Attitudes to Brazilians

Ron Resnick (
Sun, 22 Feb 1998 20:33:20 -0500

Well, as a newbie on FoRK, I felt I should say 'hello' to y'all.
Apparently there used to be an imposter using my name
who hung around here, writing crazy things like this
"Attitude to Germans" post .

Just to set the record straight, unless Adam reconciles *THAT*
Ron I Resnick with *THIS* Ron I Resnick, the following "Attitudes
to Brazilians" post has _nothing_ to do with that other crazy RIR.

Just that some FoRKers apparently seem to like field correspondence
on this mailing list, so who am I to object? Hereby duly dedicated
to one POSH lady :-).

I'm in Brazil now. In Recife, which is a city in the Northeast, about
as far out into the Atlantic as you can get before you hit Africa.
Ever see a map of South America? Remember that bulge that sticks
out into the Atlantic? That's where I am. The very tip of it.
Fourth time I've been here.
After all, this is my wife's hometown, so we come here whenever
she gets homesick. Varig has direct flights Recife-Miami now.
So I'm told. Every time I've come here, I've had to come via
Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. That's like starting in Europe, wanting
to fly to Cincinnati, and being forced to fly LHR-LAX, LAX-CVG, ie
a mere 2000 mile overshoot. Sigh. Sao Paulo is ugly. Rio is gorgeous.

First note. The language in Brazil is Portuguese. Not Spanish. Get
that straight - it's on the quiz. Sure, I used to be like all the rest
of you. Where the question "Which is the only country in Latin
America whose native tongue is Portuguese?" was nothing more
than a Triival Pursuit oddity. But after being with my Brazilian
gal for almost a decade, having Brazlian inlaws, and having kids
with Brazilian passports, I assure you this is no mere trivia
question to me. "Eu falo um pouco - um pouquinho -
portugues. Devagar!". Yup, that's me -
the gringo - answering the phone, talking to the clerk in the
shopping mall, or to the nurse in the maternity ward. ("I speak
a little - a very little - Portuguese. Speak slowly!"). Espanhol?
Not me.

Neat place. Takes a while to grow on you, and you have to leave
a lot of preconceptions behind. Yes, Latin America is dirt poor.
It's in your face everywhere you go. You see it. You smell it. But
it's also extremely rich. The rich live beside the squalid poor, and there
is precious little middle class to buffer them.

But it's also a happy place. I've seen poor. I've seen them in North
America, I've seen them in Israel. They're as poor in Brazil as you
could possibly imagine. Poorer than that.
The shacks which comprise their slums -
favelas - are pitiful. And I doubt they like that - I'm not suggesting
anyone would want to live that way. But somehow, this is a country
of happy people. People who like to party, who are intoxicated with
the richness of what they have. The images are not those
we see of Ethiopian famines, or Rwandan orphans. The kids -
almost naked, illiterate, no future prospects - kick soccer balls,
smile, and move into full gyrating dance as soon as the batucada
(rhythmic drum music) begins. They're...... happy. In a way that
poor worried gringo slobs like us rarely are.

They eat well in Brazil. Or, I should say, those with a few reals
(1 Br.Real almost exactly equals 1 US$) eat very well. Seafood -
camarao (shrimp), lagosta (lobster), caranguejo (crab).
Lots of arroz& feijao (rice & beans). National dish is feijoada -
made with black beans, sausage, pork, beef, ..
My favourite? Picanha. And carne de sol. Both excellent cuts
of beef, grilled over an open flame.
We went out for picanha last night. Lots of beer. Lots of
farofa (a milled root). And fantastic, tender, succulent, garlic-drenched
picanha. Not for the vegetarian crowd. The grill it on long skewers,
then bring it to your table, slice out the outer parts, and take
the center portion back to the grill. They bring your meat out
to you 3-4 times until you finally get it all, fresh & piping hot.

Carne de sol (literally - salted beef)
is a Northeast specialty. If you're a typical
gringo who makes it to Brazil, you'll get to the (boring) south-
Rio & Sao Paulo. You'll never know about carne de sol. You'll
never get authentic Bahia seafood. For that, you have to come
north. I'm a gringo - I hardly speak any Portuguese at all.
But when I talk to Brazilians from "down
south", they immediately can tell by how I pronounce my "s"'s
that I'm a "nordestino" - a Nor'Easter. Hey Nordeste is the best!
Paulistas and Cariocas (natives of S.Paulo & Rio, respectively)
are only one-step removed from filthy yanqui-gringos-go-home. Feh.
No culture, no style.

Sao Paulo and Rio are big cities. Sao Paulo ranks with the
biggest in the world, up there with places like Mexico
City, Cairo, and Bombay. Brazil is a big country, in terms
of population, land area, economic productivity, regional influence.
According the folks who claim to understand such things,
Brazil, China, India and Indonesia are the economies to watch
for growth and industrialization in the next 20 years. The
telco infrastructure sucks here. It's a bitch connecting my
modem on these flaky, pulse-only lines. The road infrastructure
is unspeakable. But, DirecTV satellite dishes are everywhere,
and the Spice Girls are the in thing, proving that all our shit
can, and does, penetrate regardless.

They drink in Brazil. *MAN* they drink here. My consumption
goes up significantly here. Lots of beer - Antarctica (my fav. brand)
and Brahma. Lots of whisky - they don't know from single malts,
but every place has JW Red, Ballantines, etc. And the portions
are generous - starting right on the flights - VASP or Varig -
the whisky is generously coming up and down the aisles.
In restaurants and pubs,
a "single" is a double back home, and a "double" - well, they
just leave the bottle at your table.
Oh, did I mention liquor? The national distilled spirit is cachaca -
based on fermented sugar cane. Foul, evil stuff, taken straight.
Usually made into a mixed drink - capirinha - with crushed ice
and lemon juice. The one time I drink it straight, is in shots with
cauldinho - little tiny soup dishes. Going out for cauldinho is
sort of a "night out at the pub" affair - lots of music - samba, lambada,
frevo, etc. - dancing, these little mugs of bean soup, or shrimp soup,
with a token hard-boiled pheasant egg or olive in them. And
straight cachaca to wash it down.

Cauldinho. Picanha. That's why I come to Brazil :-). Oh, the girls?
Well, the girls do have to be mentioned. The main drag in Recife
runs right by the beach, for about a 5 mile stretch. You'll never
see topless bathers here - this is a Catholic, Latin country after
all - not heathen Europe. But what's left of the bathing suits
might as well not be there. Dental floss tops & bottoms.

What else? Service in the restaurants. Forget the food for a minute.
Let's just talk about the art of service. The notion that a customer
sitting at a table is to be attended, and that correct attendance
is an artform, a skill apprenticed and learned over many years.
Where in Israel I just expect surliness from waitresses
much more interested in chatting to their boyfriends, than recognizing
your urgently flapping arms, and in Canada (& the US), waiters seem
perfectly conditioned to arriving at your table to ask if "everything
is all right, sir" just when it is, and are NEVER around just when
it's not, .... . ah, Brasil!
Where they stand back, in starched white shirts and black bowties
(everywhere, other than fast food joints), just away from your table,
never crowding you, never intruding. But the instant you lift your
head to look around for someone to bring you napkins or
a fresh drink, there they are, right beside you. Refreshing your
glass for you, by pouring from the bottle. Bringing fresh plates
of farofa and vinaigrette as soon as the old ones are partly consumed.
I think every waiter in the world should be forced to spend
an apprenticeship in Brazil.

Driving is an adventure. Last 2 trips, we drove north (Natal, Rio Grande
do Norte) and south (Salvador, Bahia). This time, what with new
baby, we're pretty much staying in Recife. Driving is a creative
artform. Signalling lane changes is strictly optional. Staying in
a lane is optional too, with straddling dividers being the norm.
Traffic lights? When they exist, obeyed during daylight only.
Don't EVER proceed on a green after dusk figuring the other
guy will stop on his red.

Carnaval!! This is carnaval week. You know that tame little
New Orleans thing you call Mardi Gras? Where the US has
one measly carnival city, this entire COUNTRY
of 150 million explodes into Carnaval. Origins are lost
in the mists of European paganism, and then bundled into
Catholic doctrine. With the misery of lent beginning, Carnaval
is one last excuse to party before getting down to that old-time-religion.
In modern Brazil, the serious-come-after is pretty much
ignored. It's the party-before that's the thing. I was out
a few nights ago for a Carnaval street party - maybe get some
pictures on the web later. Did any of you ever see Orpheo Negro
(Black Orpheus)? Won at Cannes, and maybe a foreign film Oscar back
in the 50s.

Friendly. Warm (well, too warm. More like oppresively hot, for
this Canuck.). Inviting. Delicious. Intoxicating. Yeah, I like Brazil.
And I love all my Brasileiros :-).