BBQ in the Hood

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).

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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:

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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:

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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!)

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Language Learning: The Uber Method

I was having a conversation with my good friend Dr. Ben Penglase in, of all things, a California style burrito restaurant in Brazil.  Ben is an Anthropologist and examining how California beach, surf, skate, and ska music culture migrated all the way to the south of Brazil and culminated in a restaurant called Moochachos is likely more in his realm of expertise than mine.  But on this particular night I brought up to him what I have been jokingly calling The Uber Method of language learning.

According to the Uber country list, the service is currently operating in over 80 different countries.  The Uber Method of language learning is simple.  Once you have reached an intermediate level of language mastery, meaning you can string together basic sentences in the present tense, you are prepared to start engaging your Uber drivers in conversation every chance you get.  When else are you stuck in a very confined space with a native speaker of your target language who literally has to speak with you?

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Taking an Uber to the beach? Find out where the drive is from, why they’re driving Uber, and if they have any tips for you!

In my experience, this works particularly well with Brazilians.  It seems that almost all the Brazilians I have encountered have a cultural necessity to engage in conversation with a person in a confined space and that can be a good or bad thing.  Take an elevator for example.  On my way to class Mondays and Wednesdays I have to take an elevator at about 8:30 AM to the top floor of fairly tall building.  Early morning encounters in your target language are the worst.  Your brain has barely started working in your native language and you find yourself trying to avoid interacting out of sheer anxiety.  Only here, this seems to be impossible.  You will be asked about the weather, the weekend, what a nice morning it is, where you’re headed, how classes are, or where you’re from if you cannot mask your accent well enough.  I brought this up to one of my Brazilian professors and they laughed but agreed.  For many Brazilians it’s almost seen as rude in such situations to not say something.

For learning your language via Uber, this is an excellent cultural trait.  If you are in a capital city, as I am in Florianópolis, you have the added benefit of meeting many drivers who are from different parts of the country.  This gives you access to different accents, different political view points, different generational views, and to a lesser extent different economic backgrounds.  I point out that last note, because Ben pointed it out to me.  To drive Uber you have to meet certain requirements like very basically owning a car and not-so-basically owning a fairly new car.  This necessitates that the driver be at least middle-class of some stripe and limits your interaction with other socio-economic groups, if that is your aim.  Despite this, I have found the other advantages to be invaluable.

Why are hearing different accents and political views so important?  Because, as I described in a previous post, Brazil is huge.  Knowing the different accents and what regions they come from is intrinsic to the Brazilian Portuguese experience and hearing all these interesting ways to speak Portuguese is half the fun.  And as a second, or third, or whatever, language learner you get to choose which accent you prefer to use.  How cool is that?  As far politics, Brazilians are not shy about sharing their views.  Listening to what they have to say can really increase your knowledge of the regional concerns that exist in a country and it also serves to deepen your vocabulary in your target language.

Given that Uber operates in so many countries , the service provides an excellent dual service to the language learner.  Of course this has some limits.  Maybe you’re in a city that doesn’t have Uber operations.  Maybe the public transportation is better or significantly cheaper and this can vary by situation.  The Uber Method, as I see it, is never wasting an opportunity to practice and learn when and if you do use Uber abroad, which I highly recommend.  Don’t let your language level or anxiety get the best of you.  Try it out!

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