LFB – Going Home

It’s not the end of the blog but..

Hidden Cove summer

The other day when I wrote about possibly going home, it was just an idea that could have become a plan. The way the universe works, I was just offered a way to go back (and get back on my feet) between now and next month. So…I’m going to stay another month few days and then head back to California.

I’ve become a complainer here and I don’t like that person. My Lessons on Brazil, which started rather innocently, has become my venue for veiled (and not-so-veiled) complaints. In fact, it’s me holding back, because if I wrote a post about everything, I’d write twice as much. I didn’t start out this way, when I came here to live for the first time in 2005, everything was fine. Again, in 2009, I was fine…until the last few weeks when I felt a strong need to leave the country. This time around, since 2011, I was also fine for at least half the time I’ve been here but, in the last few months in particular, life here has been getting to me and I feel it’s changing me. Some have said that it’s likely Rio’s fault, a cidade de beleza e caos. That’s quite possible, though not entirely.

Judging from the outside looking in should be something personal and, in the best of circumstances, it should be curbed over time. I’ve been placing my version of normal on what is considered normal here and finding it doesn’t add up. Well, of course it doesn’t. Intellectually, it’s obvious, but it’s still hard to override almost 30 years of norms learned in my own country, no matter what country I compare it to.

Here’s a few of the things I’m looking forward to when I get back…

- Driving. I really, really love driving. It’s close to total freedom. Choose where to go, who to go with, all with your own soundtrack.

- Working for hours from a cafe (with outlets for my laptop) with free wi-fi and being left alone by the staff.

- Target. Ok, that’s just an example store, but the fact is I know all the kinds of things they sell there, I can get there easily and find what I want in record-time. I may not like corporate culture nor corporate dominance (over Mom & Pops) but corporate solutions are a god-send for lots of items.

- Lake Tahoe in the summer (pictured above). Awesome.

- Pacific Coast Highway 1 (pictured below). Awesome.

- Secondhand stuff, from clothes to electronics, to whatever. Craigslist…

- Health/Organic food. Trader Joes…

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LFB – Mad Men & Pleasing Women

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I’m a little slow on following certain trends and so it happens that I just started watching Mad Men. Almost immediately, I noticed a parellel between 1950′s 1960′s America and Brazil in 2012. The way women are looked at and the power the women give the men (or rather, that the men are expected to possess) in the series is very much like what I see here in Rio (and all the other places I’ve been/lived in Brazil). Brass tacks, if you aren’t a manly man here, you’re simply not a man. Disagree with me on that last point if you will, but I can’t tell you how many times that has been directly or indirectly shown to me, in my own dealings or through observation.

As an extension of the Mad Men parellel, over the years, I’ve noticed a sizable amount of young adult women (who I’d guess were from the lower-middle and lower classes) are secretaries, salon workers and the like. All traditionally female roles. I’m not saying that was all they aspired to because, even as a man, I’ve worked plenty of jobs that were just jobs, work for work’s sake. I’d be interested in knowing how the modern Brazilian woman sees herself within the current set-up, in addition to how she views women with traditional roles.

LFB – When the fat lady sings

I’m not 100% on this yet but I’m seriously considering going back to the States at some point before mid-2013. My main reason has become the Brazilian’s principal complaint: frustration towards a system that continuously fails the citizen (and, if I’m being honest, the Lei do Gérson is my other reason). I understand that in a society where the State doesn’t pull it’s own weight (do what it should), the people have to fill that gap and the way of doing that is by being inventive, thinking on your feet and having your eyes open to opportunities. I would expect this to happen anywhere in the world where the State doesn’t do its job well. The cause is the State, the symptom is it affects how the people have to operate.

Lets liken what I just said to driving in Brazil. If someone starts driving here and follows all the traffic laws, goes the speed limit, etc, it is that person who will cause an accident. Why? Because, if you’ve spent time here, you’ve seen practically everyone on the road driving on the divider between two lanes (on a one-way avenue), speeding (ever been on a bus here?), driving through red lights, etc. In other words, the majority must lean towards doing one thing or the other, to follow the rules or not. It can’t be 50/50 (ie, some following 100% of the law and the other half not), that would be too chaotic. But ‘all or nothing’ (law-abiding vs. ‘controlled chaos’, if you will) provides some guidelines for anyone new coming on the road. That person that follows all the laws of the road is restricted to asking themselves ‘yes or no’ questions and then acting accordingly. But the people who do as others do, they can operate on an open-ended basis within the current system.

As much as I love and respect many aspects about Brazil, its culture and its people, I’m not sure if I can continue to envision myself in a place where the State consistently fails its people (though I must say, being extremely law-abiding, such as the direction that the US is going in with the increasing ‘police state’, doesn’t put a smile on my face either). At that point it becomes choosing between extreme fluidity and extreme solidity, neither of which are optimal.

The famous Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta expands on some of these ideas I’ve been talking about in a video (in PT) on “Rituals of Identity & Ritualistic Identities”, starting at 88:38 (fast-forward to that point in the video).

LFB – Brazilian Starbucks experience

Starbucks has been in Brazil since 2006 and I only just recently got the chance to try it out. Rather, I should say that I avoided it for as long as I could, seeing as how it attracts the fancy and wannabe fancy people. I suppose that once they expand to the degree that they have in the US, more and more normal folk will start going. The fact that most are situated in malls helps this to happen. If my quick check of stores is right, there are upwards of 25 Starbucks in Brazil, with over 20 of them in São Paulo and the rest in Rio.  I wonder what kind of research led them to focus so heavily on the SP market. I see Starbucks as a sitting down place but Paulistanos are known for being on the move.

Onto the experience. I went to the local mall to escape the heat and saw the store was rather empty so I took that as my cue to try them out. I got to the counter after passing the display case which looked quite familiar (except for the pão de queijo and coxinha). There were two female employees on station and they both kind of stood there with a Starbucks grin on their faces while I looked for my drink on the menu. After a second they butted in to my choosing process and asked me what I wanted, ready to ring me up.

This is typical in Brazil, you arrive in any store and employees are bombarding you or asking you what you want when you’re clearly browsing or silently deciding. One view is to say they are very attentive people but the reality likely lies in managerial/corporate guidance (Step 1 – When a customer comes in…attack!), until it became the norm and now no one questions the status quo.

Anyways, I asked for what they call the “café do dia” by saying that I wanted “um café normal, pequeno” because I felt silly asking for a “tall” (or…”tau” as native speakers would probably say). Ringing me up for an expresso, I had no choice but to say that in fact I wanted the “tau”. It was US$2.25. Back home, it was US$1.50 the last time I had one. Maybe I’m wrong here but I’m pretty sure the coffee in the US is imported yet getting it “from the source” here in Brazil somehow costs an extra .75 cents. At any Brazilian corner café, though, I could get a “média” (half milk, half coffee) for about US$1.50 but usually such places aren’t that inviting.

In the US, the Starbucks cashier would simply turn around, fill up my cup and hand it to me. Time elapsed: 20 seconds. Here, I sat down in the empty Starbucks and waited over 5 minutes for them to grow the coffee ready my cup and call out my name (for tricky concoctions like mine, they needed to ask for a name). Upon handing it over, the woman asked me how I was doing and stood there looking like she wanted to start a conversation. After responding and thanking her, I thought I’d slip on over to the post-prep station (where one can put sugar, etc, in their coffee) and top off the coffee with some milk. Oops, no milk. Possibly an add-on or a different drink all together, meaning the price just went up for my normal cup of joe.

Once I sat down, that’s when the Starbucks “magic” happened. That’s their hook (get the same experience in one Starbucks as you would in any other) and, well, they mostly succeeded. Suddenly, sitting down, I was back in California scribbling my thoughts and plans down in my notebook. In a social setting, but not being social. I’d have brought my laptop but I wasn’t sure if they had wi-fi and was pretty sure, like most places that offer wi-fi in Brazil, that they wouldn’t offer outlets to plug in at.

So, would I go back? Maybe to get away from the heat. Maybe if they were more empty than full on that day too. All in all, the experience made me wonder if I was not just a tourist and this was some sort of “staged authenticity” set-up. Come to think of it, Starbucks in general practices staged authenticity because the CEO, Howard Schultz, lifted the idea from Milan cafe culture. In fact, when he opened his first café in Seattle, it was named Il Giornale, not Starbucks, it played opera music and was standing-only. Go figure.

LFB – Sharing

I’ve been in Brazil long enough to know that people here believe “sharing is caring.” One sees this mostly where food is involved. Call me very American if you will but I don’t like sharing (perhaps because I grew up with brothers who used and abused my things without asking).

Regardless, as a young adult, who is on the poorer side of the economic spectrum, I need to know how I’m spending the money I have. Time, in many cases, is also money (in other words, they are both investments). A few months back, I lived in a shared apartment with a few other guys, all adults. Going to the market, finding specific food, paying for it with money I earned, and returning home is all a process and an investment. Nonetheless, various times I would find certain items either missing or half empty, only to find out later that one roommate saw the other (or vice-versa) eating said item. To me, this boggles my mind, especially considering they weren’t friends of mine, just flatmates. If you didn’t buy something with your own money and invest an hour in acquiring that item, keep your hands off it (duh)! Seems so simple, yet it has happened in several places I’ve lived in Brazil where shared common spaces were the norm and 20-35 year olds were involved.

From 0 to 100, where 100 is me being totally understanding of this behavior, I’m pretty much at the 0 point (unless specifically and politely asked for or offered). If you grew up this way (sharing things) in your family home or act this way with really close friends, the more power to you! That’s great you feel that way but that doesn’t mean it applies to people you simply rent rooms to or share common spaces with.

By the way, I am saying this here and, in a polite manner, to the infringers in person. I’m not trying to be an ass, the main point really is that I have to watch what I spend and how I spend it (be it time or money). The secondary, yet equally important point is that I’m an adult and so I respect other people’s things.

I’m not saying this is a Brazilian thing that somehow applies to all Brazilians (I’ve lived with Brazilians who didn’t do this) but I’ve lived with many, many different kinds of people in the US and no one ever used my stuff (without asking permission first).

PS – Andria, in the comments, says it’s an education problem, not a nationality problem. I think she’s right ; ) Though that doesn’t mean the Americans I’ve lived with are educated, per se, rather they must have grown up with same ideas of individualism and respect of personal property that I grew up with.

PPS – Wow, what a way to characterize my post!…Quite the link bait there.

LFB – Defining the Pegada

The above was taken from the, um, always trustworthy Yahoo Answers and it depicts what it means to have the illustrious and time-honored “pegada” (from pegar, lit. to grab), which is the Holy Grail of male-to-female attraction in Brazil. I translated the gist of it below and added some other (Yahoo) answers…Afterwards, see the comment(s).

- “To have pegada is to take charge, to be confident when you approach a woman. If you want to kiss her, you go and do it.

For example, imagine there’s a guy who approaches a woman, he talks then talks some more and nothing happens. They’ve met and stay a long time talking and after an hour goes by that’s when he tries to touch or kiss her only to find out that she’s lost interest. This is what it means to not have pegada, to not take charge and show confidence. This is a lack of masculinity.

If the guy doesn’t have pegada, rarely will the woman feel attraction towards him, it doesn’t matter how good he looks or how much money he has. If the guy has pegada, he’ll have an advantage over any other guy that doesn’t have it and yet is fighting over the same woman.”

- “It is said to be an exceptional quality that a man possesses when kissing or having sex with someone.”

- “Pegada is nothing more than, among women, that typical butterflies in the stomach feeling that they feel upon being touched. In other words, it’s a slight sexual excitement felt via touch.”

- “basically he ‘grabs’ me today and for the rest of the week, when I remember that day, I still get aroused….that’s when you know he’s got pegada!”

And finally, a 15 year old’s answer…

- “yo, it’s like this, you walk up to the girl, grab her by the waist, say a quick “hi” and give her a 5-minute kiss (cause if 3 seconds have gone by and she hasn’t slapped you yet, you know she’s likin’ it). But, on the real, if she says you ain’t got pegada, make sure she’s not a dude.”

LFB – Oh, Great…”Black Friday”

The fact that Brazilians now use the term “Black Friday” scares me. Yet another americanism based in consumerism that will alter the behavior of Brazilians. Whatever they would have done tomorrow, they will now replace that behavior with going shopping. I don’t even want to ask nor hear how “Black Friday” is pronounced in Portuguese…

On top of all of it, it’s a well-known practice to jack up the “original” prices on items in order to make the discount seem larger and therefore close the sale.

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While we’re on the topic of americanisms, it seemed a good time to do this.

I’ve now been hearing the odd-sounding mutation of “freelancer” (which is “freelã”…yes, I said free-la with a nasal accent) and “home office” (meaning someone who works from home, or as it could easily be said in Portuguese, “trabalho em domicílio”). So yeah, if you use the Portuguese term for the latter, either you’ll be thought a maid (though that’s less likely these days) or it’ll be understood that you work from home. Btw, these two terms I’ve been poking fun at actually describe the kind of work that I do. I’m not making fun of those who work this way.

Ok, time for a fun sentence creation! “Eu trabalho como freelaahn com homey officey. Já que eu faço meu próprio horário, vou aproveitar o Blackey Fri-y-day-y“.

Yes, yes, I know, languages are living things and English itself is made up of many other languages (more specifically, 28% French, 28% Latin, 25% Germanic, 5% Greek, etc) but if it was anything like what’s happening to the Portuguese language, I wouldn’t have liked it either.

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LFB – Why do you take the paper?

In every city I find people who hand out little pieces of paper on the street (it’s a ‘business strategy’ called panfletagem). Obviously these people are being paid to hand out adverts and notices of impending sales and parties. I never take them, even when they try to put it in my hands as I walk by (next, they might just start putting them in people’s pockets or taping them to our clothing).

So the big question is, why do Brazilians keep accepting these hand outs? I see it almost daily, they’ll accept it, then look at it curiously, then put it away (in their purse, pocket, etc). I don’t want to ruin it for you all by giving away the big secret but they’re all advertisements…every single one. And I’d bet that 99.9% of them are going to be of zero interest to you.

One day, I’d like to do the same but, instead of adverts, hand out glasses. Edit: video below from the comments section.

Lessons from Brazil – Returning & Exchanging Electronics

I’d love to just write “good luck” but I’m feeling like saying a little more. I bought some headphones the other day from a major department store that has an electronics section. Every time I used them, the part that goes in one’s ears, ended up hurting them. It’s just too big and I’d figure that they probably hurt most people’s ears. Well, I go into the store 4 days later and I’m told there’s a 3-day return policy.

Um, sorry?

If your store’s policy on returning items that can be defective is only a few days or less, you have to know you are selling crappy products. I get it, I do. The less time you give the customer to return a defective product, the more likely you will keep the money spent when they trusted in your brand by spending money in your store. That’s R$25 out the window…

A few months ago, I bought a TIM-branded 3G modem for my computer. The contract was to be 60R per month. I spent over an hour in the store plus time doing some online comparisons and time getting to the store and back. Over 5 days, I tested it in different areas. The service was always very crappy at home (and I even tried using it in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Rio), literally going in and out every minute, plus the program for connecting online was faulty. I called their customer service number and after going through the loops and waiting, I finally got told that to resolve any issues, I have to go into their store in person.

What?

I make my way all the way down there again and wait to be attended, one guy talks to the other while handling my receipt, then they go in the back room for a minute, and when they come out, I’m shown a “magical” inked stamp on the back of the receipt that effectively says “return policy: 24 hours”. That’s R$100 (for the device) out the window…

Lesson? Make sure you fully understand the return and exchange policy of any item you buy in Brazil, especially electronics. If you’re expecting 14 to 30 day return policies like they have back home, you might as well just throw your money in the oven (it’ll save you time).

Lessons from Brazil – Dar Mole

I thought I was done with this subject (of male/female relations) but it popped up again. I was talking to a male friend about a conversation I had with a girl and I told him that at some point I thought I had been talking too much and not letting her speak, thus I told her, “I hope I didn’t talk too much that night.” His response, “cara, você deu mole!”

I wasn’t even flirting with the girl even though I enjoy the fact that she does her own thing, has her own way of living life. Nonetheless, it was implied that due to it being a male/female conversation among people of roughly the same age, that there was a loss of manliness on my part and therefore a loss of her possible attraction to me as a man.

What it ends up feeling like is that there’s strict rules that, when done by a “pro” (at the game), they come out looking like part of the most natural of behaviors. Even Brazilians who are straight-edged completely understand the game but choose not to employ it.

I knew a guy in high school who used to say, “female friends are just women you haven’t slept with yet.” Since I’m not a mind-reader, I can’t say how prevalent this way of thinking is here but I feel like the distinction is rather blurred among the youth in Brazil.