A million little pieces.
30th Jun 2012
Brazil Blog #2: Porto Alegre. “Bah, Capaz! Qualquer coisa, me liga, ta?”
Blog #2: Porto Alegre
“Bah, Capaz! Qualquer coisa, me liga, ta?”
Ok I know this is very long overdue but hey, better late than never right? For those of you who don’t regularly stalk my facebook to see where I am living and what I am doing, I recently finished an internship for which I spent three months living in a small city called Porto Alegre. The internship I was working in is a sustainable favela resettlement project in which almost 200 people moved from cardboard and wood-built shacks to real houses in a custom-built neighbourhood. So, when I first thought about writing blogs I imagined they would be about the great social injustices of the world and although the topic is very interesting, and everyone should learn more about it and be grateful for the privilege they live with, it is complicated and complex and makes my head hurt, so if you want to know what I think, feel free to ask… but I will not be discussing it here. Instead I will focus on the other most important parts of our lives; work and food. Then I will add in a few things about Brazil that I just don’t get.
So, in Brazil, most likely because of the great social injustices of the world, people need to work, however there are simply not enough jobs in this country for its 200 million plus people. For this reason, many jobs you see people doing were simply created out of a need to employ people, not out of need to be done. Such as;
Alright, I say lady, but I don’t think this job is gender specific, I just don’t often see men doing it. Anyway, this is the type of job you might expect to see in 5 star hotels or fancy old British films, but in Brazil it is a reality in many more buildings. There is one person per lift who sits inside on a little stool, with a little foot-step so their legs don’t dangle, who press the button for the level you want to get off at. When the lift stops at a floor and the doors open the elevator lady will tell you which floor it is (and yes, there is also the usual lit-up writing telling you which floor you are on)… then she will yell out “up” or “down” depending on which way the lift is going, so people waiting outside can decide whether or not to jump in.
Now I don’t know about your button-pushing skills, but I generally feel pretty capable to press my own button when I get into a lift.
The other thing I find funny is; when they press the ‘close-door’ button, they press it several times really quickly like it is absolutely crucial that the door closes within the next second because they are in a super rush to get to an incredibly important meeting rather than spending the next 6 hours going up and down in a lift pressing buttons for other people.
The presence of these elevator ladies kinda screws me over for a few reasons:
1) I have to speak. When do you ever get in a lift alone and expect that you will need to speak to someone? I just wanna get in, press my button, wait till it arrives on my floor, get out and go to work. No-one needs to know I am a foreigner who speaks less-than-perfect Portuguese.
2) They don’t let you eat or drink. Since when is eating and dinking prohibited in lifts? I have never heard that rule in my life! And what these elevator ladies don’t know, is that although I start work in the afternoon, I have slept until noon, watched two episodes of Law and Order and have not been able to eat because my cupboard is empty. So not only am I running late for work, I am trying to stuff my face with something quickly on my way. And given my office is on the 11th floor, the time-consuming lift ride is a perfect time to do that. But thanks to Miss Elevator Lady always being present, every day I arrive at work not only still late, but also still hungry.
3) These women seem to be perpetually angry, for which I don’t really blame them. But it does kinda suck to have to ride 11 floors in an awkward silence and then thank someone for doing something that would’ve been a lot more enjoyable if they weren’t there.
Foto na Hora!
These are people who stand in the street yelling out “FOTO NA HORAAAA! FOTO NA HORAAAA!!” for 8 hours a day. ‘Foto na hora’ is the business that takes your photo and prints it out for you at the same time, like passport photos or photos you need for some sort of ID. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but usually if I need to get a passport photo done I will specifically go out and seek the place where I can do this. I don’t just walk down the street, hear someone yelling it out, and suddenly think “You know what, I DO need to have my photo taken. Silly me for forgetting such an important thing, thank god these guys are here offering it to me!” LIFE SAVERS.
Supermarket Cleaner and Bag-Packer
These jobs are obviously made to decrease unemployment rates, and considering the great social injustices of the world, I really shouldn’t be against them because employment is employment despite how pointless it is.
But anyway, most supermarkets in Brazil not only have check-out chicks but also people who pack your bags for you. Firstly, if you start packing your own bags they get offended like you think they can’t do their job properly, secondly they have all these rules about different food groups having to be in separate bags, so you can buy four items and end up with four plastic bags. Coming from a country that is trying to teach us to use less plastic bags every day, this is difficult for me. The other thing is when you only buy a couple of products, or you have a backpack with you and you tell them you don’t need a bag… they look at you as if you have just fired them. You don’t need a bag?! YOU DON’T NEED A BAG?! :-0
The other thing about supermarkets, which I found more in Sao Paulo than in Porto Alegre, is that the people who clean the floor are cleaning the floor, like, constantly. Once I was in a supermarket in Sao Paulo ordering some bread at the bakery section and a woman asked me to move so she could clean the piece of floor I was standing on. Seriously? Dude, I will move now and in three seconds I will step back onto that piece of floor that you have just cleaned and then you will have to clean it again. You have a whole supermarket here to clean, why do you have to clean the piece I am standing on right at this very moment? Come on.
I Don’t Even Know What Title To Give These Guys
Ok, I honestly have no idea what to call these guys and am totally open for suggestions. This job confuses me like crazy. These are men in Porto Alegre who stand at bus stops and yell out which route the bus is taking. They are not the driver, they are not selling tickets, they are simply yelling out the route. ‘That’s not sooo strange’ you may think, however what makes this weird is that they yell it out as if they are selling something. For Tasmanians, picture these guys yelling it exactly the same way that guy at Salamanca Market sells his apples every Saturday: “AAAAAAPLESSSS, GET YOUR FRESH AAAAAAAPPLESSSSS!!” Granny smith, pink ladyyyy, red, yellow, green, homegrown applessss!!! Cheap, delicious aaaaaaples!!!! GET YOUR FRESH APPLES!
“Route fifty-siiiiiiiiiix, Santanaaaaaa, via Redencãooooooo, route fifty-siiiiix!!”
Well, you know what, I was planning on walking the two blocks to my house, but now that you’ve convinced me, I might just get on this random bus to somewhere I don’t need to go, and see how that turns out : )
Speaking of apples, lets move on to food. In Porto Alegre there are a few specific foods that can be found absolutely everywhere;
These, quite literally translated, are hot dogs. But you don’t just find these hot dogs and sports events or Wendy’s… neither are they simply sausage, bread, ketchup and mustard.
Oh no, they are so much more.
Hot dogs are basically a food group here, people make them at home for a family dinner, people sell them on the streets (pretty much the only thing open in Porto Alegre’s city centre after 10pm), and there are stores that sell only hot dogs. When buying a hot dog in Brazil, you can choose the number of sausages you want; one, two or three. Yes, three. Then you will receive your bread and desired number of sausages along with peas, corn, coriander, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, potato crisps and often more.
Quick side note: The peas are from a can rather than from the freezer and the best way I can describe their colour is a dark-mouldy green very similar to the building next to the Casino in Hobart that they painted several years back and everyone was like, ugh why would they choose that green that looks a cross between weird vomit and gross sludgy green baby poo?!?! But as long as the peas are mixed in with everything else in the hot dog, you can ignore how gross they look because they only taste a little unusual and not a whole lot unusual.
When people make hot dogs at home, they can also add mashed potatoes which I must say is probably one of the greatest creations on earth. So, despite the complete mess I make every single time I eat a hot dog in Brazil, in my book they are a big plus about living in this country, and are never hard to find!
This is also considered a food group in Brazil, and because of English-language influences, xis is pronounced the way a Brazilian person would say cheese, and they are in fact, cheeseburgers. This is not like when you go to a restaurant in Australia and there are one or two different types of burgers on the menu, these restaurants literally have about 15 different burgers to choose from. My favourite is xis salada, which is your generic bread, cheese, meat pattie, salad (and by salad I mean lettuce, tomato, corn and baby poo green peas). However, you can get chicken, ham, sausage, and of course: chicken heart. Yep, lots of tiny little chicken hearts cut up and put in your burger. Mmmmmm. I have to say, although a number of my friends love chicken heart, in burgers or BBQed on skewers, I am yet to build up the courage to try them. The way I see it, you can eat a chicken heart xis, I can eat a chicken xis, and I have only contributed to the death of one chicken, while you have contributed to ten…for the same amount of food. Just seems greedy. And, um, gross.
Batata Fritas com (MUITO) Queijo
So this meal became a staple that my friends and I would eat religiously along with our beer and coca colas in the evenings. They are quite simply chips, french fries, but with a very significant difference… they are covered in cheese. Now - I have eaten so many chips with cheese over the past few months that I can’t even remember if I thought it was gross before I tried it. But I will tell you now, if you are thinking it sounds disgusting… you are sorely mistaken. Chips with cheese is a whole new concept when it comes to fast foods. Forget about vinegar, forget about aioli, forget about Lord of the Fries, chips with cheese was made in the heavens, and somehow ended up in Brazil.
What Brazil is Missing
They don’t have eggs and bacon for breakfast, they eat avocados in sweet dishes instead of savoury, mushrooms are basically non-existent and focaccias are a very rare commodity to come by. You can see how someone who used to live off full English breakfasts and chicken and avocado focaccias may have struggled to adapt. These Brazilians have no idea what they’re missing.
I Just Don't Get It…
Ok, there are plenty of things in Brazil that I don’t understand but there are two things in particular that I have to deal with on a weekly basis.
Metal Detectors in Banks
Yes, all banks have big metal detector doors you have to walk through, even to enter the room that only has ATMs. Ok, it's a bank, guns, knives, hold ups, I get it. What I don't get is that the security guards are usually not paying attention or are not even there. There is this little hole in the wall next to the door where you put all your metal things phone, camera, computer, and then walk through the door and collect them on the other side. The thing is, the hole is not BIG ENOUGH for a computer! Even a small computer like mine. However, the security guard is not there to help me, so if I have my computer with me and no-one who can wait outside holding it, I can’t enter.
On another note, the security guard doesn't look at what you put through the hole… if you managed to make a subtle disguise for your bomb, gun, knife, hand grenade, you could simply put it through the hole, walk through the metal detector door and collect it on the other side. Genius.
Ok, now I have been living in the south of the country which is notorious for its fastspeakingfastdoing as opposed to those in the north of the country who speak like they are singing and have no concept of haste. Yet, I am increasingly finding that no one in Brazil has a sense of being in a hurry. Everything takes soooofreakinggglonggg. Ooh, I have arrived at work with 15 minutes to spare, I will quickly nip to the post office next door to buy a stamp for my postcard. Oh good, there is only one person in the line in front of me and two counters open. Twenty Minutes Later: Damn, I am late for work. WHYYYYYY?!?!
I am in the airport standing at the counter of a café after having thrown up in the toilets while simultaneously trying not to pass out, wishing someone would serve me so I can get the taste of vomit out of my mouth, there are three women at the counter, no other customers and what are they doing? Talking, checking their phones, counting money, everything and anything except SERVING ME!
Brazilian people are no less intelligent that Australian people, so I don’t understand how it can possibly take them three times as long to do everything. I know there are cultural differences, different expectations in the workplace, different attitudes towards time and all that, but I.just.don’t.get.it.
Looking back on the previous 2557 words (and if you’re still with me, thanks for your commitment), I realize this blog has had a fairly negative spin on it… but I would like to take a moment to ensure you, despite its many quirks (and its frustratingly slow service), my time in Brazil has been nothing less than amazing as there are tons of great things about this country.
If I was not enjoying myself, I would be home already.
Next time I write, which given my track record will probably be around Christmas, I will try to focus on the better things about Brazil and explain to all of you why this is a kick-ass place to be.
At least now if I arrive back in Australia, get home late because no-one told me which bus to catch, stand in the lift for five minutes wondering why it isn’t moving before remembering I have to push the button myself, and then realize I forgot to get my passport photo taken because no-one on the street reminded me, you will understand why.
Until next time,
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