Sunday, November 30, 2008

The mall

The mall in Brazil has a different function than the mall in the US does. Of course in the US there are folks who like to go to the mall to just "hang out". But in my experience most people go to the mall with the purpose of buying something, maybe getting a snack and then leaving. The social experience of walking around, seeing and being seen, is left mostly to adolescents who like to use the mall as a place to check each other out. Adults and families don't really use the mall in this way.

Here in Brazil, at least in Salvador, the mall serves an important social function. It's a place where people can go, in security, to walk around, hang out, socialize and as an added bonus buy something that they might need. But it appears that the primary purpose of the mall is not to consume or buy, but to offer a safe place to socialize.

In the mall people can walk around wearing fancy clothes, watches and jewelry without fear of mugging like there is on the street here. They can talk on their expensive cell phones without having to look over their shoulder to see if there is a thief close by, waiting to run and snatch the phone from their hand. It offers peace of mind not found on the street. This is why on the weekend the mall is totally packed with people.

When you go to the mall here, it's a place where people are checking you out to see what you are wearing and what you look like. Most people get all dressed up and made up to go to the mall. You can't just go in your casual wear like we do in the US (well you can, but you get a lot of weird looks!). It's a full on event and you have to be ready for it.

Another thing is the word for "the mall" in Portuguese: "Shopping". It's often difficult for Brazilians learning English to fully incorporate into their second language that in English shopping is a verb, and not a mall. Many folks, even advanced English speakers here will still say, "I'm going to the shopping" when they really want to say, "I'm going to the mall".

So the next time you run over to the mall to get some new socks, think about these differences as you are waiting in line in your pajama bottoms to pay, excited by the thought of getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible! It's a different experience.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Yesterday I did two things of note...I went to a capoeira event at the Farol da Barra (the lighthouse) and then to a soccer game in the afternoon. Both were fun and gave me some great exposure to Brazilian culture.

I trained capoeira for four years, and stopped training about a year and a half ago. I LOVE capoeira, but had to stop training because of lack of time. I teach English in the early morning and evening, which is when most capoeira classes happen. I find myself really missing the discipline and exercise, and really hope to return to it soon, but for now I have to satisfy my capoeira craving by going to events such as the one I went to yesterday.

It was the batizado event for my old capoeira group, Grupo Raca. Batizado means "baptism" and is the event when students move up a level and receive their new cords which signify this change in status. Usually the batizado is part of a week long capoeira event where people from all over the place get together to train, attend workshops, socialize and play capoeira. It's a lot of fun. Anyway, it was super cool to see about 150 or so people of all ages wearing Grupo Raca t-shirts and all taking part in a big class, right by one of the most scenic spots in Salvador.

In the afternoon I went to a game between Vitoria and Gemios, which is a team from Rio Grande do Sul (the southernmost state in Brazil). Gemios is ranked 2nd in Series A, and Vitoria was ranked kind of low, like 13 or so (I can't remember exactly), so everyone thought that Vitoria would get their ass kicked. Well, it was a really exciting game and Vitoria won! It was 4-1 until the very end when Gemios scored one more goal, but they still won, 4-2. Everyone was jumping up and down, shooting off fireworks, throwing babies in the air, and going crazy. It was quite a sight to see! Much different from other games I've been to where the scene was more mellow. I was glad I went.

So that was my Sunday, where I went out and kept myself occupied and didn't really have time to study for my teacher's Cambridge exam which I am taking on Friday. Guess I have to cram the rest of the week!

Friday, November 21, 2008


After being here in Brazil as long as I have been, I realize how many things we take for granted in the United States. One of those things is emergency response to situations. I am discovering, to my chagrin, that emergency response (police and ambulance) is almost non-existent in Salvador. It's quite frustrating.

I remember a couple of years ago in Portland, I was woken up by my room-mate because my drunken, angry neighbor was on our porch at 2AM, yelling and banging on the door. A quick call to 911, and the police were there within 5-10 minutes. They subdued my neighbor, threatened him with a fine or worse if he persisted, and my room-mate and I were left to go back to sleep in peace.

Here, private ambulance companies brag that they take "only" 30-40 minutes to reach you when you call in for emergency help. And the police, which is the real subject of my posting, well they don't really do anything at all.

The police here are divided into 2 branches, the military police and the civil police. I think I wrote about them in a previous post. Well the military police are the ones who do the chasing of crooks and making their presence known in an attempt to prevent crime. All of the Brazilians that I have ever spoken with about this matter say that the cops don't do anything. I guess I had some kind of Pollyanna American hope that this wasn't true, and that the cops could be counted on in times of trouble. I now know that they can't be counted on for anything, except for the Brazilian version of sitting around eating donuts and drinking coffee.

Today is a perfect example... Vilma was walking down to meet me at the bus stop and noticed a group of 4 young guys from the favela sitting at the top of our hill. When we walked by this spot on our way home from the bus stop, they were still sitting there. And they weren't sitting there chatting and laughing, they were sitting there checking out the scene and eyeballing everyone who walked anywhere near them. About 10 minutes later Vilma went outside to see if they were still there. They were. So I decided that maybe we should call the cops.

First of all you can't dial the Salvador version of 911 (it's 190 by the way) from a cell phone. And then Vilma wasn't sure if you can dial this number for suspicious activity or just if something actually happened. I decided to play the influencial person card and called one of my students who has a friend high up in the police force. I asked him to call and ask if they could send a car to drive by and check out the scene. Well, I'm still waiting to hear back if they actually did it or not. As of this writing Vilma just walked down to the mall to do an errand and was going to scope out the scene again. But I'm not holding out hope.

So if (God forbid) something bad happens to you in the US and you call 911, as you are waiting those few, short 5-10 minutes for the police to actually show up and do something, you can be thankful that you are not in a place where everyone is pretty much left to their own devices.

Picture courtesy of A Tarde online.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tis the season

Well the Christmas season is in full swing already here in Salvador, and that means the arrival of four things:

1. Tacky Christmas decorations. As you can see from this photo, which was taken in Porto Allegre in 2006, the Christmas decoration scene here leaves much to be desired. The malls are already full of really bad decorations, Christmas carols, Santa Claus and the elves, etc etc. I hate it.

2. Hot weather. Summer is here, which means temperatures of 27-32+ degrees celsius, which is 80-90+ farenheit plus humidity. Now I'm not complaining because it's so nice to be in a warm, sunny place for November-April when it's cold, dark and rainy in Portland. However, it is a bit of a challenge to work in this heat when you have to ride the bus and walk around the city. Nothing like arriving to teach English, trying to look semi-professional and being totally sweaty. But it's great on those days off when you can go to the beach, wear little clothing and swim in the ocean.

3. Panetone. This stuff is the Brazilian version of fruitcake, but it's actually really good. It's kind of like a sweet bread, that's light and dotted with pieces of dried fruit. But it's not the crystally, sickly sweet kind of fruit in US style fruitcakes, it's normal dried raisins, apricots, etc. I really like this stuff. And it's the traditional food of Christmas. A lot of folks give it as gifts. If you have a hankering to try it, I've seen it for sale at Trader Joe's in the US.

4. Crime. Well of course crime is nothing new here and happens all year long. But from the month or so before Christmas through the end of Carnaval, the amount of street crime skyrockets. All the robbers are trying to steal to have money to buy presents and party down at Carnaval. This past Saturday an American friend of mine was waiting for 30 minutes at the bus stop closest to my house. This was at 10:30AM. During this time she saw groups of young guys, all shirtless, come out of the favela entrance that is close to there, walk over, run across the street, rob someone, and then run back into the favela. This happened at least 5 times to 5 different people, which means that every 5 minutes another group came out to rob. I spoke with a police officer about this and he said that this is called "arrastao" (sorry I don't have any accents on my computer, there's supposed to be one over the second "a"). Vilma told me that this phenomenon is new to Salvador, but old hat in Rio and Sao Paulo. It's not a good sign that it's starting to happen here. It makes me really afraid to wait at that bus stop, which unfortunately is the one I wait at every day. I also had an incident happen to me on Friday which I don't really want to go into details about here, but needless to say it was very scary and traumatic. I'm counting the days until after Carnaval when it calms down again.

So enjoy the holiday season wherever you are, and may your days be filled with sun, nice decorations, panetone and peace.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Support for gay marriage

It's strange to be in another country when something big is going down in your country.  I've been trying to keep up on the California Proposition 8 situation from down here.  One of my friends told me about this clip, and after watching it I decided to post it because it's really intense, powerful and moving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tips for teaching English in Salvador

I've been thinking for some time now that I wanted to write a post (or posts) with some tips for teaching English, at least here in Salvador. I've been teaching English for about 1.5 years now, and have had a decent level of success, so thought I would pass along some of the things that have led to my success:

*Take at least a part time job at a language school. If you arrive mid-semester, tell them that you want to substitute teach. I started out this way and my connection to the school has really opened up a lot of doors for me. First of all it has given me access to all kinds of books and materials. When I teach my private classes, I use books from the language school. I've also gotten some great ideas from other teachers, worksheets, and other resources that I never would have had access to outside the school. It also gives you credibility with getting private students. If you can can say, "I teach at ______ school", it reassures the student that you indeed know what you are doing.

*Make friends with the receptionist at the language school and tell her that you are open to teaching private classes outside the school. Sometimes folks call the school wanting a referral to a private teacher, especially a native speaker. If you get in good with the receptionist, she will give them YOUR name and that will be one foot in the door to a new student, plus all the friends of your student who will want to start taking class from you after they hear from your friend how great you are!

*Make business cards. I made some cards when I first got here, just a basic one with my name, "Professora de Ingles", phone number and email. Now I have a nicer card that says (in Portuguese) that I teach in people's homes or offices. It gives another level of professionalism and legitamacy to your work.

*Learn some Portuguese. If you can speak the language, it will make your services more appealing to beginner students.

*Don't undercharge because you are desperate. Pick up all the hours you can at the language school where you are not paid as much, but charge a fair price with your private students because it will be next to impossible to raise the price later on. I charge R$40 per hour, but I give "deals" at $35 per hour if the person pays for a bunch of classes up front (like a 10 class deal), or pays by the month for your classes. I'm still happy with the fee and it makes them feel like they are getting a bargain. I definitely made some mistakes at the beginning about charging less money, or not holding my ground when folks try to bargain. Bargaining is part of life here, but you don't have to accept what they say. Hold your ground and they will still want to take classes with you because you are a great teacher.

*Most importantly, NETWORK. I have most of my students because they are friends or business colleagues of other students. Give your cards to your students and tell them you are accepting new students. Word of mouth is huge here.

*Be flexible. You have to be able to teach folks when they have time, i.e. early in the morning or in the evening. My usual schedule is to teach 1-3 classes early morning starting at 6:30AM, have a break, teach at lunchtime, have a break and teach in the evenings. If you want students, you have to teach them on their time.

Well, that's it for now. Hope these help anyone who is thinking about teaching English! I'll probably write some more in the near future.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Who invented the airplane?

2 of my students who don't know each other both told me within the last month that the Wright brothers didn't invent the first airplane. They told me that it was a Brazilian named Alberto Santos-Dumont, living in Paris, who indeed flew the first plane. One of them said that everyone talks about the Wright brothers being the inventors because they are from the US and "everyone" wants the inventors to be from the US (whoever "everyone" is).

So I decided to look it up on Wikipedia to see what facts are listed on there. Here is the clip about Alberto Santos-Dumont:

Alberto Santos-Dumont, Brazil — October 23, 1906
the "14 Bis" at Bagatelle field, Paris. Aero Club of France certified the distance of 60 meters (197 ft); height was about 2-3 meters (6-10 ft). Winner of the Archdeacon Prize for first official flight of more than 25 meters. Described by some scholars as the first "sportsman of the air". As reported in previous years and months for Ader, Whitehead, Pearse, Jatho and Vuia, the 14-Bis flew and landed without a rail, catapult, or the presence of high winds, propelled by its own (internal combustion) engine.

And here is what they say about the Wright brothers:

Orville & Wilbur Wright, United States — December 17, 1903
First recorded controlled, powered, sustained heavier than air flight, in Wright Flyer. In the day's fourth flight, Wilbur Wright flew 279 meters (852 ft) in 59 seconds. First three flights were approximately 120, 175, and 200 ft (61 m), respectively. The Wrights laid particular stress on fully and accurately describing all the requirements for controlled, powered flight and put them into use in an aircraft which took off from a level launching rail, with the aid of a headwind to achieve sufficient airspeed before reaching the end of the rail.

The date of the Wright brothers is in fact after the date of Alberto Santos-Dumont. So what do you think? Who really invented the airplane? Can we give credit to a Brazilian for our ability to fly around the world?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A sad day

Today I finally awoke from my Obama-induced happy state to do some reading about what went down in the US regarding gay rights and the election. It ain't pretty. Check out this article from today's NY Times for more bleak information:

It's ironic how during this time of great strides in the civil rights movement, there can be so much hate and prejudice against a group of people trying to fight for the same rights that heterosexual Americans enjoy. It makes me so angry that proposition 8 passed in California! I find myself thinking about all those couples who happily got married thinking that now was their chance to experience the same rite of passage that heteros have been experiencing for centuries. Now their dreams are shattered. And overwhelmingly it was black and hispanic voters who voted in favor of Prop 8. The same folks who also have been fighting for their rights want to keep others from being treated equally. I don't understand it.

There are many occasions in Brazil when I find myself comparing things here to how we do them in the US. Usually my comparison is in favor of the US way. But when it comes to marriage, I think that Brazil has the best idea for a system, a system that would solve all of these ridiculous problems about how gay marriage is against many religion's doctrines. Here's how they do it here...

When you get married, you have 2 options. You can get married in a civil ceremony, which means you are legally married and have the rights of a married couple. Or you can get married in the church, which means you are married in the eyes of God. If you choose to marry in a church and want it legally recognized, you have to marry again at the courthouse to have the marriage legally recognized. Of course gay folks don't have the legal right to marry here, but I think the idea is a brilliant one if everyone was included.

Why can't we do that in the US? Then the churches could decide if they want to allow gay marriage or not, and everyone could enjoy the same rights! Simple huh?

Until we get the same rights as others, we have to keep our flag flying at half mast, as a reminder that we are people too, not second class citizens.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election party, Bahia style

Last night, despite fighting a bad cold, I went to Salvador's "American Society" election party at Clube Espanhol. The party consisted of about 50 Americans and friends, a band made up of Americans ("Doug Adair e os Estrangeiros" which means "Doug Adair and the Foreigners") singing American rock cover songs, CNN and Fox news on the cable tv in English, and a lot of beer drinking and enthusiasm for the election results. I couldn't partake in the beer drinking due to being under the weather, but it sure was fun to be with a bunch of Americans, all rooting for Obama and witnessing a great moment in our nation's history.

It was interesting to check out the crowd. There were a lot of folks there! Everyone was really friendly and welcoming even though I didn't really get much of a chance to talk with new folks. There was even a news camera there covering the scene!

Vilma and I ended up leaving around 11:30PM because I really needed to get home and rest, due to being sick. But today I ran into some folks who were at the party and they said they stayed until like 2:30AM to watch the concession and acceptance speeches. I managed to stay awake until 1AM, just long enough to see that CNN and ABC news had called it for Obama, before dropping off to sleep.

This morning I woke up and immediately turned on my computer. When I saw that Obama had won, and started reading a little bit about people's reactions, I totally started to cry. What an incredible time in history! I was overcome with emotion.

I had a class at 8AM, and instead of doing our normal stuff, I decided that we should watch both Obama and McCain's speeches, and then we could talk about the vocabulary they used and check to make sure he understood everything. It was nice to share this moment with one of my students and give him a chance to see how one American was moved by this unforgettable moment.

Here's a picture of me being patriotic:
"Happy New World" as they were saying at the party last night!!!!!!


I actually said these words today: "I'm proud to be an American". I don't know if I have ever said them before.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Big Day

I am anxiously awaiting tonight...I can´t wait to see the results of the election. I´ve been obsessively reading the NY Times in hopes that there will be some kind of clue about the results early on, but I have to remind myself to be patient.

Unfortunately I am spending election day totally sick. Yesterday it was worse, but today I´m still pretty laid out with a bad cold. It´s interesting to experience a cold here. You can totally feel that the virus is a little different than the North American cold virus, and one of the differences is that it runs its course fast and hard. I had to cancel 3 of my classes this morning and am considering cancelling my last class of the day. But there is an American election party that I want to at least make an appearance at because it will be fun...and I just can´t justify cancelling my class and going there. So here´s hoping I have enough energy to do both.

I guess the only thing I can be certain about now is that whatever happens with the election returns, the world will be a completely different place tomorrow than it is today. And by the way, I saw an "Obama/Biden 2008" sticker on someone´s apartment window the other day!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Message to Sarah Palin

OK, so pretty much everyone I know is voting Democrat, but just in case you are on the fence, take a look at this video. It's pretty powerful.