Culture Shock

Culture shock…I’ve experienced it many times before, and I don’t know why I thought I would be exempt this time around. Maybe it’s because this is my second time in Brazil, maybe it’s because I just got too confident, but man I could not have been more wrong. There are a few stages of culture shock, the first being elation and excitement at your new surroundings. I have definitely been living in that one since my arrival. But yesterday the shock started to really set in. Before I left I thought my Portuguese wasn’t all that bad, I could probably understand most of it, after all reading it isn’t a problem really. Wrong again. Unless these people speak to me very, very slowly, all of the words run together like a stampede of vibrant and intense colors…beautiful, yet extremely overwhelming.

My day started yesterday with a trip to the grocery store with my host brother. We had to pick up food for a lunch we were having for my host father’s birthday. That wasn’t so bad. As I’ve said before, my host brother speaks English very well so the confusion didn’t really set in because I had him there to translate and explain things to me. The grocery store was a lot like ours at home, except everything is in Portuguese and the food is fresher and better. They were playing Shakira over the loudspeaker, something that I doubt you’d hear at your local Kroger or Publix. (Side note: people love Shakira here. My host family even named their cat Shakira. How could you not name your mean ass cat after those truthful hips? haha It’s a fitting name. That cat has a feisty personality.)


After the grocery store we all had lunch to celebrate Jorge’s (my host dad) birthday. Some of their family came over and I remembered meeting them all the last time I was here, but the language barrier started to sink in a bit when they’d come up to me and say something and all I could do was stare at them like a deer in the headlights and smile. It’s something that I know I’ll look back on a laugh about because I’m laughing about it right now. Travelers really do need the ability to not take themselves seriously, because you’re going to misunderstand, you’re going to be confused, and you’re going to feel stupid. But it’s okay. I think that it weaves us all together in a weird way. Travelers are often bold, intelligent and funny people, but that all gets left at the door if no one knows what you’re talking about. And when you’re a world traveler, that’s going to happen to you often. Especially anywhere in Latin America. Anyways after lunch their cousin Raphael, who is my age, asked me if I wanted to go to the beach with him and his friends so of course I said yes! I have been dying to go to the beach since my plane landed. Culture shock of the day, part two. His friends spoke English but pretty much chose to speak Portuguese the whole time, which is fine because it helped me understand their culture a bit better. But I started to feel a bit…at a loss for words, literally. I can say basic Portuguese phrases, like “I am such and such,” “I like such and such,” “I understand such and such.” Very basic stuff. When they speak at such a rapid pace I can only pick up certain words here and there, but it was still a great time. They spoke English with me more and we all got to know each other a bit better by the time the day was finished. We chilled out on the beach and drank beer all afternoon and watched the sun go down. Checking out the Brazilian men in their tiny speedos was a hilarious part of the day as well. Not everyone wears speedos down here, but they are definitely very common. And the female bikinis…let me just say I got made fun of for wearing a bathing suit that was “too American.” haha! It’s one of my smallest bikinis and it still doesn’t make the cut. Also, the bigger the woman, the smaller the bikini. Guess I’ll just have to get over my shyness and break down and buy that teeny, tiny Brazilian bikini. Why not?


For dinner my host family took me with them to a birthday party for Amelia’s (my host mother) good friend. It was at another condo and it was what they called a pizza night. We ate the pizza with a plastic glove on our hand, something I’ve never done before even on my last visit here. In Brazil if you eat a sandwich or anything else with your bare hand it’s considered very rude, unless you’re on the beach or just sitting at home or something. In public it’s looked at as sort of ghetto to eat with your hands. They even eat their fries with toothpicks! At the birthday party is when the biggest hit of culture shock came at me. Surrounded by so many beautiful Brazilians and I was the only English speaking one. Of course my host brother was there and a few of his friends who spoke a little bit of English, but imagine if you’re at a party and there’s someone who doesn’t speak English there…would you want to change your native tongue the entire night for one person? Didn’t think so. I understood snippets of conversation but for the most part I felt a little bit lonely and mad at myself for not knowing more Portuguese. But I had to remind myself that I haven’t even been here for a week yet, and that it will get better as time goes on. The struggles of being a traveler in a foreign place where no one speaks English will make you grow. Fellow travelers who stumble upon this remember that it will get better! Kindness is universal. Until next time!


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