Where I Have Been Map

Monday, May 18, 2009

... Aaaaand the vacation is over.

Well, as great of a day I had yesterday is about as stressful and confusing of a day I had today. The tropical setting, although still beautiful, seems to lose its enticement once you realize you are living and surviving in a different country, and the culture MUST be learned. Since none of us are fluent in Portuguese to have someone sit down and tell us all the cultural differences, we must learn the hard way.

Some of the cultural differences can be picked up easily by observing other Brazilians. From watching people eat, you can see that they rarely eat anything with their hands, and we get confused and disgusted looks whenever we try to. Hamburgers are eaten with a napkin or wrapper, French fries with toothpicks, and even chicken legs are eaten with a fork and a knife.

Personal space is another big adjustment. American's stand about one arm's length away from the person they are talking to while Brazilians stand about a half an arm's length away. They are also very touchy when they talk to you... grabbing your arm or holding your hand. To greet, Brazilians kiss you on each cheek, which is similar to the French air kiss. You can imagine how confused all of us students were the first times these kind of things started happening to us! Today I was standing in line, or so I thought, and I got cut by two people. I thought they were just being pushy at first, but then I noticed that although I was standing at a comfortable space from the person in line in front of me, it was not close enough for Brazilian standards, and so they thought I was not standing in line.

We talked about these cultural differences in class today and realized that we Americans view Brazilians as "touchy." But when Brazilians visit America, they think Americans are "stand-offish and cold". Neither of these statements is completely true, but it is true that there are many differences between our two cultures.

Having four hours of class in the morning is what kept me sane today. In our Portuguese class, we learned phrases that would help us start an initial conversation with people. We also learned about the different sounds, like the "t" is pronounced like "ch" in Portuguese. I cracked up when I realized that one of the students names, Titus, is actually pronouned like "Cheetos" in Brazil.

Then in my dad's class, Anthropology, we talked about the steps of culture shock and how tough of a time we are about to go through adjusting to living here. We learned that we are going to have ups and downs while adjusting, some good days seeing amazing things and experiencing things not many people get to experience... and some frustrating days with language barriers and culture shock.

Today went downhill when we went to the mall. We took a bus to get there and ended up waiting 30 minutes because we couldn't translate the bus route. When Lucy finally recognized the mall's name, we hopped on and the driver slammed on the gas pedal just as Titus stepped off the sidewalk and onto the bus. Our main goal was to find four things at the mall... an umbrella, a voltage adaptor, a beach bag, and a USB plug for my camera... so I can finally start uploading pictures to this blog. Mary Alice and I came back with just the umbrella.

I walked into the first store and tried to explain the USB plug I needed for my camera. The few words of Portuguese I knew and charades act I put on did not get me very far. After accidentally buying the wrong thing and not understanding the price they asked for, I walked out of the store very embarrassed and frustrated. The workers seemed even more frustrated dealing with someone who would visit their country and not learn the language, or at least that's what I felt they thought of me.

After walking around for three more hours of unsuccessful attempts to find our other items, we left disappointed and exhausted. Back at our home stay we ate dinner with Tay-Tay and relaxed somewhat. Now, at the end of the night, I am still feeling a little homesick, and my mind is mentally exhausted from trying to adjust to here... but I do realize from my dad's lectures that this was just a learning day, and no matter how much I miss my friends and lifestyle back home, it will get better.

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