A little cross cultural anecdote:
I was at the supermarket today and saw a grapefruit. I realized I haven’t had one for a while and decided to get it. When I was about to pay, the cashier asked me about it.
Cashier: “Qual é o nome dessa fruta?” (what’s the name of this fruit?).
Cashier:”Ahhh, grapefruit!” (pronounced: grapefroochie)
Me: “sim, grapefruitchie…”
Cashier: “é gostoso?” (is it tasty?)
Me: “depende do gosto…” (depends on the taste..)
Me:”parece como laranga com acerola” (tastes like Orange with Acerola)
It’s strange to accept that grapefruits are not ubiquitous around the world. And I don’t even know how orange with acerola tastes like, I just heard someone explains it this way.. I am not even sure what acerola is…
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.
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!
Several incidents worth of my precious writing time have occurred at work these days.
Yesterday, the new boss arrived and gave us an entrance speech. He also introduced me in front of everyone and apologized for making the speech in Portuguese despite me not speaking any. The other manager, again in front of everyone, said that I do speak, and that I speak better than the Canadian manager there that arrived a year ago.. Canadian laughed it off, but I am sure he was not happy with the public humiliation in front of 40 other people. I am starting to make enemies already 🙂
The new boss gave the standard “I am so proud to be here with such wonderful people, in this great company” speech. Then he said that he used to work for McKinsey and had already worked with all the big consulting companies and that even the junior people here are better than the ones at the consulting companies, so don’t think that your job is not good, blah blah. He was basically building on the assumption that everyone wants to work for the top consulting and thinks those companies are gods. I was really forcing myself to surpass my urge to burst out laughing.. had to hide my face behind my notepad. Sorry, my dear consultant friends. I love you, but I don’t think you are better than me…
I also tried to get a file cabinet to put under my desk and was told that I can request one and that perhaps next year, when the person who is in charge of procurement makes an order of furniture, I might get a new one. This reminded me of a story another person from the company told me about how he was waiting for 4 months to replace his broken computer chair.
I did get a work badge this week.. so looking at the brighter side of things!! Also helped a co-worker with his MBA essays. What a productive day!
And finally, today I found out that my job involves corporate strategy and I will actually be doing sort of consulting project and not financial analysis, which I originally thought my responsibility would be.. good to know.. time to dig out those MBA materials..
On my second day walk across the Copacabana boardwalk, the realization came to my mind. I think it is the beginning of a love story. Mine and Rio’s.
During medical tests at the company I had a conversation with the doctor who was trying to get my medical in history, a process which was quite amusing. She didn’t speak any English and I knew medical terms only in Hebrew and Russian. So we had to kind of guess. I think it’s highly likely that I haven’t had rubella… before that I had fun trying to decipher the medical form which was transliterated from Portuguese. Some of the highlights: “complexion” (ethnicity) and “biotype” (body type).
After this fun morning, my relocation agent took me on a city tour and we visited all the various neighborhoods. The weather was absolutely perfect and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera. All I managed to capture on my Blackberry were the two photos in the previous post, which really don’t do justice to the beauty I’ve witnessed. I think my favorite spot was the view of hand gliders floating over Pedra Bonita from Praia do Pepino (Cucumber Beach), an area where many government officials live (smartly so..).
I also proved once again that it pays off to be a complainer, and after a one to one with the hotel manager (ok, not exactly, had my relocation consultant to my aid), I was upgraded to a suite with ocean view and a living room. I say ‘Not Bad’ (read out loud with a Borat accent). I also went on to becoming bff’s with more hotel porters who seem to love the fact that I speak Portuguese to them. I suppose this may become handy one of these days.