d meant teeth (Brazilians frequently have problems with pronouncing the word teeth, for more on this, see my previous blog my-top-5.html).

Before confirming that this was indeed true, it got me thinking about what tit fairies would be doing in your room at night if they were actually real.

Without the help of tooth fairies to ensure kids grow up into materialistic adults, Brazilian children either throw their baby teeth out of their window, throw them up onto the roofs of their homes, put them under their beds or simply give them to their parents for keeps sake (although quite recently parents over here have discovered Tooth Fairies through films or online, and this custom is slowly being introduced). With the help of Google I’ve been surprised to discover that loads of other countries don’t have the tooth fairies either. 

Who'd have thought!

So there you have it, the three random aspects of Brazilian culture that have been brought to my attention fairly recently. Tooth fairies, my name being weird and funerals.

Until next time, 
this is Aluhanduru, signing off!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Top 5 Mistakes Brazilians Make When Speaking English.

Learning a new language is hard work. Really hard. One thing is certain though; EVERY student studying English will make mistakes from time to time. I’ve been teaching English in Brazil for about two years now, and in this time I’ve obviously corrected a number of these mistakes, some of them more amusing than others. So I thought it was about time I shared a few of them.

Am I sharing these because I want to make fun of people who make mistakes when speaking another language? Hell no! I've made enough mistakes when attempting to speak Portuguese myself to understand that this is just part and parcel of studying another language. 

If you’re a Brazilian who is studying English, or if you’re a foreigner about to come over to Brazil with the intention of speaking to Brazilians, this list might even help you avoid a potentially embarrassing situation.

So without further ado, my top five:

  1. The Adulterers

“I’ve been single for a while” said one of my students in response to being asked if he was married. “I had two affairs last year, but they didn’t work out” he added in a slightly despondent tone.

My initial thought was just….’WOW!’ I mean, I wasn’t about to judge him for brazenly telling me he likes relationships with married women, but there were three of his colleagues also sat there, listening in. These three were respectable business people. Obviously I thought they would be looking slightly uneasy at this revelation. Well, I was wrong! As I looked around I noticed that they were actually looking at him sympathetically!

I’d not been in Brazil for all that long, and at this point I thought to myself; “Hang on a minute, do Brazilians think nothing of extra marital relationships This can`t be right, can it?”

By now, I was curious….”Sooooooo, is it erm….common for Brazilians to have relationships with married people?” 

I looked at my students quizzically.

They looked at me in confusion.

We all looked at each other.

A few seconds later the silence was broken by a student. “Sorry, but why are you asking us this?”

After a slightly awkward conversation it turns out the word ‘affair’ over here means something slightly different! In English it means you’re having some sort of extra marital relationship; in Brazil it means you are simply having a relationship.

4. You V’s He/She

Quite a lot of the beginner and intermediate students I've taught in Brazil have found pronouns to be a bit of a problem, which can lead to some interesting misunderstandings. Let me give you one as an example. One of my classes was focused on personal appearance, and my student was asked to describe a famous person:

“So what does Angelina Jolie look like?” I enquired.
“She is very beautiful, she is very tall”
“She has long, brown hair”
“And you have very beautiful lips!”
“Well thank you….but let’s get back to describing Angelina!”

It took my student a good few seconds to notice his mistake, and as soon as he realised, he began back tracking. “No, not you, not you, I meant Angelina! Angelina has beautiful lips! Not you!”

“Too late, you’ve said it now” I joked, mid-pout.

  1. Are You A Bitch Lover!?!

Although the alphabet in English is written as it is in Portuguese, when spoken many of these letters sound different. To a Portuguese speaker the letter ‘e’ is pronounced like the English letter ‘i’.

One day in class, quite out of the blue, a beginner student asked me this, “do you like bitches?”

Another of her students then quickly pointed out her mistake. Of course, she hadn't meant to ask me about my love of hoes, she'd meant ‘beaches’.

I thought now would be an appropriate time to add a picture
of Scarborough beach!
This mistake seems to be one that the majority of English speaking Brazilian’s are familiar with, so if a Brazilian uses the word ‘beach’ mid-conversation, don’t be surprised if they look really intensely at you after saying it. It is likely that they are just looking at you like this to check their pronunciation was correct. Another word that proves quite challenging to master correctly for Brazilians is the word 'sheet'. I once had a student tell me he had a question about the shit I gave him in our previous class! 
I’d be lying if I told you the difficulties Brazilian’s have with the ‘e’ sound made my list for this reason alone. OH NO! It made an entry on my run down after another incident in class, because in class it sometimes couples up with another pronunciation mistake. Portuguese speakers have difficulties pronouncing the ‘th’ sound in English because they don’t use this sound in their own language. So they often pronounce it simply as ‘t’.

Let me set the scene:

It was 7am, and my student, an elderly lady, arrived for class on time looking a little tired. “I’m always impressed that you arrive on time for class” I said to her. “You must wake up very early. Tell me about your morning routine”

“Well I wake up at around 5.30am, take a shower and then brush my tits before I have breakfast”
“Sorry….you brush what?”
“My TITS!”

I fought so hard to repress a laugh as she repeated herself, but I couldn’t help it! I was sat picturing this immaculately presented woman, combing knots out of her hairy tits after a shower! Obviously she didn’t mean tits (or at least I didn’t think she did!), she'd meant teeth. She brushes her teeth on a morning.

I’m not quite sure if she actually brushes her tits, but it didn't stop me thinking about her doing it for the duration of our class!

 2. “Do You Want To See My Fantasy?”

I gave a class just after carnival one year to two students, a man and a woman, both in their late thirties. The class started with me asking the guy what he’d done during carnival:

“I performed in a samba school parade. It was such a fantastic experience!”

“That sounds great,” I said quite enthusiastically, “tell me more about it”

He looked at me with this huge grin on his face, and then he turned to look at the woman sat beside him. He hesitated for a few seconds before continuing. Unknown to me, he was just seconds away from giving me one of my most awkward classroom experiences, EVER!

“Ok, do you want to see my fantasy?”
“Excuse me!?!” I asked, with the smile on my face dropping ever so slightly.

“Do you want to see my fantasy?” he repeated.
I'd had a feeling that’s exactly what he’d just asked me. Without prompting then, he said “one moment, I’ll find a picture of it for you”

I sat in a stunned silence; about a million thoughts began to fly through my mind at once! “He can’t be! He’s not really about to show me something rude in class is he!?!” As he flicked through the images in his phone, I looked over at the woman sat next to him. She seemed unphased by the fact he may have been about to show us something he found arousing. Like this type of thing was normal, like he always shows his 'fantasy pictures' to everyone back in the office!

“I’ve found it”

I’m not gonna lie to you, right there and then I feared the worst.

“How funny!” my other student giggled as she inspected it.

Funny!?! Well now I was REALLY interested! Just what was it!?!

He turned his phone around to reveal a small image on the screen….of him during the carnival, dressed in traditional Brazilian samba attire. I was as confused as I was relieved.

So in this class I learnt that in Brazilian Portuguese, the word ‘fantasy’ refers to a costume and not to someone’s sexual desires.

  1. My Student’s Favourite Slags

It had been a long day, and by the time I’d got to my final group of students I was pretty tired. This group contained a young woman who was telling everyone about a film she’d seen the night before. “It was great, and I watched it without the Portuguese subtitles too, it was quite difficult to understand everything in English, but I recognised a few of the slags”.

“I’m sorry” I said, with a huge grin spreading across my face. “What did you recognise?”

“A few of the slags. Why are you smiling?”

Again, I had a feeling that was exactly what she’s said.

“Well, who were these slags you recognised?” I asked, desperately trying to suppress a loud, belly-laugh, but also trying to retain a sense of professionalism.

“Who? Sorry I don’t understand!
“Well, what do you mean by slags?”

“Slags are informal English, aren’t they?”
Erm….NO! I pointed out (unfortunately by now I was really laughing) that the word she was looking for was not slag, but slang. “Well, what is a slag?” she asked.

“Be careful with your pronunciation here, because ‘slag’ has a completely different meaning to ‘slang’” I said, totally trying to avoid the question!

“Yes, I know this now. So what is a slag?” The conversation suddenly stopped being funny as I now had to explain.

“Well a slag is British English for a woman who enjoys sex with many different men. It’s a derogatory term”. “Oh” she responded, without so much as a smile. “And does the woman get paid for having sex with men?”

“Well no, a slag isn’t a prostitute” I replied.

My student then cleared her throat, leaned into the table and then looked straight into my eyes. A good few seconds passed before she said this:

“Tell me, what is derogatory about a woman who enjoys sex with men if that woman doesn’t charge for it?”

With four students now staring at me and waiting for my response, I struggled to think of a good answer. Then feeling the pressure, I began to turn a deep shade of pink (the same colour pink I once saw my Mum turning when she’d got to the supermarket checkout and realised she’d left her purse at home).

“I think by your definition, that makes me a slag!”

I sat there unable to think of an appropriate response to this.

“Do you know what?" I asked, with my beetroot-like face,  I think we’ve had enough talk about slags for one day, so let’s open our textbooks to page….”

This ladies and gentlemen, is the day I got OWNED by a student!!!