Category Archives: A savoir

Hiking in Parana – Morro do Sete

The intention was to hike the way up to Morro do Sete and enjoy the view over to the Pico de Parana. After two and a half hours we gave up though we learned one more Portuguese word: barro – mud or clay.

With our shoes ankledeep in the same, that’s all there is to say about this.

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Substantivos coletivos – aka – Things I’ll never learn in Portuguese

It was during our trip to Bonito, that I first realised that Portuguese had more nouns for groups of animals than English or German. A woman had asked what again the word was for a swarm of butterflies, and the answer was panapaná –  used for butterflies and nothing else.

Indeed, as a colleague taught me later, Portuguese has a whole set of nouns that describe groups of animals, going way beyond the swarm, herd or flock other languages have to offer. Some of these collective nouns are unique to wild or domestic animals, some to birds or fishes and others can be used just as well for a group of bandits.

There are more than comprehensive lists of these collective nouns available online, though the ones I found most compelling are:

  •  Colmeia – beehive / swarm of bees
  • Panapaná – a swarm of butterflies
  • Alcatéia – a pack of wild animals (wolves, lions, wild hogs, etc.)
  • Gado – cattle
  • Manada – a group of donkeys, horses or cattle
  • Boiada – a herd of cows
  • Cardume – a swarm of fishes
  • Fato – a group of goats
  • Cambada, gatarrada, gataria – a group of cats
  • Ponta – a group of mules
  • Vara – a group of pigs
  • Trompa – a group of lamas

The empty sidewalk phenomena

Unless it’s for taking out the dog or for jogging, Brazilians do not walk; they drive. For one, it’s because badly done sidewalks are another similarity between Brazil and Belgium Brussels.

For the other, it might be because the only poor devils walking are those who cannot afford a car. Or because driving is considered safer; i.e. it’s harder to rob a driving car than a pedestrian; though that certainly is not taking road safety into account.

Anyway, contrary to other cities in the world, I get to enjoy a relaxed walk to the bus station or to the next popular square without dodging fellow pedestrians, strollers or dogs, while only occasionally stumbling over roots or rocks.

“What a tapir” – or – How to insult a Brazilian

Tapirs, in Portuguese called Anta, do not enjoy much respect or a high reputation in Brazil. On the contrary, to call someone “uma anta” equals to denying this particular person even the most basic intelligible reasoning.

Maybe that’s why tapirs are threatened. In a mundus humanus, not being a cute animal hardly helps conservation.

Tap, tap, tapirI kind of like them. They are peaceful, slow vegetarians and like to take a swim. Plus, the little ones are cute. Don’t you think?

Mass movement

Brazilians take sport very seriously. Not withstanding that obesity is becoming more and more of a problem, sport is an important part of social life.

Almost every village – or neighborhood in the big cities – has its public gym. The most basic version are some steel bars and a few concrete ramps, allowing for most muscle-building exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. The more advanced forms look like fancy playgrounds with often brightly colored gym machines – if that is the correct term:

In terms of equipment, Brazilians only know two kinds: none or full battle. So either you see a guy in flip-flops and a t-shirt make a few push-ups or you see a woman with super-duper fancy running shoes, drinking bottle, iPod clip, a support bra and the most psychedelic leggings witnessed in human history.

Actually, leggins with visually nauseating color-pattern combinations are as omnipresent as outrageously ugly. It still defies my imagination as to why anybody would voluntarily subject herself to wear such a piece of clothing.

Be this as it may,  in the late afternoon and early evenings, it’s time for the mass movement. Outside the big cities, people will walk along the road, before hitting the public gym. Inside the cities, any park – or if available: the beach – will be a popular spot to finish the day with a few exercises and a neighborly chat.

Differentiation, Brazilian style

Differentiation is in business terms defined as making your product or service different from others, to make it more attractive to whoever it is you want to sell it to. Brazilian shops are a great example how not to do it.

When driving through the villages of the Brazilian hinterland, we often see all kinds of artisan products on sale: wooden kitchen ware, straw hats, puppets or clothes, stone pots, etc. However, in any given village, you only see one of its kind, e.g. 5 small shops with carefully laid out wooden kitchen ware – all in exactly the same style, from the same material, for the same price.

Another example are the Tapioca stands on the beach. Tapioca is a regional specialty; a kind of pancake made from manioc flour filled with coconut, cheese and other stuff. It seems to be an unwritten law, that there can never be just one Tapioca stand. No, there have to be four if not five stands, one next to the other, selling the same food, for the same price and with the same slow service.

Even in the city centers, it is not rare to find clusters of shops all selling identical products. On the contrary, some streets are known for having dozens of bike shops, car repairs, furniture or household appliances shops. At least there, it comes to the advantage of the customer: With only a little bit of negotiation skills, it is possible to get a really good bargain.

Reality catching up

If a week after the delightful, almost magical experience of resolving a problem quickly and painlessly, you have neither received a call nor an email confirming that indeed, everything is ok; and you start to wonder what’s going on; the only solution (after nobody answers your calls) is to go and see for yourself.

Only to find out that your file has been, oh well, kind of forgotten. Because “your phone number was lacking”, though you distinctively remember providing this essential bit of information. Before you even get to ask why nobody thought about emailing you, it dawns on you that this is just reality setting in.

And you realize: Everything is back to normal.