Arroz e feijão

Arroz e feijao

“Arroz e feijão” – rice and beans – are an essential, if not indispensable, part of every Brazilian lunch. EVERY lunch, every day, 365 days a year…
The rice and beans are joined – also every day – by a piece of meat which, depending on the budget, might be frango – chicken, carne – meat, synonymous with beef, or peixe – fish. Further depending on the region also comes on the table vinaigrette, actually a kind of tomato salad and farofa, roasted manioc flour which varies in taste anywhere between ,sand’ and ‘tasty & crispy’.

Independent of this menu, the expression ‘arroz e feijão‘ also stands for the ordinary, the business as usual, the boring monotony that Brazilians remember longingly – com saudade - once they are abroad.  Oh, yes, saudade…

There is hardly a more Brazilian word to be found. It describes the longing for the good old days, order, warm summer nights, the good time with friends, freedom, the beach and much more. In English, however, there seems to be no adequate translation for it.

In any case, ‘saudade’ is a fundamental concept that helps to understand the Brazilian way of thinking and living. Just as important in that respect is “dar um jeito”, or in its short form “o jeitinho”, best translated as ‘to find a way’. It mainly means two things: or to help someone, to take heart, to support or to cheat, to muddle through and even to play a trick on someone. However, that’s not all.

In its trinity o jeitinho represents the  complexity of the Brazilian existence: First, it states that there is always a way,  a path to cross, for example, the jungle of the Brazilian bureaucracy. Second, the range of possible uses of this beautiful idiom reflects the wide range of characteristic Brazilian – not to say human – behavior: from very generous and helpful to spiteful and selfish; with one behavior not necessarily contradicting the other.

To finish, let me add one more particularly picturesque expression to this idiomatic collection: “pé na Jaca” . Jacas – better known as jackfruit to the English speaking world – when cut open, emit a very sticky secretion that is all but impossible to wipe of with soap and water. The expression reminds me therefore nicely of the good old German “ins Fettnäpfchen treten”*. 


Well, I hope I haven’t done just that with this post.

* to put your foot in your mouth – hardly as pretty as pé na jaca

Curitiba – the German city

Curitibanas and Curitibanos like to boast that their city is a German city. While this also includes the German immigrants from the 19th and 20th century, it mainly refers to the order, cleanliness and good urban planning . Or rather it referred to…

Deutsches Erbe III

At a first glance, Curitiba appears to a German about as as Brazilian as any other city in this country: You see the poor garbage collectors, the concrete housing blocks, and the traffic jam that ranges from one end of town to the other.

But the differences do exist: the well working public transport with its distinctive tube stops (there’s even an app to look up the timetable of buses*), the many large parks and the German restaurants downtown.

In the 70s Curitiba enjoyed a moment of near world-famous celebrity thanks to the public transport system. That the city shares nevertheless the same problems as any other one is, according to the statements of befriended Curitibanos, due to the inability of politicians over the past 2-3 decades.


Now, ranting about incapable politicians is a highly popular sport in Brazil, probably only second to football. In all fairness it shall therefore be added that Curitiba, just like the other major cities, has grown tremendously in recent decades. Especially the areas Metropolitanas, the metropolitan area with their  industrial suburbs and favelas, have often more than doubled in size since the 1980′s.**

Even without any preexisting problems but lots of money and good will instead, it would be a challenge to keep up with such a demographic development and to provide the necessary infrastructure, hence schools, sewage, electricity, etc.

Considering then the traditional nepotism in politics (after all, there is a reason for the ranting),  it is perhaps not surprising that also in Curitiba the stadium for a Copa will barely be completed in time. It’s unlikely that Curitiba will lose the self-attributed title of the ,German city’  but it’s one of the facts that highlights the very Brazilian character of the city after all.

* One really learns to appreciate such services after living for some time in a city where the buses come simply when they come and it is not unheard of to be waiting at the bus stop for hours.

** The Brazilian office of Geography and Statistics has some good data on the development of the cities;  Wikipedia provides also an overview of the metropolitan regions.

Imagina na copa

“Imagina na copa” – “Imagine, during the World Cup …” is currently one of the most heard & written sentences in Brazil.* Short, concise and said with a hint of resignation, it describes the current mood.

After years of strong economic growth and an increasing global popularity, culminating in the bid for the 2014 World Cup, a noticeable slow-down has set in. The World Cup, though not to blame for the situation, demonstrates that the foundation on which the development of recent years rested is still quite wobbly. The underlying weaknesses, may they be social, political or economic,  are as present as ever: mismanagement and -planning, corruption, poverty , inadequate education, inflation, etc.

The stadiums aren’t getting ready on time, infrastructure projects are delayed or cancelled altogether after the contracts went to the sons of mayors or senators. At the same time, rising bus and tomato prices** , minimum wages which don’t cover the cost of living… the list of misgivings long. The World Cup which was meant to show the new ascending, strong and self-confident Brazil is becoming more and more a demonstration – some may say the cause – of the country’s problems.

Baustelle Flughafen Sao P
Still, no need to be all that pessimistic. Instead, let’s focus on the best there is in this country. No, not the great landscapes, not the beaches, not the Samba or the Carnival, but the Brazilians themselves. They are outgoing, friendly and helpful, especially with foreigners . To spend time with family and friends, is incredibly important for Brazilians; so is good life. Above all, a good meal with carnezinho – a bit of meat (the ‘bit’ is not meant literally) – is very much appreciated, as is an evening on the beach or in a bar, with live music and sip of cool beer***

In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing more posts about Brazil, looking at this vast, fascinating country with its sunny and less sunny sides. Mas primeiro: seja bemvindo!

Baustelle Flughafen Brasilia

* The complete translation , including what’s not said, roughly corresponds to: “Imagine only how things will work out during the World Cup if already now…”

** Prices for public transport and food are a particularly sensitive issue, especially after the protests last year during the Confederation Cup .

*** Beer is served in Brazil chilling cold (-3° C). We’ll have to clarify why separately.

A kind of starfish?

Nevermind that I think that the German word for starfish – Seestern i.e. seastar – fits much better; I have no idea if this actually is one:

Anybody out there who happens to know? If you are curious – I don’t want to make people jealous – this is where I found them:

On demand language skills

Today, I had one of those moments where I just wished not to understand other people. Of course, it’s a good sign that I understand by now almost anything or anybody when it comes to Portuguese.

But when I had to wait today in a ministry, these two people next to me… How to say this politely? I do not care what you had for dinner. And no, you don’t need to call your daughter to ask her how the pudim was she had after lunch. And no, I don’t want to know that you are accused by everybody in your family of having too many midnight snacks.  And so it went on and on and on for the entire 60 minutes waiting time…

It was one of those moments in which I longingly remember the blissful time when I would simply continue reading my book because I didn’t understand and  in which I very much wish that language skills could be momentarily suspended.

Infelizmente, não é possivel.

Why 2014 is already over in Brazil

Yep, that’s right: the year 2014 is already over. Actually, it never had a chance.

Let me explain: the year in Brazil – as in working year – starts once Carnival is over. University courses start, you get work done again, administrations function normally. Kind off…

2014 however is different. First, Carnival was late – only in the first week of March and as it lasts till Wednesday, people spent the remainder of the week on the beach or recovering from hangover. So technically, the year should have started on March 10th.

Only now is the perfect moment to strike (a greve). The federal police is striking and the post, the workers in the harbors, train conductors and hospital workers are joining them in one part of the country or another. Striking – you have to admit it – is an excellent way to spent the time till the Easter holidays in April.

After Easter, it’s already time to prepare a copa - the World cup. Nobody of the right mind down here is expecting to get any kind of work done during the world cup. The days a seleção - the Brazilian team – plays have already been declared public holidays. For all other games, the city in which they are played can also declare a public holiday.

Then comes the winter holidays and afterwards it’s already time for the general elections in October, during which Brazilians are called to vote for the members of parliament in the states and the federal state, senators, governors and of course, the president.

Till the newly or re-elected governments really take effect – fim do ano – end of the year which starts right on time the 24th of December and lasts till Carnival 2015. Or more precisely the Monday thereafter.

I’ll let you do the count.

Auditive nuisance

A former colleague in Brussels was convinced that an ice wagon with a little, tedious melody was not only following but positively stalking him. It’s a good thing that he is unlikely to ever move to Brazil.

When it comes to auditive nuisances, especially from ice vendors, Brazil just beats everything. The most annoying are push trolleys with their loudspeaker announcing that “Picolé Sorvete Caico” is to be had again. While I don’t mind them passing every once in a while; on weekends, it is not rare to witness dozens passing in front of our place, joining their tones to a chilling cacophony that raises many lusts except the one for ice cream. That they are all but impossible to escape from obviously doesn’t help:

In comparison, the ice vendors of a competing enterprise using but a modest bell to announce a sweet and cold treat being on sale are almost a bliss. Regardless, ice cream vendors are not the only ones offering something comestible through persistent and piercing announcements.

Indeed, it is hardly necessary to leave the house to purchase foods of all kinds. It starts at 6:30 in the morning with a loud PJB (Peeee-Juuuu-Beeee) passing by on bicycle, which I’m 95% sure is selling bread. Later in the day, macaxeira (Makacheiiiiraaaa) – a type of mandioca can be purchases; usually just before the shrimps car passes along. In the beginning, I actually thought that this car sold funerals, judging by the tone of voice of the announcer. But no, in the end it’s just camarão, peixe, camaroja, i.e. shrimps, fish and whatever the last one is.

Add to this the inhame – another kind of root vegetable, the sweet potato and the banana, et voilà, a full meal provided by street vendors using the full capacities of their lungs or loud speakers to attract potential buyers who are neither deaf nor inclined to violence.