Sunday, February 22, 2009

The youth of today. I've been reading an interesting article in the latest edition of Veja, a popular Brazilian current affairs magazine. Its talking about research conducted on attitudes among young people in Brazil. I found this quite interesting because it speaks directly about our client base - most of my students are middle class Brazilian adolescents. The basic point seems to be that teenagers have more spending power than ever before, cost more to their families, are so immersed in a digital word in which various gadgets (phones, ipods, computers) are like essential extensions to their own limbs and they have greater authority to make decisions about family purchases. They are pragmatic and not idealistic. In spite of all this, they are more "disoriented" then ever, says the magazine...

Here are some of the stats - remember that a large portion of Brazil's population is still very poor. Over 80% of young people use Orkut (like facebook) and MSN and 70% download music illegally. They spend, amazingly, 3 and a half hours online per day, almost as much as me (that's just a joke, by the way!). All of this has greatly increased within the last 3 years. In 2005, only 12% of teenagers wrote a blog, now 21% do. One statistic that really surprised me was to do with how many young people buy online - up from 14% in 2005 to 40% in 2008. Brazilians, as I've said on here before, generally distrust strangers, distrust (quite rightly) the mail service and doubt (also, rightly) the adequate provision of any customer service or returns procedures for products. Consequently, Marcado Livre - the e-bay of Brazil has never really flown like its counterpart in the UK and the States. So, while 40% is probably lower than the equivelent statistic in the UK, its still a lot higher than I thought it would be and, thinking optimistically, if young people experience success in their online purchasing, this all may mark a much needed up-turn in overall levels of trust within Brazil.

I've always been impressed how much Brazilians are able to assimilate new technology into their lives, homes and businesses so I reckon these statistics don't surprise all that much. What would the equivelent stats be back in the UK? I guess this is the kind of world, be it Brazil or back in the UK, that my own kids are growing up in so I'd better get used to it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


L is for Language. With Mum and Dad here, I took the opportunity to "show off" my grasp of Portuguese when Rachel wasn't around by ordering food at restaurants, making enquiries in shops and asking for directions. Most of the time things went smoothly but I still found myself in occasional situations where, as a gringo speaking Portuguese, the assumption from the receiving end was that I could speak no Portuguese at all. In Joao Pessoa on one occasion, I found myself jamming my finger into a menu at the item in question (which was "Apfelstrudel") which clearly so flummoxed one rather pale-looking waitor, that he ran off. Ten minutes later back came a colleague of his who nervously said in very broken English "I help you?". Its funny how something like this can make one frustrated when one has poured out a lot of time and energy into learning a new language. WE DON'T NEED THE WAITOR WHO SPEAKS A BIT OF ENGLISH - WE JUST NEED THE ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS PORTUGUESE!

Another time, we pulled over to ask for directions. All I had to ask was "Sir, do you know where Marco Zero is?". So this is what I said to the security guard by a builing: "O senhor sabe onde fica Marco Zero?". A blank stare in reply. "Como?"came the tentative reply.

At this point, Rachel reached across the seat and spoke through my window. She said: "O senhor sabe onde fica Marco Zero?". The man smiled, relieved. He then helpfully gave us directions. Now, maybe this has more to do with the Brazilian man wanting to help out a beautiful lady, but in language terms WHAT DID I DO WRONG?

Fortunately, this kind of thing doesn't happen too often. Dad, bless him, actually worked quite hard at picking up some Portuguese (to add to the half a dozen languages he already knows) mainly so he could communicate a bit with Nelson. But, one afternoon we came across a (for these purposes, unnamed) employee of the Cultura Inglesa language school who Dad intended to wish a Happy New Year too. This was the conversation:

Dad (trying his Portuguese): Feliz ano novo!
Mr.X (in Portuguese to me): I don't speak English.
Me (in Portuguese to Mr.X): He said "Feliz ano novo!"
Mr.X (in Portuguese to me): Feliz ano novo? Wow! English is easy. That's exactly the same as it is in Portuguese...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February = No Man's Land. We're at a strange time of the year, where the summer holidays have ended and term has started up at the start of February but in reality everyone is waiting for Carnaval to finish (end of February) before they really throw themselves back into normal life. For an English teacher this means 3 weeks of teaching half-empty classes knowing that half the group won't come back until March, at which time they will promptly fail their tests for not having been in any lessons. Even the students that are here are not really here in spirit - homework doesn't get done. It also perputates the notion that Brazilians (at least up here in sleepy towns) know how to relax. Essentially, December through to the end of February is chalked off for summer. Any work done during that time is clearly a fortunate coincidence.

I am applying to take CELPE-Bras, the official government test for foreigners learning Brazlian Portuguese. Last night, Rachel and I found that their official website had only been updated at the end of last year and the application page was shut down. Apart from this demonstrating the vulgaries of Brazilian beaucracy, it also reinforced the iron law I'm talking about here. When I suggested to Rachel we should call a number to try and make progress, she replied: "I wouldn't bother this week. Just check back after Carnaval".

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I is for Ice Cream. Much thereof consumed by all, including and especially Gloria.

J is for Joao Pessoa. Festivities either side of Christmas were held in Joao Pessoa. Mum and Dad participated in the traditional Barlow/Gueiros secret santa institution giving and garnering many gifts in the process. Mum and Dad also got to meet Marcus and Tamara, our good friends also based in JP.

K is for Kung Fu Panda. One of the films we watched when Gloria was in hospital, Mum even saw it too. Nelson's reaction was a thumbs down. Dad and Mum's reaction was a thumbs up!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The two faces of Brazil. The satirical online newspaper The Onion has put this picture on the front cover of its 2009 World Calender. I think the image captures something of Brazil's contradictions - beauty, devotion and religious fervour, on the one hand - favelas with gang violence which rival war zones, on the other. As the tagline I read for the photo says: "People at their most beautiful, humanity at its ugliest".

This addition should be added to this montage of alternative Christ the Redeemer photos I published on here back at the start of 2007. Click here for those.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sorry, sorry. After such high-faluting resolutions this year has started rather sputteringly on the internet front. We've been away a lot, tired a lot and without internet at home. The regular semester starts this week so with routine will come normality. We've got Rach's sis Amy with us right now and we've had Mum and Dad and Rosie amongst others staying with us. The kids will be bored stiff when everyone goes and its just us for entertainment.


C is for Church.
Mum and Dad experienced the full breadth of church styles and sizes while they were with us. They got to see a contemporary Christian gospel group do a presentation, they went to our little church group where Dad spoke (12 people or so), they went to Pastor Gerson's Nazarene church and Dad spoke with the aid of Fernando translating (500 people or so) and they also managed to get to a charismatic Anglican church in Recife on New Year's eve.

D is for Driving. We spent a lot of our time on the road and all managed to fit into one car thanks to Rach's folks lending us their 7-seater Chevrolet Zafira.

E is for English.
I managed to convince to Dad to help me out with a few of my final lessons before Christmas - in particular, talking to my group of pastors and also to a prospective Brazilian diplomat who was keen to interview Dad on his experiences in Africa. E is also for English because this is also the language that Nelson has trouble understanding - despite this barrier, by the end of the trip he had great rapport with both Mum and Dad.