The day we arrived, with only our suitcases and pups in hand, we felt out of place in unfamiliar territory. Tom speaks Portuguese, but mostly in a business context, and while I can read it, my vocabulary is still lamentable and I stutter when I try to speak. So, while we “Bom Dia”-ed everyone we saw, and “Tudo Bem?”-ed for all we were worth, we couldn’t understand the responses, except for the smiles or the looks of amused confusion on some of the faces.
But all was well. It was what we had expected.
In the apartment, we had been set up with a loaner television, which received the basic cable signal. So, that evening, wanting to tap into our new culture, we watched TV. Tom got more out of it than I did, though I appreciated hearing the language as I try to attune my ear, and then my tongue.
Tiring of watching and not understanding, we turned to a “Merlin” episode I had downloaded in the US, enjoying the show and taking comfort in the language.
Then I realized something. I had an Internet signal! It was weak, but it existed, and I was surfing it! I quickly tried to contact Aubrey and Scott, and got through to Aubrey. The Skype signal was super-weak, but we could hear her fine if we turned off the camera. Contact!
Later, we connected to our mail. Another link with the outside world! Pirated or not, that signal was a lifeline to us.
And there’s the rub. We now have our own Internet link, and have cable TV complete with some English-language channels. These are handy for two reasons: first, we can watch American TV (oddly mish-mashed on two channels), and second, we can read Portuguese subtitles as we watch, thus building up our vocabulary and our phraseology.
And today, I got a VPN, so that we can watch US TV on our computers, and are no longer limited to content available in Brazil. This will be handy come time for the Olympics, I hope.
But with this connectivity comes a risk: the risk that we won’t tap into the culture here, but will cling to what we know and are comfortable with. I must make it a priority to continue to watch Brazilian TV and to tap into its culture, beyond our walls. Last Friday, as I ironed clothes, I watched kids’ TV shows on TV. People on those shows tend to speak more slowly, with lots of repetition, so I figured it would be a good way to teach myself. I learned the names of the (northern hemisphere) constellations on “Dora, the Explorer,” and learned about being a cowboy, complete with a song to sing. I’ll try to do this most afternoons for half an hour or so, no matter how silly I feel.
But I also have to get out and about. Working as I do from home, it is very easy for me to keep a distance between myself and the outside world, watching it below from my aerial view.
Fortunately, I have to take the dogs out 4-5 times a day, which forces me to get out and about. And I’m meeting people in the elevators, a little at a time. Today, I met Tie-Eesh, which is the phonetic spelling of the name of the lady who was cleaning the elevators. I practiced a little of my Portuguese with her, and she helped to correct my pronunciation. Another small victory.
When I walked the dogs around 11 am, I passed an older gentleman walking on a side street. As I passed him, we both looked down and saw fresh dog feces and a bag of the same on the sidewalk. He immediately launched into a diatribe about it. While I didn’t understand the words, I got his meaning as he reached down, picked up the bag, and tossed it into a garbage can right next to the spot. All I could say was, “Nao de mim,” which I hoped was, “Not mine.” Someday soon, I hope, I’ll be able to commiserate with him about dog owners who don’t clean up after their animals, but for now, I just shrug and shake my head.
I’m working up the nerve to go eat at a luncheonette (Luncheonette Big Big) around the corner. I can see McDonald’s golden arches from my window, but I won’t give in. One, it’s too dang far, and two, gotta eat local food! (We don’t even like McDonald’s when we’re at home, and yet, here, it sings a siren song.)
Tom was given a loaner car to drive until our car arrives from California, so maybe this weekend we can get out and about and explore the city. We also hope to take a guided bus tour; we find that’s an excellent way to get an overview of most cities.
It’s great to have connectivity with the “outside world” where we are most comfortable, but I’m sure that as time goes on, as we expand our social circle, and as we begin to better understand the language, we’ll tap into this less frequently. Who knows, I might soon be addicted to telenovelas! (“Joaon, vêm a mim.” Smooch.)