Saturday, November 30, 2013

Good times and menus - São Paulo

Bakery menu
We live pretty much across the street from one of the largest padarias (bakeries) in São Paulo. Bakeries here have nothing to do with bakeries in the US. They are places for breakfast, lunch, tea, coffee, dinner, a beer, a pizza, some sushi (in this one anyway), the usual baked goods (except the selection is unusually huge), a deli, and a mini supermarket. They are like mini-mart meets Denny's meets Starbucks meets .... hmmm, I can't think of a good US bakery...where the food is a cheaper, usually very good and service quick and friendly.

A couple of days ago, my husband and I had a free moment for lunch together so we wandered over to the bakery. They have a huge 12 page menu (they also have an enormous buffet), and we sat down at the bar chairs and perused it. To my complete joy, the restaurant attempted to translate to English and that is always fodder for fun. 

I have to say that in general, things were not too bad until I got to the "beirute" (pronounced like "Bay-roo-chee") sandwiches. This is a type of sandwich made with pita bread, filled with some other yummy like grilled meat, cheese or veggies. It is a common type of sandwich in São Paulo, where it was thought to be imported by Syrian-Lebanese immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. All this you can get from wikipedia, including this photo:

Anyway, check out number 090. We have "meat crouched  tempereded and Philadephia Cream Cheese." I won't even mention that Philadelphia is a brand and needs a "tm". But what exactly is "crouched" meat? Oh, ground meat. "Tempereded" is an an attempted at "seasoned", methinks, though the Portuguese is technically wrong as well "temporada" is a season like summer, not "temperada" which would be "seasoned."

Menus are a good time.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Blacky Friday - São Paulo

Today is Black Friday. It is an annoying day to me, as it turns normal people into beasties, but it's a custom that I've largely ignored in the US. To me, the Friday after Thanksgiving means laying about with friends and family, going for a long walk in some nearby park or woods in a half-hearted attempt to work off the calories, and generally enjoying being at home. For many folks in the US, that is true. 

For some, it is not. They go out at all kinds of hours day and night to shop. It used to be 5 am opening on Friday; now it is 8 pm opening on Thanksgiving Day. I don't understand this and I don't like it. It has ruined one of the best and simplest holidays in the US. I also really feel for people like my friend Katie who have to get up at 2:45 am on Friday morning to greet the shoppers theoretically at 5 am, but there were already people waiting outside at 4 am. It's madness. But it is American-style madness--me, me, me, and shop, shop, shop.

But now (and for the last few years) it's been imported to Brazil. Growing each year in size and media presence, Black Friday now starts at midnight at the Extra supermarket and various other places. A website even gives ideas of the best offers, and has one of its partners as the consumer complaint page "Reclame Aqui." That's funny. Even better is that Extra, the first one to put those deals out there is winning the complaint race this morning with over 270 complaints.

I have my doubts that most people here even know why it has the name "Black" Friday--or, as they say it here, "blacky Friday." In fact, Americanas shops are so confused, they say it is "Red Friday" (their store color) but that is exactly what retailers DON'T want:  a season in the red. There is no significance to the day as being after Thanksgiving--no start of the Christmas season, which starts here in October because there is no "blocker" of the gobbler holiday.

Americanas. Completely confused, in spite of being "americana".

Perhaps Jose Simão, my favorite Folha de São Paulo columnist (blog post on him to come shortly) says it best: "Black Fraud; when everything can be had for half of double." And it's true. Or as my personal trainer says "actually, it's only 30% off of double." São Paulo is one expensive city and the prices you pay for what are commodities in the US are simply unbelievable. A scrapbooking hole punch that costs US$20 on Amazon costs US$100 here. The same one. Why? Import duties...and frankly people pay. I don't know who pays, but someone does. Me, I wait until some poor unsuspecting friend is coming from the US and proceed to bombard her/his house with Amazon shipments of vitamins (cost double here), Apple products (three times, at least), and Frito's. The last because I just can't get them here.

Let me give you another example. The Furby. I became aware of this toy only a couple of weeks ago when a mom of a 5-year old girl told me about it. It seems to be mostly a girl phenomenon. It is some fuzzy toy that you have to feed or it dies (electronically) and other things that apparently girls want (!!! please note sarcasm!!). Then I was shooting the breeze with a 6-year old ballet friend of my son's and she said she had been saving up since forever to buy it. I said much is it? She said R$400 (US$200). Have I overused my !!!!! allowance today? No? Well... !!!!!!!!! $200US for a fuzzy toy that kicks it? Okay, so I had to check it out on Amazon and that same fuzzy dying beast costs only $40US in the States. What is the deal? 

Oh, um, oops, looks like I digressed. Ahem. Okay, so if Mr. Furby is US$200 here and it were to go on sale for $100US (yeah right), you are still paying more than double the US price. Shipping just doesn't cost that much. Import taxes are the bane of Brazilian existence. And where does the money go? I have no idea but it's not to schools, hospitals or transportation. Mystery.

Do me a favor. If you live in the US and it's a day off for you, go take a walk. Go tickle your niece. Go watch football. I don't care: just don't buy into Black Friday. Or if you do, please bring a cupcake to those store workers who had to get up at an ungodly hour to give you a $100 TV.

If you live in Brazil, just say no to the import of this truly stupid day. That is all.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks to be given - São Paulo

Today is my favorite holiday. My favorite holiday in the USA that is. Halloween runs a close second, and done right (small town, new snow, family together), Christmas follows immediately the parade of holidays. So, it is the one that I most miss when I am here.

Today my brother, sister-in-law and niece will be spending the day with my parents in small-town Illinois. I am as deeply envious as I can be, taking out the accompanying hassles of flying during this holiday, and having to get up early to drown the turkey. Or marinate it or whatever. Also there was the year that the dishwasher broke with 20 guests there, and the year that my parents swanned off to California leaving me to manage the floor resanding on the day after Thanksgiving. 

That being said, for the second year now we have been invited to share Thanksgiving dinner with a Brazilian (wife)/American (husband) couple and several other friends. We will have the dinner this afternoon at around 5:30 which precludes any heavy drinking or eating as we all have work/school the next day. Last year the afternoon was wonderful--the kids playing together, all of us pitching in to get the meal on the table. And the gobbler was good.

We have another bonus this year because other friends are also having a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. All bets are off for that one because if you're going to start the party at 1 pm on Saturday, and invite Brits, make sure you have a designated driver. By the way, while Brazil does have a name for Thanksgiving ("Dia de Ação de Graças"), it makes no attempt to have its own version here. Why would they? They have it any given Sunday.

I remember well trying to explain the holiday to my in-laws 15 years ago. "The whole family gets together, and we cook all day, and then we sit around and tell stories, then we clean up and then we eat leftovers for a week." And they looked at me blankly and then glanced around the table. The whole family was there for Sunday lunch, we had cooked the whole day, we had sat around telling stories, and then we cleaned up. And were going home with já te vi (leftovers). Seriously, any given Sunday. So it's not a holiday that would mean anything here.

It means something to me. I am thankful for many people and many things. Today and any given Sunday.

Happy Thanksgiving, USA!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

These are a few of my favorite things - São Paulo

Photo credit:

What is my favorite thing about Brazil? It's kind of impossible to choose (though BH is probably pointing at himself--of course you, honey!!). But yesterday, I realized what makes me smile the most and laugh the most and enjoy the most. It is the daily interaction with the people. And here I am most fortunate--I am fluent in Portuguese. Without that fluency, a lot of the humor and good will and plain old fun back-and-forth would be lost.

Now, as an aside (I see my dad rolling his eyes as I go to an aside), I say I am fluent in Portuguese but I still make many mistakes. This makes the interaction even more fun. A couple of days ago I posted on our neighborhood security site what I thought was a sentence saying that we needed to find out more about what was going on in the crime wave in our neighborhood, with the help of the local police. What I actually wrote (as explained to me by a kind neighbor) is that the local police was responsible for the crime wave and I was demanding an explanation from them. So we all laughed and I edited that puppy before getting hit with a defamation suit by the boys in grey. 

Back to where I was. The fact of the matter is that I will talk with anyone here. And I have learned so much and laughed so much with these small snapshot conversations. On Monday, leaving my kids' school, I saw one of the security guards staring fixedly across the street. I stopped next to him and looked too and said "E aí?" (So?). And he told me that they were unloading Emerson Fittipaldi's Formula 1 car and that he had an office there, and he remembered.......and so on. A security guard with whom I had traded only good morning and good afternoon proceeded to tell me a little about his life. And it was interesting, and we laughed a good bit about how the flatbed truck had a problem getting the car down, and how Emerson was going to show up and start slapping people. 

Two weeks ago I had had another neighborhood interaction near my kids' school. I was walking with my two kids to the car when we saw a little red-brown dog run down the sidewalk and almost into the street. We were worried it would get squashed and we whistled and called to her. As we whistled, an older man strolled out an open gate and started calling "Foxy, Foxy!" and she ran inside. As we pulled even with the gate, he thanked us for trying to get Foxy back and explained to us how he had rescued the dog from the middle of a highway and she was still seemingly more comfortable "on the road". We chatted for a while, and he told me about the famous actresses who used the sign-less spa next door, and other nothing topics. And now, every time we pass by the place and the kids start to call Foxy, he opens the big gate and lets them pet and play with her. 

One of my favorite experiences here is taking a taxi. I remember when I first moved here how I hated it--I couldn't understand the accents, didn't know where I was going, and really could not converse at all. Now I sit back and, depending on the garrulousness of the driver, talk about the World Cup, the arrival of gringos, politics or the traffic. I have learned from them that "embananado" traffic means that traffic is in a banana--no, that the traffic is a complete mess. Ditto "empepinado" which is in a cucumber or pickle. I am always pleasantly surprised by Brazilian taxi drivers--dressed in button-down shirts and slacks, polite and responsive almost to the very last one. I can count my "bad" trips on one hand. Try that in New York or Miami, where I can count my good trips on that same hand. 

Some time I will talk more about taxis here. They are so completely surprising. Clean, regular cars. No plexiglass separating you from the driver. Men (though there are a couple of women at our local taxi stand) who are part of a neighborhood and can give you advice about where to go and how to get there, and many of whom are firmly middle-class. Many have traveled abroad, to the US or to Europe. They all have fantastic stories. They will all tell you if you ask.

If I had one wish for the expatriates here, it is that they could speak fluent Portuguese. You find a whole new side of life here--of friendly, fun people with incredible stories of getting where they are today. Yes, I am going to generalize but Brazilians love to talk. They love to interact. They love to laugh. In all my posts of security and crime, I don't want you all to lose the overall love I have for Brazil and its people. Though not in traffic when every Brazilian turns into a horrible beast. True story.

So, that is all I have today. A happy view of nothing and everything in daily life. One of my favorite things.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pondering the imponderable - São Paulo

How to tell a bullet-proof car. The black "margin" around the window (not the rubber bit)

As I have mentioned before, I have found myself in charge of our house's motor pool (of two cars). This week it was the turn of my Honda CRV. The window was making a click-click noise when lowered. And it is making this noise because it is "blindado" or "protected". Or as most like to translate: "bullet-proofed."  In actuality, bullet-proofing adds a great deal of weight to the motor that raises and lowers the front windows, and these windows only open halfway. Rear windows do not open at all.

I know I've talked about bullet-proof cars here a few times. But it came up again today for two reasons: 1. This is the first time I have visited the bullet-proofing factory in Barra Funda and 2. Because a sister gringa was robbed at gunpoint last night. Her car was not blindado.

I am not going to name my bulletproofing company--they work with Honda, but they are not Honda. Let's call them BPC for Bulletproofing Company. The reason I am not going to name them is that they seem to go out of their way to be secretive. When I finally found the place down a dark alley of  walled-in buildings, I wasn't sure it was them. A street number was on the big rolling door, but no sign at all. I had to call my service representative and say "am I here??" And yes, he told me to just "embicar" (love this--put the "beak" of the car) in front of the huge gunmetal grey door and they would open it. And so it rumbled show a tiny antechamber (picture the Panama Canal locks) where the front door closed behind me before the front door opened. I actually sat there for a few seconds wondering if some water would start pouring in...

A car entering the locks...

Finally the door in front opened and lo and behold...about 100 blindado cars all in a huge warehouse, guarded by the cutest black terrier mix I'd ever seen. I was asked about the problem with the window and then escorted to the waiting area for a coffee. Where the following was displayed behind the coffee stand:

Pictured is a Level 3 bullet-proofed window that has been tested by the factory for security. You can't see too well in this photo: the window has a spider web of cracks but has not been broken. When I commented on this with Silvio, the receptionist, he led me over to another display which was even more graphic, and of an actual attempted crime. 

This is an actual car door on display at the factory, nicely set off by a palm, don't you think? The bullet marks left on the bottom of the door are from a caliber 380 handgun, and the ones on the window are from a caliber 40. If you think I have any clue what the difference is, you are mistaken. If you think I want to know, you are also mistaken. I hate handguns--but I don't really want to get into that debate on-line. We can chat some other time.
Caliber 40. Photo credit:

As I had learned when I was buying my bulletproof car, the only way to shoot through the glass on a level 3 bulletproofed car is to shoot six times in exactly the same place. Not much chance of that as you should be accelerating away.

As my sales rep said to me, if it's a handgun, you're probably good. If it's an Uzi or other automated large weapon (cannon, nuclear warhead, etc), you will want to stop and let them have the car. Now the interesting thing to me on the door above was that Silvio said the door was shot 23 times, not one bullet got through, and that the criminals had known that the door was bullet-proof. So why did they shoot, I ask? "Pura maldade" ("Pure wickedness" is the direct translation I get...isn't that an oxymoron?). They were pissed off that the car was impregnable. 

Now at this point in my story, I stop and think to myself - what the heck am I doing in a city where I need to drive a bulletproof car? And that's just the thing. I don't drive it because it is bulletproof, but because it is "protected", which is the actual translation of "blindado". The most common crime against drivers here is "smash and grab" -- a motoboy and accomplice will drive up next to you, smash the side window and grab what is in the back. Or simply point the gun at you through the window and suggest that you hand over everything, including sometimes, the car. 

The crime here is robbery, it is not murder. Our murder rate in São Paulo is about to go under 10 per 100,000 which is "reasonable" for a large city. However our robberies are going up month over month--and I know someone who was robbed in her car at gunpoint in the last twenty-four hours. For more on what to do about all this (if you are a resident), please see the Safety in São Paulo series on my blog. You can search for it on the right. 
In the end, my car window was fixed. The problem was a bum "amortecedor" ("shock absorber" -- windows have shock absorbers? All news to me...) Fixed free and with a smile from Marcelo, my punk rocker (complete with gelled up hair and skinny jeans) service rep. Back through the locks and home again through the always-surprising streets of São Paulo.

Monday, November 25, 2013

You thought the parrot was retro - São Paulo

Faustão with his dancing girls (from my seat at the football field's bar)

I would be remiss if I did not mention another of Brazil's most well-known presenters. His name is Faustão. I admit that it is many years since I have watched one of his shows, but yesterday afternoon he was on the telly at the championship soccer games. I am guessing that I last saw his show in 1998 when I first moved to Brazil, and from what I can tell, it hasn't changed a bit. Okay, he has definitely lost a few pounds because I always used to fear that one of his shirt buttons would finally give up and pop off into the crowd. He seems safe now.

Faustão pre-weight loss (photo credit

Faustão has a show that seemingly goes on forever. I am actually pretty sure it used to be four hours long but I have to get someone Brazilian who is not BH (who pretends Faustão does not exist) to comment. Yesterday it started at 4 pm, went until 5 pm, then they showed the Corinthians-Flamengo game in the middle. As soon as that was over (around 7 pm), they returned to Faustão until 9 pm. Seems a strange way to do it with a soccer break in the middle, but who am I to argue with globo's formula?

So there he was in front of his huge group of dancing, clapping girls. Yes, in full-on 2013, Faustão presents his "variety" show in front of maybe 25 identically dressed (skimpily, I might add) dancing girls. It is the stuff that gives this country a bad stereotype.

Here is a link to a clip from yesterday (all credit to and I hope you can see it in other countries--let me know if it works.

The show is billed as "Domingão de Faustão" (Big Sunday with Big Fausto). I just looked it up and saw that this show has been running EVERY Sunday since 1989. Someone is watching this. He has big musical acts on, and interviews people, but in between all this he just talks and talks. They just let him talk. He talks about turkeys (last night's show had a turkey sponsor, and I mean the edible type o' turkey) and then talks about his next guest. Most of the time he doesn't even let the guest talk....he is constantly interrupting while the guest looks nonplussed. 

Faustão's name is Fausto Correa da Silva but I have never heard him called anything but Faustão.  Since I mentioned that his contemporary, Ana Maria Braga (she of the large parrot) was married to a much younger man, I feel it necessary to also tweak Faustão who is married to someone 27 years his junior (he is currently 63 years old).  Time must be a whole different thing for him--he started working at age 15 as a radio reporter, and hasn't left radio/TV since. Certainly he doesn't leave the air every Sunday afternoon until the boys in shorts chase him off.

Faustão post-weight loss and look like perhaps he has gotten a little other work done? Hmmm? Photo credit:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

How do you spell that? - São Paulo

Lula da Silva. Possibly one of the only Silvas not at risk of false imprisonment.

If you decide to move to Brazil one day, and your name is Silva, Souza or Pereira (all common names here), you'll want to be careful about not being confused with a bad guy. 56 cases here in São Paulo have been the result of false imprisonment for a similar name or nickname. In sum, these people spent 7 years, eight months, 18 days and 14 hours unjustly imprisoned--which is to say, the folks took a long time to be able to prove their innocence in a court of law.  Cost to the system, after paying compensation to the falsely accused: R$1.7 million.

Some were imprisoned because someone had forged their RG in committing a crime. But some were because "Barbosa" was confused with "Barboza".  An "Eronildo" with the nickname of "Nildo" was imprisoned in the place of a "Leonildo" also nicknamed "Nildo." And my favorite, a "Maria Aparecida" went to prison for a simple "Aparecida" with the same last name. And you cannot throw a stone without hitting a Maria Aparecida is one of the most popular names.

So, maybe it makes sense now that the application I made for my husband to change the name on our house title was rejected by the mayor's office because the name was not correct. Why was it not correct? I hadn't put in his middle name, officially and legally part of his name. The use of his full name might save him from prison one day, I suppose.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pull up a chair - São Paulo

This photo (sorry, it's dark, I know) shows my friend's briefcase pulled up to the dining table next to us. Here in Brazil, a separate chair is almost always pulled up by a waiter for you to put your purse or briefcase on. 

Why is that? Mostly likely a superstition or belief that if you put your money on the ground, it will run out the door. This is a belief also found in Feng Shui. All I know is that people will come running if you put a purse on the ground at your feet. Even in a Brazilian home, you will find your hosts not allowing briefcases and purses on the ground--they will always move it to an elevated surface.

Pull up a chair, Mr. Briefcase.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Read on - São Paulo

Here's my attempt at a stalker picture. No, not really. This is at the small neighborhood club, and specifically in the small playground. I am spying through one of the tree trunks at a young girl, probably age 13 or so who is absolutely and totally absorbed in her book. Kids are running around her, yelling, playing with sand (she is leaning on the sand box) and once in a while someone will stop and look over her shoulder and watch her read for a moment then spin off again.

This scene struck me so strongly because I never see people reading books here. Okay, "never" is a very strong word but it is rare. I took a 20 minute train ride on Monday where not a single person (except me--I'm reading The Casual Vacancy) was reading a printed anything. Everyone was listening to ipods or cell phones, or staring blankly into the air. Where are the books here? Even on the beaches, you don't see people reading. Socializing, perusing a magazine or a newspaper, maybe. Never a book. And I am including kindles and nooks and ipads, okay? 

I am not dreaming, it turns out. Recent research by Instituto Pro-Livro (Pro-book Institute) shows that Brazilians read only 4.7 books a year. 62.3% of Brazilians have not read a book in the last three months. I find books very expensive here: the equivalent of US$20 for a small paperback. Think about that cost when monthly salaries are about US$300/month. About 21% of these Brazilian book readers get their book from a library, another 18% from school. I can only imagine how this splits out socio-economically.

One of the reasons I volunteer as a reading mum in my kids' school is because I loved reading as a child. I would have been that girl in the playground. I would have had my nose stuck in a book on the train. I know of no greater escape. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Brazilian banking - the best and worst of times - São Paulo

A Brazilian boleto, or bill. For US$10 million, yikes! Photo credit: wikipedia

One of the most pleasant surprises for me in Brazil has been the banking system. In reality, I have to say that there have been some unpleasant surprises related to banking here as well, but in general, thumbs up. Why? Something called Brazilian internet banking.

When I lived in Miami (my last US address), bill paying was just starting to move to internet bill pay. In general I still sent a check through the mail to pay various bills, unless there was a way to do an automatic payment through my bank, which I will call ummm, California Bank. Mostly I was able to pay electric, gas, water, credit card and this stuff on line, but if I wanted to  pay a friend back, I would have to write the check myself or fill out an online form which would have the bank cut a check to this friend. Not so efficient.

It is completely insecure to send a check through the mail in Brazil. So, how do you pay your bills? There are a couple of ways. One, a "boleto" or "ticket" (okay, wikipedia wants to translate as ticket, I would have said "bill") winds its way into your mailbox. You take it upstairs, faint (this one is for $10 million dollars--not my bill thank you), and then pop open your bank account online. Once you have typed in the huge long number at the top (or you could have an optic reader at home which I don't cause I am cheap) and click a few security things, your bill is scheduled for payment. Cool. 

Sometimes it is uncool. Like when there is a mail strike for 3 months and not one bill arrives (true story. Often). So then you can get your peeps to do the bill DDA (Debito Direto Autorizado, or Authorized Direct Debit) which gives you a view of the bill online without it ever hitting your physical mailbox. Cool. Again.

Then you transfer money to your friends by "doc" (pronounced "Docky") or sometimes a TED (yep, you guessed it--pronounced "TEH-GEE"). Also I pay some of my corporate taxes on line through my bank. It is all so civilized.

Unless you are trying to do something a little out of the ordinary, like say, update your passport (security) information. Then you have to go into a branch, wait for a while, be told your branch manager is not there and no one else can help you (really? Write down a new passport number?) and wait x weeks for the change, where x is not limited to any real number.  I am not bitter. Just truthful.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Black Consciousness - São Paulo and some other places in Brazil

Today is a holiday here in São Paulo. It is called Dia da Consciencia Negra, or Black Awareness Day. It's not a national holiday but rather a city-decided one--of roughly 5500 municipalities in Brazil, 757 celebrate it. São Paulo city is a rather late convert--it began celebrating the holiday in 2004. The holiday is always November 20, never the day before, never the day after. It's not moveable.

One of the good things about doing this blog is it makes me research various things that I had only peripherally been aware of--like today. And the only reason I have time to research it today is because my kids are off at a soccer day here we go.

According to wikipedia, as good a source as any (wince), Black Awareness Day is a "day on which to reflect upon the injustices of slavery (from the first transport of African slaves to Brazil in 1594 to 1888) and to celebrate the contributions to society and to the nation by Brazilian citizens of African descent." Now considering Brazil's history of miscegenation, you could count a great number of its citizens as being at least partially of African descent. So, let's reflect on some of this.

First of all, why November 20? That's the day, in 1695, that one of the greatest leaders of the African slave resistance was killed. His name was Zumbi dos Palmares, most often known as Zumbi. The story is fascinating and long: I will give you a summary but I suggest you read more (again, I suggest that wikipedia is a pretty good source here on Palmares). The Quilombo dos Palmares, in present-day Alagoas state, was a community made up of fugitive slaves who would not accept Portuguese rule. The "rogue" state lasted from at least 1605 until a major portion of it was crushed by the Portuguese in 1694. Zumbi was the leader for a number of years, taking over from king Ganga Zumba who wanted to try to negotiate with the Portuguese.

Zumbi is an interesting guy. He was born free in Palmares in 1655, but captured by the Portuguese and given to a missionary when he was six years old. He escaped and went back to Palmares to carry on the rebellion there. When Palmares was crushed by the Portuguese, Zumbi managed to evade capture for a couple more years but was eventually betrayed by a former slave and beheaded. Rebellions continued for a number of years but without a charismatic leader, the Palmares Quilombo disappeared around 1710. You can read a lot more about it here or, if you can read Portuguese, the best summary I found was here.

So, I would say that I have reflected a bit on slavery here in Brazil today. And it makes me reflect on slavery in the US a bit too. Slavery continued here until 1888, in the US until 1865. My family immigrated to the US from Holland in the 1860s through the 1880s. It's just not that long ago--I am fifth generation in the US.  What did my ancestors think of slavery? 

Reflection indeed. Happy Black Awareness Day!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Keep your sacks in the right place - Joanópolis

This is one of the simple and efficient tools that I most love in Brazil. It is called a “guarda-sacos” or “where you put your bags.” It is essentially a tube of cloth with an elasticized end, kind of like a sleeve has. When you are done with your plastic bags from groceries or whatever, you ball them up and stuff them into this tube, which gets chubbier with every bag.  I have seen all kinds of these devices—some in the figure of a woman with an apron, who gets fatter and fatter with every plastic bag stuffed up her…well, you get the point. It is a cute and fun place to hide non-pretty plastic

Another guarda-saco. You can buy this one at:

Now, you need to make sure that you use this term properly because there are some similar phrases that can get you into trouble quickly. First there is the “puxa-saco." This means something like a "brown-noser" or someone who "kisses up" in American English. A little research shows that the expression comes from the long-ago military hierarchy. The soldier who carried around, or dragged around, a superior's bags was known as the "puxa-saco" or "pull bag."  But now it is used like this: that kid got an "A" in math, not because he is smart but because he is a “puxa-saco" and charms the teacher.

Then there is “gela-saco” which is “freeze your balls” or ball, really. That is when you go over one of the little rises in the road that drops off quickly and you get that queasy feeling in your…well, I would have said stomach but the Brazilians think lower. When I was confirming my understanding of this one, I ran across this fun blog called SuperSogra (Super Mother-in-Law--in spite of the fact that it is a man who writes it) where he posts about his belief that men feel fear first in their nether regions. If you wish to test this, and you are a boy, watch the video in his post. It doesn't matter if you don't understand Portuguese or Russian, that made me want to throw up. It did not freeze any nether regions.

Apparently there is an old type of air conditioning (mostly in VW Beetles) that was also called "gela-saco" so I'm guessing the vents were positioned appropriately.

And don't forget the exclamation "que saco!" which can translate "what a pain!" or "what a bore!". As in, you just missed your train by one minute: "que saco!" Or you can just say "saco" which means "darn".

Or "encher o saco" (fill your sack) or be "de saco cheio". This is when someone or something irritates you. "Estou de saco cheio com o transito" (I'm annoyed by the traffic) or "Esta mosca está enchendo o saco" which is "this fly is irritating me." Supposedly this last expression is from the 17th century when the agricultural workers brought large sacks to the field, filled them up and at the end of the day, they were "com saco cheio" or with their sacks full--you could not fit one more thing in. Fed up.  So says globo anyway (sorry, Portuguese only).

Now if I were you I would use “saco” as little as possible. Argentinians refer to their suit jackets as “sacos” which brings great hilarity to any office environment. My former boss (from Buenos Aires) once said during lunch that he had left his "saco" in the office and one of my Brazilian co-workers nearly choked on his french fry.  Fortunately we knew the Heimlich.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Everyone line up! We're going to the beach! - São Paulo

Just another holiday weekend. Photo credit:

Three years ago, BH's parents sold their beach house which was in Guaecá (190 kms or 110 miles from São Paulo) on the São Sebastião shoreline. It was a tough decision, but the kids were not much using it, there was a pousada seemingly starting construction next door, and the traffic to get to the beach made it tough to make it doable in a weekend. It only made sense to visit if you were able to stay a week or more. We still do visit Guaecá but only during the week before the New Year's chaos (as opposed to our freezing northern hemisphere experiences, New Year's is hot beach weather here in the southern hemisphere).

To get to the São Paulo coastline beaches, you have basically four options of roadways: Tamoios (nightmare under construction), Imigrantes (nice but very busy), Anchieta (Imigrantes' predecessor that gets reversed in direction when things get busy) and Mogi-Bertioga (take a Dramamine and expect to wait when you get near Bertioga). Now what happens when 255,000 (estimated) tourists get on the road for a three day weekend? I think you can guess. I imagine it looks roughly like trying to get to Cape Cod from Boston, the Hamptons from New York and Key West from Miami.

From the spy cameras at DER. This is the return on Sunday, much lighter than the Friday traffic

It is easy to find yourself in a traffic nightmare on any given weekend you spend on the litoral norte (the north coast of São Paulo state). As I mentioned in a previous blog, a trip that used to take us 2 1/2 hours from Guaeca to São Paulo took us 4 1/2 hours on a regular two-day weekend. And you don't even want to think about a holiday weekend like this past one--Friday was Proclamation of the Republic Day, a day celebrated apparently mostly by the military, since I did not see anyone "celebrating" what the day meant (the overthrow of the monarchy in Brazil). Much like Memorial Day is celebrated by very few, in any meaningful way, in the US.

Now as an aside, I suggest the Brazil try to make a more fun holiday out of the Proclamation of the Republic Day. Instead of borrowing Halloween, why don't we have everyone dress up as their favorite monarchist? Dom Pedro, or Carlota or maybe the Bragança e Orleans folks (yes, we have some of the descendents still around in Brazil) don't even need to dress up! Maybe we could make it even international and we could have some Queen Elizabeths and King Wilhelms wandering about.  Then we could have a reenactment of the military overthrow (don't worry, it was peaceful, no one gets hurt like those Civil War enactments) and then hand out candy. It could work.

Anyway, digression done. It turns out that you have to be insane to try to go to a "nearby" beach on a holiday weekend. On our way out to the fazenda on Friday morning, we heard that some people had left at 3:30 am on that Friday, and at 11 am were still only 115 kms from São Paulo. This was on Radio SulAmerica, possibly the most-respected traffic source. And now coming back from the fazenda (there is no TV or internet there), we were hearing of people stuck in 5 hours or more of traffic on a normally one hour route.

As I sat down to my computer last night for the first time in days, I saw that prevailing advice was to leave at midnight or later if you were coming home from the beach. It's just not worth it. 

From today's Folha de São Paulo front cover: stuck in the tunnel from the beach

Hanging out on Rodovia Tamoios

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lock those bad books up! - São Paulo

Last week one of my sons had a football (soccer) game at the club and the other one did not. The son who did not have a soccer game wanted to go to the club's library and read a book instead. It was a Sunday at 3 pm.  The library was completely deserted, and when we got to the big case holding the children's books, it was locked. With no one around who could unlock it.  

We stood there for a few minutes flabbergasted until one of the club's tech guys came by and said "hey! do you want to watch the movie?" We went into the club's cinema and there was not a single soul yet they played the movie just for us. 

What's the deal with locking up kids' books? If we are worried that they are going to get stolen, we have a different problem at the club. Education.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

CHiPs, Brazil style - São Paulo

Awwww, Ponch and Jon! I miss them! Photo credit
So, there are a lot of motorcycle cops in São Paulo. Most all of them, as far as I can tell are Military Police, the guys that case and apprehend the bad guys. Makes sense--makes them much more flexible on getting through traffic and onto sidewalks as necessary. And since the bad guys are often motoboys themselves, you've got to be able to chase them. 

As I was returning from dropping my son at ballet on Sunday (special rehearsal), I happened to be following a pair of motorcycle cops. I hate following them, really. They usually are going pretty slowly and having a chat. Back and forth, back and forth. They weren't really looking at much except each other so I did not think that they were necessarily even on-duty. It was 9 am on Sunday. 

But then they did the traffic light rigamarole. If you've never seen it, it's like motorcycles on ice. They swirl around each other for a moment, then pull up facing each other. And you. Sort of. 

Dudes looked away and I got'em on film.

Apparently when they get stopped at a red light, motocops need to park their motorcycles perpendicular to the following traffic. One then proceeds to evil-eye the cars behind him (woe be to those drivers who have gotten too close) and one looks ahead and to the cross streets. So these guys who had been totally tuned out as they moseyed along two minutes before were now owl-ing the whole street. Very intimidating. I was afraid to take this shot but the rear guard dude looked away for one second and pow! Boys on film!

One day I'll catch a video of the motocop dance. Did Ponch and Jon do this? Never saw it. Hard to imagine, given the size of those Calif Highway Patrol motos...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cleared for landing - São Paulo

Cleared for landing!
Have all the shopping malls gone insane? First statues of dogs and Santas in rain jackets (see blog post here), and now this, a piece of an airplane has landed in the parking lot of Shopping Eldorado.

Nope, no crash. I imagine that it is going to be somehow stuffed inside to become part of that new "careers" play area. I haven't seen doors this big at the mall so maybe they'll take it apart piece by piece. Please let someone call me that day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

And on a (more) personal note - São Paulo

My brother is my co-pilot. Let's roll!
I don't post much about my kids here, mostly because this is a public page and I don't want them to have to deal with what mom said about them. And for security reasons, I will not publish their photos (but this one above is actually them on the front seat of the jeep on safari in Africa in October). But peripherally, I think you all know them. I call one creative, and one soccer boy. Of course those are only labels and they have a little bit of both in them.

Today the twins turn seven. Somehow, overnight, they are 7.

We moved to Brazil when the twins were 18 months old. They were starting to speak some words in English--creative started with "bi"for bird, and soccer boy started with "ba"for ball. True. They had a wonderful nanny --something that Brazil affords even middle class families here in Brazil. And Leia's (the nanny) sister Teia still works with us as a maid, though she does not live in. Both of these two Brazilian girls (and they were girls when they arrived here) were wonderful and playful and loving to these two. Teia still is--she has been here five years and there is not one single day that soccer boy doesn't ask me on the way home from school or sport --- ïs Teia home?" They love her, and she has become part of the family. 

Brazil has always treated our kids well. Brazilians love kids. Even bad kids. Mine are good kids, most days. The teachers hug and kiss them and pull them into their laps. Everyone at the club knows them, right down to the cafeteria workers who tee up the ice cream right after the game, or the security guard who has had his ear talked off by creative. They call soccer boy "älemao"or German because of his white blond hair. He has given up correcting them. 

We are lucky that we have been able to bring our kids up bilingual. Though creative prefers English (and has adopted an accent in Portuguese) and soccer prefers Portuguese (and has an accent in English), they switch easily back and forth--always seeming to know who speaks English or Portuguese. I am so happy with their international school which has exposed them to racial diversity, if not socio-economic. Their best friends make a rainbow of colors and races--and soccer boy remains the very whitest so he can add diversity for the others. It is a school accepting of differences (remember that creative is the only boy there who does ballet) and encouraging of teamwork. 

So I have to say that thank you to Brazil which has made my kids better people.

PS. Don't worry, tomorrow I will get back to razzing you.... ;)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reforma "já que" - São Paulo

Well, since you're painting that wall, why not the entire house? Photo credit:

So this morning I was going to bring to you my latest car service department story, but since it hasn't ended yet (our monster truck is still being repaired, day 3), I am going to tell you another one of my favorite Brazilian expressions. But first, let me set the scene.

While I am in the Volvo car service department, I am discussing the rumbling, shaking and other assorted scary noises coming from the car with Ricardo, the service guy. And we come to an agreement about what needs to be done and what does not, and then Ricardo says this: "já que o carro está aqui, por que não faz (blah, blah)". This translates as "Given that the car is here, why don't you do this that and the other. Normally, that phrase is followed by optional car seat hydration, waxing, tire polishing, air filter cleaning or any number of other worthless things.

"Já que", pronounced "ZHA (think Zsa Zsa Gabor) KAY" is "given that". And as a newly arrived gringa five years ago, I learned that it actually means that you are going to spend x times 2 more than you had planned and it will take y x 40 days longer than you had scheduled. Here is how it works.

When we bought our house, our furniture was still being held hostage by the customs authorities (as I have mentioned before, the Brazilian phrase of "liberar" or "liberating" your goods from customs always brings to mind a picture of my furniture behind bars). So we decided to take advantage of the empty house to paint a couple of the rooms -- one blue for one son, one green for the other. And given that the new paint in those two rooms looked so great, we decided to paint the other two bedrooms. And given that the rest of hallway looked sad, we painted that. And "já que"  all the trim in the house was chipping, let's paint that...and já que...etc. By the time we were done with all this, our furniture had to be covered with painting cloths, and our budget was blown.

This is what my husband and many other Brazilians call a "reforma já que". Let me digress just a moment to say that "reforma" is another one of my favorite Brazilian words. Literally "re-form" a house, which is absolutely perfect for what a renovation does. Back to "reforma já que". It is an expression that describes pretty well how when you start a little house project, it quickly becomes a huge project. Given that you're blowing the place up, why not just drop in a swimming pool? No, we did not do that. 

So here is my advice to any arriving gringos here. If the sales person, or handyman or gardener or whoever  uses the phrase "já que", you're going to want to pay careful attention and repeat "no thank you" frequently.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The blond and the parrot - São Paulo

Ana Maria Braga and her parrot friend Louro José.    Photo credit:

After recent feedback to my blog that I am nannering on an on about a variety of subjects all in the same post, I have separated my fun times yesterday into two posts. First up is Ana Maria Braga, and tomorrow I will cue up my feedback about a certain Swedish car dealership. 

Okay, so Ana Maria. I have to be SUPER careful here ("Super" added for the delight of one of my British fans who is made crazy by Super, Hyper, and Mega. Did I mention I mega like winding up Brits? Oops, here I am digressing again). I have to be careful for two reasons: 1. Ms. Braga is capable and successful in suing people who mess with her and 2. Some people really like her. And her parrot. 

Background for those of you unfortunate (ahem) enough to never have enjoyed her program "Mais Voce" ("More You" in direct translation): Ana Maria Braga works as a "journalist" in a "talk show" Monday through Friday on Rede Globo, the biggest baddest media network in Brazil. Her show runs from 8:28 am until 9:56 am (if you think I am kidding, please look here). Unfortunately for me, this coincides always with the time that I am in the car service department. And the car service departments are always on Rede Globo. I don't know why. Do car people like parrots? Do car people like inanity? (I mean that in the nicest way, Ms. Braga). Is it a coincidence that when I spell-checked "inanity", it came up with "insanity"? 

Now we have our fair share of inane morning shows in the US. Offhand, I could be sued by four networks. But in my memory, the car service department there had the TV normally tuned to CNN or local news (more inanity) not a talk show with a large parrot. 

So let me get to it. Ana Maria interviews people, makes food with guest chefs, and talks with a large puppet parrot named Louro José. And Louro disagrees with Ms. Braga sometimes (though I don't think he gets sued for it) but mostly is known for his pithy comments and, according to wikipedia, my favorite source, he is known as the "comic element" of the show. I find the whole show comic.

There he is! Louro José!

Yesterday I was treated to the interview of one of my favorite Brazilian actresses, Claudia Raia. That girlie can do evil, I tell you. I saw her in one of the novelas (soap operas), in fact the only one I ever watched, called A Favorita (the favorite). First she was a nice lady, then she was bad***, and then she was nice again. Good fun. Apparently the goal of Ana Maria's show was to make her cry. So she did. Her son Enzo told Claudia something that made her very emotional (sorry I am loose on details here because this was the moment that the service guy told me it was time for a test drive of BH's ailing car).

Claudia gets emotional. Photo credit is mine but the show is "Mais Voce"

By the time I had gotten back from showing the car guys that the car sounds like a herd of buffalo are under it, Louro had done his work and made Claudia laugh again. Yay, parrot! You may be in my nightmares, but you make Claudia happy!

Claudia pulls out the happiness and Ana Maria serves more coffee

Now I feel a little bad about making fun of Ms. Braga when she was one of the reasons I started my blog.  It's true. I was sitting in the Honda service center watching Ms. Braga show off a new driver-less car (in a driver-less car situation,  exactly WHO takes it to the service center? I could like this idea) when "aconteceu um improvisto" (something unexpected happened) and the car backed up and bonked her, causing the need for stitches. I will always know the date I took my car in for service because I saw that one live. Ms. Braga is no spring chicken (though she dates one) so it was a seriously bad scene. But of course when I posted this on my facebook page, I got lots of comments about the cultural differences between Brazil and the US (where to my knowledge, we have no talk shows with foot-tall parrot puppets) and made me start to think about blogging.

In reality, I have little against Ms. Braga. Okay, I hate her hair. If you are not a natural blonde, I believe you are supposed to take action against dark roots. It is a contract you need to sign to get your hair colored (I have no personal knowledge of this, as I have only once lightened my hair and I am far too lazy and cheap to do it again--though clearly I could follow Ms. Braga's plan of re-applying the dye. Lasts forever. Or not). I don't even care that she dated/married someone 20 years her junior. Why not? Men do it all the time. It is more that I feel her show lacks a little ummm, there there.

Ironically (when you consider her current TV partner at least), Ms. Braga graduated with a zoology degree before turning to "journalism." Also she and Louro have separate renewable contracts with Globo. You can't make this up. Or rather, you don't need to.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Things that wouldn't cut it in the US - Såo Paulo

This is a sign up at the local community center. It's a notice about becoming part of the Guarda Civil Metropolitana which is maybe like the National Guard, except its for the city and really they only watch out for "patrimonial" stuff like schools and statues and so on.  Personally I find the salary of R$1377 a month a little on the light side ($595USD a month to get shot at. Umm, no).  

But that's not what drew my eye. It was something two lines below, and unfortunately it is blurry in this smartphone shot. It says they have jobs for 1400 men and 600 women. Ummm, could we do that in the US? Do we say that we have spaces for 1400 men in our police forces and 600 women? I don't think we can do that...I think that might be called discrimination...but I'll let someone tell me if this would cut it or no. 

I think not.