Sunday, April 3, 2011

Return of the Blank Stare

I've now been to Brazil twice.  The first time was during Semana Santa (Holy Week/Spring Break) three years ago; my friend Tina and I visited the Amazon region, spending four days in the Brazilian rainforest and one afternoon wandering around the isolated town of Tabatinga, across the river from Colombian's Leticia.  Last week I was in Campinas, Brazil, for an educational conference where I was on hand to help present the teacher evaluation system a committee of international educators helped develop over the coarse of last year, meeting several times in Quito, Ecuador.  But that's not what I want to talk about.  (The conference was phenomenal, however; I got to meet a lot of interesting and inspiring people as well as learn to look at the education profession from a fresh perspective.)

Bom dia, Campinas!  Morning traffic
from my hotel window in Campinas.
I want to address the fact that Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish, like the majority of the rest of the continent.  Even when I arrived in Colombian with, what I always claim to be, no Spanish, I was able to count, exchange pleasantries and ask for both a bathroom and a beer.  I far as speaking and comprehending verbally, I might as well have gone to China.  Since Portuguese is similar in many ways to the other Romance languages - French, Spanish, Italian - it often comes across sounding like a fusion of all three, to the uninitiated ear.  Almost like the speaker is trying to speak Spanish with a bad French accent while moving a few marbles around inside their mouth.

One thing I didn't have to struggle with was the fact that in Brazil it is common to serve cake at breakfast.  And not pastry-type cakes, cake cake.  Like "happy birthday" its 7am cakes.  Thanks for waking up, you deserve frosting and sprinkles!  I have an automatic positive bias for a country that embraces dessert for breakfast.

On the plus side, my tourist visa is valid for ten years - longer than my passport's expiration date - so I plan on making use of this situation.  It will take some effort to learn to function in the Portuguese language but I'm excited at the prospect.  I just need to start forcing myself to say "obrigado" instead of "gracias," which, it turns out, is my knee-jerk foreign language response to a lot of things!  Hopefully the next time I return I'll have a few more words up my sleeve and not have to play charades with [beautiful] people of Brazil.
Strolling the steets of São Paulo, Brasil.  This street, Ave.
Paulista reminded me a lot of Michigan Ave in Chicago.


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