Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Air conditioning

The social classes in Brazil are very segregated. Rich folks hang out with rich folks, poor folks hang out with poor folks and there are not many places where rich and poor socialize together as equals. There are lots of very obvious ways that this segregation takes place. For example, a poor person will not want to pay a R$20 cover charge to go into a bar or club, so this is an obvious way of keeping out folks who don´t have money. But since moving here, I have noticed that there are also some very subtle ways to indicate who has money and who doesn´t. One of these ways is the clothes people wear and how this is related to air conditioning.

Salvador is really hot and humid, especially in the summer. Summer temperatures here hover around 90 degrees farenheit, with humidity. Winter is a bit cooler, in the 70´s, but it still gets up there some days and it´s still what would be considered by Portland, Oregon standards as hot. Yet despite this heat, you see people around wearing suits (including sports coats!) and ties, jeans, and other "cold weather" clothes. The reason? Air conditioning.

People here who have money have air conditioned homes, cars and offices. People here who don´t have money and have to take the bus don´t have air conditioning and have to wear "hot weather" clothes. It´s easy to see just by the type of clothes that someone is wearing what their social status is. And I´m not talking about brand name clothes, I´m talking about what kind of clothes the person is wearing.

This dilemma poses a problem for the foreign English teacher who is trying to teach people from the upper classes, but who doesn´t have access to a car and has to live the "non-air conditioning" lifestyle. Try wearing jeans and riding the bus, carrying a huge armful of books in 90+ degree weather with humidity. It´s hard to be professional when you show up to teach all sweaty! But that´s my reality here.

So until I win the lottery and get a car, I have to make do with taking refuge in the air conditioning when I´m teaching, and trying not to sweat my ass off while I´m on my way there.

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