Neighborhoods are an important part of Brazilian urban organization. When you speak to someone some of the first questions are ‘where are you from’ (because you have a funny accent obviously) and then ‘what neighborhood do you live in’? In Florianópolis, I live near an old and respected neighborhood called Trindade. There are many students in Trindade due to its proximity to the major university Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. However, there are also a lot of residents who have lived in or near Trindade their whole lives. These are the people you will meet if you go out any Saturday or Sunday morning to buy some bbq which is referred to here as churrasco (chew-haas-co).
Going to get some churrasco on the weekend is a Brazilian tradition and this is how it works. In the neighborhoods there are lots of minimercados which are typically a cross between a corner store and very small grocery. Some of these have a well outfitted butcher as well. On the weekends they setup what looks like a refrigerator sized rotisserie, powered by gas, and they slow cook beef, pork, and whole chickens to sell. The churrasqueiro, the guy who cooks the bbq, sets this all up around 5:00 am and people line up to buy between about 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. If you get there at or after 1:00 pm, you are most likely going to be out of luck. Everything will be sold or spoken for already. I have also seen that some of the old timers in the neighborhood have a system worked out with the churrasqueiro to hold on to a favorite cut of meat or ribs for them and they tip him when they pick it up. This is not exactly how it looks on the street, but to give you an idea of churrasco in general here’s a picture:
There are always neighborhood guys that hang out around the minimercado. They’re not there to do anything in particular. They just have beers and talk about life. They might be there to get some meat or they might not. As a language learner, I saw this as a golden opportunity to interact with local Brazilians, doing local Brazilian things. I must admit though, it’s intimidating approaching a bunch of locals in their natural environment and trying to get into their group. My fiancee came to visit me in Florianópolis over the holidays and she and I went to buy some churrasco together one weekend. I used the opportunity to meet a couple of people. When she left she encouraged me to keep going every weekend for practice and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Thanks babe!
So, how do you get in to the group? My method was simple. Meet the guy running the show, the churrasqueiro. I got in line, got some meat, then I bought a couple of beers. I went outside and awkwardly hung out for a few minutes. I found out my neighborhood guy was named William and he thought it was cool that I was a foreigner that could speak Portuguese. I gave him a beer and I was in. He introduced me to some guys and made me feel welcome. He even gave me a ride home and told me I should keep coming by. I’m a regular now and that feels pretty cool. Here’s a shot of Will and I hanging out:
Being in the group has a lot of advantages. I’ve learned all sorts of things. I met a Brazilian guy who had been to over 20 countries, mostly European, and he was happy to show me pictures and he proudly proclaimed he had never been to the U.S. And he never wanted to. I met a guy named Fabricio who was adopted at age 4 by a missionary couple from the U.S. He grew up there but came back to Brazil in 2010 and has stayed here ever since. I got invited to a neighborhood block party for Carnival. I’ll have to report on how that goes next week. I got invited to a local bar to watch a soccer game, which was a lot of fun. I took some Americans and practiced my translation skills. And finally I learned that William, the churrasqueiro, works incredibly hard and has a lot of respect in the neighborhood because of it. He works, as the Brazilians call it, Domingo a Domingo (Sunday to Sunday) which is just another way of saying seven days a week. He does churrasco every Saturday and Sunday and works pumping gas at the gas station across the street from the minimercado Monday through Friday. He just had a baby last week and he’s going to bring me over to the house soon to meet the family.
I’ve done a lot of things in Brazil that have been great, but this is the really amazing stuff. Brazilians are incredibly open and generous people with their time, their money, and their friendship. Recognizing I just wanted to hang out, they’ve never once turned me away. On the contrary, they’ve bought me beers, brought me into their conversations, and wholly welcomed me into their world. They ask nothing more then to show up when you say you are and have a good time while you are there. Saude! (cheers!)