Saturday, November 27, 2010

Let's clarify

Happy Thanksgiving!

The 25th was doubly significant since it also marks the four month mark of my trip, meaning I have a little over two weeks left in Brazil before I leave for Panama. It's been a very positive experience, and I'm going to miss it a lot.

This last week was my finals week, I only have a three-page poetic analysis left to do for Portuguese before I'm done with classes, and I think everything worked out fine in terms of school. I'll spend the rest of my time hanging out with people and finishing up the presentation I'll give on the sixth of December showing what I've found for my project in the economics lab. I will also being trying to figure out what exactly I did find during this period.

One of the difficult things about being abroad is knowing that there is a part of your personality that gets trapped in the cultural/language barrier present in the relationships between people of different countries. Learning to express oneself better and becoming more familiar with the foreigner's culture do a lot to diminish this effect; improved speaking abilities allow those who like to entertain to tell jokes and stories, or strange aspects that people just assumed to be individual peculiarities are discovered to be larger cultural characteristics. Nearing the end of my time here, the process of learning how to show people who I am has been one of the best, though challenging, parts of my experience. Yet despite the progress that has been made in this department, there are still some things that are stuck in that cultural "filter." The following are three points of confusion about me I think could use some explanation.

Point of Confusion: You were told that I was told that you live in the jungle.

Background: I mentioned a couple of months ago the rumor that Americans are taught that Brazil doesn't actually include the Amazon territory. Apparently, many people here have been told that we are taught that Brazilians literally live in the jungle, play with monkeys, and swing from vines. As a result, the American students are frequently asked if this is what we thought before coming here. I can understand the worry if this is what you've been told people from the United States think, though it does get a little tiresome on my end being asked a question that presupposes I didn't know anything about the country where I decided to spend a semester. Assuming that it were true, it would have been quite the surprise when I thought I was going to be going to school in a treehouse and live with rainforest animals but ended up living in a city with half a million people.

Clarification: I can't remember ever thinking that all Brazilians lived in the jungle.

Point of Confusion: You find my underwear flamboyant.

Background: Clothes dryers are a very American thing; and though I do miss the convenience of our appliances, airing drying clothes really isn't a big deal. One aspect of this system, however, is that you are frequently put up your entire wardrobe for everyone to appreciate. While this isn't weird for all the clothes that people see anyways, it can be a little awkward for the items people don't usually get to examine. I was never self conscious about my underwear until coming here, when my roommate's friend came over to the house and commented that my brightly colored collection of patterned boxers looked like "clown underwear." I had never thought about it before, but in the US men's underwear usually also has at least some sort of colorful pattern if not some other loud assortment of pictures or words. From what I can tell, I haven't asked to see my male friends' underwear while here, "clown underwear" is not as big of a deal here as it is in the States.

Clarification: My underwear is weird, but so is my compatriots'.

Point of Confusion: You think I look like Macaulay Culkin.

Background: This unfortunate association has been going on since my first night in Brazil. While crossing a street in Rio, we passed a group of about ten police men just hanging out and talking. After saying, "good evening" as we passed, one of the men pointed at my face and yelled "Macaulay Culkin!" We all then had a "conversation," which basically involved me standing there and a group of cops laughing and saying "Macaulay Culkin" over and over again. Another time, I was talking to some friends outside of the university restaurant, when someone said, "You really look like the guy from 'They Forgot Me.'" I had no idea what that meant, so then everyone clapped their hands to their face repeating, "They forgot me! They forgot me! They forgot me!"

Side note: "Esqueceram de mim" (They forgot me), is the Brazilian title for "Home Alone." When they translate movie titles here, they just end up coming up with a whole new title. I just looked up "Home Alone" on wikipedia in Portuguese, and in Portugal they say "Sozinho em casa" (Alone in home), so it's just a really weird Brazilian thing. Other weird examples of them doing this is for "The Hangover," which, despite having a word for hangover in Portuguese is called, "Se você beber, não case" (If you drink, don't get married) which just sounds like weird relationship advice. Even weirder, "Charlie's Angels" is called "As panteras" (the panthers), which makes literally no sense. It becomes really annoying when someone asks you if you've seen some movie, and despite understanding the title, you have no idea what they're referring to.

Anyway, I ended up finding out what "they forgot me" meant, and have been told this same thing since on several occasions since.

Clarification: You are mistaken.

Hope everyone had a great Turkey Day. We're having a dinner for our close Brazilian friends and relatives tonight to thank them for making our experience so great.

Feliz dia de ação de graças,


Friday, November 12, 2010

Brand names in foreign languages = risky

While picking the perfect brand name, foreign languages often present a viable option for marketers looking for an exotic touch. Though despite the potential advantages of marketing in another language, such a strategy presents considerable risks; namely, not knowing exactly what you're calling your product. The following are five of my favorite english-inspired brands that I've run into in Brazil whose names are just a little off, especially for an American with a very immature sense of humor. Photo credits go to Google Images, with a special shout-out to Athena who has spent countless hours in supermarkets with me during this trip laughing at this sort of thing.

1. Name: Splat. Product: Yogurt.

Naming food after the sounds they make is not uncommon, just look all the cereals with "crunch" in the name. However, I just don't think onomatopoeia is the best strategy for naming yogurt.

2. Name: Batmilk. Product: Yogurt.

This one is just a little confusing. I know everyone here knows what "bat" means, because people are talking about "the Batman" all the time, and "milk" is also not an obscure word, especially not for someone in the dairy industry. Unless this product comes from bats, I don't know how this could happen.

3. Name: Superballs. Product: Cereal.

My advice to all Brazilians in marketing, be very careful with the words "balls" and "nuts." Just read on...

4. Name: Sweet Nut Cream. Product: Cream made of nuts that is sweet.

I feel like there is a story behind this one. The lable on the container is in Spanish, so it has an international market, and I'm wondering if this has been given this name intentionally. In any case, I can't imagine sitting at the table with my family for breakfast, and asking my mother for some sweet nut cream since my toast is a little dry.

5. Name: Blowtex. Product: Condom.

I feel like most of the time, products that have to do with sex are given names that are suggestive without being explicit about their purpose. This would not be one of those cases.

Anyway, hope everyone is doing well. This is a busy week for me, I have a couple presentations these next few days and four of my five finals next week. It's hard to believe that things are wrapping up so soon, especially since I don't leave here for another month!



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Things that almost makes sense....

I hope everyone had a great Halloween, I was missing it down here! Brazil only celebrates the "Day of the Deceased," which sounds like it could be similiar but is decidedly less cool. As described by my roommate, this holiday involves "people going to church while it rains." Apparently the weather always cooperates with this second piece. Interesting? Yes. A little creepy? Certainly. Fun as dressing up in costumes? Questionable. It meant that we got time off from school though, so I got over its shortcomings pretty quickly.

People often talk about elements of languages that are untranslatable. The most famous example in Portuguese is the word saudade, usually approximated with English's longing, yearning or nostalgia. Yet despite it's weight, this word is used all the time. For example, you wouldn't usually say that you miss someone, but rather that you long for that person. It's very fun and dramatic, and Portuguese speakers take pride in this word which constitutes an important part of poetry and song and is emblematic of an unique passion of this language. I just like hearing it when someone says they yearn for my presence.

Personally, however, what I find most entertaining are words are phrases that almost translate. For example, the informal way of saying "hello" in Portuguese is oi. I always just figured you could substitute it for "hey," and would use it to get people's attention even if we'd been spending time together beforehand. Oi, however, really is just an informal "hello," and is therefore only used when greeting someone. So, instead of saying things like, "Hey Felipe, can you pass me the rice?" I spent weeks saying, "Hello, Felipe. Can you pass me the rice?", even though we had already been eating lunch for twenty minutes. The following are a couple of my other favorite "almost-translatable's".

Mais louco que o Batman (Crazier than the Batman, usually in reference to a drunk person)

I'm not sure why, but in Brazil Batman is singled out as the standard for crazy. I looked this up on "Informal Dictionary," the Portuguese equivalent to our "Urban Dictionary," to figure out if there was a reason why this particular superhero was chosen for this type of comparison. The description read, "He's a millionaire who fell down a well and became afraid of bats but then decided to dress up as one and fight crime. That's pretty crazy." I guess I agree, though Spiderman's story is like ten times crazier than Batman's and Bruce Wayne always struck me as a pretty level-headed guy.

A gente (The people)

In informal speech, instead of saying "us," you can also say "the people." So, saying "we are really hungry," and "the people are really hungry," literally mean the same thing. It sounds hilarious in English, and thus has become the American's new favorite joke when speaking to each other to substitute "the people" when talking about ourselves.

Porra (Semen)

This is one of the most common vulgar words here and, like the f-bomb, is used so often that it's actual meaning isn't even considered when spoken. Que porra é essa, for example, would be translated to "what the hell is that," though it really means, "what semen is that." Another example would be, essa mulher não esquece de porra nenhuma, which means, "that woman doesn't forget a damn thing," but reads, "that woman doesn't forget any sperm." Not that our swear words make much sense, but it's funny for people learning this language to think about what's actually being said in such circumstances.

This last weekend I went to a national park in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It was super fun hiking and we spent the night in a cabin near the summit of a mountain with some awesome views. I've put up pictures on Picasa and included two here.

From Blog pictures

From Blog pictures