More on my life in Brazil

My morning routine highlighted an interesting thing I’ve discovered about Brazilian construction standards: the internal courtyard. In many buildings, including my hotel, certain parts of the apartment face an internal yard, which allows Brazilians to be collectivistic even in their most private moments. As I was brushing my teeth this morning, the sounds of music came into my bathroom from its window, which is facing the internal courtyard. One of the guests was singing in the shower. Just now, as I am writing these lines, another neighbor’s whistling is keeping me company in my solitary evening (kitchen window is also facing the same courtyard).

This morning also reminded me of a very famous Israeli poem, “Dira Lehaskir” (Apartment to rent), which goes through the apartments in one particular building and lists all the different neighbors… which also reminded me of a Russian poem about 44 birds that lived in one apartment (one was a dishwasher, another a housewife, another a cook, etc. etc.).

Sometimes it feels like all these neighbors are like these loud birds that live inside my own apartment..

 

Back to my point from a few posts ago, it was once again proved that there is something about me that inspires confidence. Today, on the train back home, I was reading my book and minding my own business, looking as anti-social as ever. In short, my standard public transport look. Then the guy next to me asked me how many stops is it to the one he needed to go to. I replied quickly, trying to minimize the amount of words I use, and thus the potential of detecting my foreign accent. Of course, this attempt failed. The guy started asking where I am from, and what am I doing here. Again, I tried to keep my answers short, so that I don’t have to discuss the story of my life on a public train. Based on my previous experience, I thought that perhaps I get into long discussions because I am too much of a cooperative conversation partner and if I just nod and not say anything, people will give up. NOT SO.

Without me asking, the guy decided to tell me the story of HIS life. He used to live in Botafogo. He is dentist for people with special needs. His son is deaf but studied 2 degrees and now is working in whatever. He followed with the history of special needs dentistry in Brazil, etc. etc. Thankfully, his stop came quickly and he got off the train (not before telling me to add him on Orkut). I feel bad, but at 8pm, after a full day of work, the last thing I want to do is be someone’s sounding board. I think I really need to work more on my anti-social expression.

 

Speaking of work. Today  I was also grateful for Brazilian’s lack of concert rules, when browsing my phone helped me escape the task of patiently seating through a 2 hrs presentation with never ending Q&A, all in Portuguese. I either have to perfect my Portuguese, or download more interesting apps for my phone.  I also could imagine how corporate America used to be in the 1960’s, when today’s speaker was explaining how to incorporate into the company’s strategy concepts from MGMT 101 , to the great awe of the guests present. Corporate Brazil seems to be  a gold mine for the top american consulting firms. This is an interesting opportunity….

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Things you hear in any office

I don’t know if it’s something about me, that projects trustworthiness, or perhaps everyone is the same way, but people really love sharing their secrets with me. One might say that this is a good thing, but for me it is a heavy burden that I don’t want to carry, unless I really have to. With a memory capacity of an average ant, it’s so difficult for me to remember who told me what and who are the people I am not supposed to share this information. With my frank approach, I have to die inside, every time I face the subject of the secret and have to pretend I know nothing about the situation and just act normal, when I know person x had a whatever plastic or personal surgery, or person y is cheating on their spouse, or person z is unsatisfied with his or her boss. In this particular time, I am talking about office gossip. I know it happens in every country in the world, and it has happened at all of my work places to date, but I find the subjects of the gossip much more personal here. People share very intimate things about their lives with co-workers, that are not necessarily their friends, and the story goes out 5 minutes later to other parties that have nothing to do with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to hear a good gossip. Everyone does.  But I do have my red lines. I don’t want to know about people’s marital problems, medical problems, or other such things that if I ever found out about, I would NEVER share with the world. I’ve been here only for a month and I already know too much. Need to learn how to block these things out, as my published writer friend told me. It’s hard though..

With respect to apartments, non of the previous ones worked out and I am continuing to look and taking things into my own hands. I started seeing it as a ‘Survival in Brazil’ immersion project. I am already comfortable with going through newspaper ads, calling the listings, and arranging meetings — all in my broken Portuguese and my “I’m a cute little girl that just arrived, can you please help me?” spiel. Next thing you know, I might open my own real-estate company!!

At work, I for the first time in my life, became the ‘native’ English speaker and the authority for English phrasing for the team. Glad something came out of my decade in the land of the free.

Entrepreneurship in Action

Failing to find something adequate, this little girl decided to take her destiny into her own hands and finally find herself an apartment.

A perfect deal in Copacabana turned into a nightmare when I found out that the ancient lawyer that the owner hired to rent out the place requires local guarantor and won’t accept any other means of guarantee (even several months of rent in advance). My relocation assistant went crazy trying to devise and involve me in crazy schemes to solve this situation. I was nearing a nervous breakdown and decided this is way not my Karma.

So today, I started calling real estate agents on my own and talking to them with my broken Portuguese. Although I didn’t find anything, I was proud of the fact that I managed to communicate with them and make myself understood.. baby steps.

Then I decided to step-up my efforts. I started walking around the street next to my house and talking to doormen, to see if they have any apartments available. Apparently here, there is the underground doormen -real estate mafia. They have all the information and they compete with the agents. One of them, at first attempt told me – no, we have nothing. Then I went away and came back, and he said – yes, we might have something. Let me speak with the owner. We exchanged phone numbers. Then another doorman, told me that he knows some other buildings that might have something and he will ask around. The mademoiselle in distress strategy worked like a charm.. I am new here… I just moved. I am trying to find an apartment and I like this area so so much, but it’s impossible to find anything.. can you please please help me??? I also explained to one of them that Israel is not a Catholic country and that Jews existed before Christians and that Jesus was a Jew. He was really impressed. Hopefully, this will give him some religious inspiration to help me!!

I am learning so much about human relationships in this country.  When society lacks procedures or known rules for almost anything, relationships are the only thing that one can rely on to get ANYTHING done. For example, one’s bank is not judged by its quality or availability of services or rates of commission, but rather the bank manager that you have to deal with. If the manager is a good one, you are in the game. If he or she is not so good, GOOD LUCK, my friend!

When market prices are not transparent

After seeing more than 25 apartments, the only conclusion I can make about Rio real estate is that there is no pattern whatsoever about it. For the same price, one can find 1BD, 2BD, modern, old, in a nice neighborhood, in a bad neighborhood, ocean view, facing a wall, etc etc etc. This is crazy because one can’t ever know if  he or she is getting a good or bad deal. It seems like a lot of the good supply depends on connections and/or pure luck. But one can easily encounter numerous wall-facing apartments with falling apart everything for exorbitant prices and shameless owners refusing to re-model anything.

Eh, the decision on my plate – for more or less the same price:

1. 1BD in an apartment building (daily cleaning), decent condition (super ugly furniture), good view, nice balcony, good location but in Botafogo, includes some utilities. Shorest commute to work.

2. 2BD in normal building, semi-furnished, very cute. Good view. no utilities included. No A/C.  slightly worse location in Botafogo.

3. 2BD in Copacabana, huge apartment, amazing location, close to all my friends. Has A/C, semi furnished but will have to upgrade. no utilities. lots of character. kind of an old apartment with mostly shitty furniture but very nice building.

How does one make a decision under such a complicated criteria?!!

arggggggggggggggg

Some More Texanation

With my MBA girls visiting, myself and a recently established Houstonian classmate, had to show them Austin – Texas style. I cannot take much of the credit, since she planned most of the weekend (love planners!!), but I can certainly write about it.

One of the highlights of the weekend was a visit to Red’s Indoor Shooting Range, where we got shoot guns, for the first time for most of us. Imagine this, a gun shop, with stacks of rifles and hunting equipment, and then suddenly come in 6 preppy girls, with make-up, heels and purses and ask to rent some guns. Charlie’s Angels comes to mind.

After bugging the attendant with a multitude of questions, we were somehow given 2 guns, one of them had small bullets and another had 9mm ones (This is the extent of what I gathered from the explanation). One of the guns had a safety button (smart!).

I was having a minor moral dilemma with the idea of using hot weapons as all the recent news around the world kept coming to mind. I asked him what do people use the various guns for, expecting some kind of creative response. He said mostly hunting, and after some pressure elaborated on the obvious things that come to mind.

Since I read Shantaram, I knew all there is to know about fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, and so I asked the guy to show me his Kalashnikovs. To my surprise, pulled out an AK-47, that was just lying there next to the cash register. I asked for an AK-74, but he didn’t have one. He also didn’t know anything about exploding hollow tip bullets that became illegal by international law…

Anyhow, we did pretty well with these guns, and no injuries were reported. Before leaving, one of the older employees was sweet enough to hand us a rifle each and take lean-mean pictures of the six girls going to war.

The shot heard 'round the world..

 

To my great shame, I must admit that in my five years of living in Austin, I never went to see one of its main attractions – the bats under the Congress Bridge. Well, I got an opportunity to finally see them this weekend and I am grateful for it. Definitely, one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. We took a small boat tour and I was expecting to see just a bunch of bats hanging from below the bridge. It was not so. Around 8pm, the bats started flying from the bridge, towards east. There were millions of them, literally millions, all leaving one after another. This looked like the flight of a pack of locusts. It lasted for a good 5-10 minutes, and the guide said that they will continue to fly out until 12 am.

Waiting for the bats, note the bat-cow art installation..
The bats are going east...

 

The other funny point was when the guide described the high real-estate price on the newly built apartments in downtown Austin. He mentioned a $400k price tag for a 1-BD apartment of 1,100 sqft. Our immediate reaction: “wowwwww… so cheap!!!”. So New York.