Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rio - The Geevil and Mr. Juvenal

When visiting a new city I like to get a perspective from the common man -- In general, what would it be like to live here? Sure, I could try to see the most exclusive spots or alternatively, the most impoverished but really these offer limited insight into what it would be like to live in the area.

For years now, when I visit a new city, particularly in another country, I work straight up the middle and infiltrate the people who know the city the best: cabbies, bartenders, waiters and hotel staff.

From day one at the roof top pool I befriended a Brasileiro, -- Juvenal. I mention him now because I think he embodied all the qualities of the Brasileiros I met during my week in Rio. A young man of 24 years, probably all of 5'6" but the spirit of an giant, he carried himself as most Brasileiros do -- with a sense of pride and confidence. Jet black hair, olive skin and those eerie cool eyes that are decidedly brown until you see them at close range and realize they're green.

I started speaking Portuguese to him and my obvious accent precipitated our first round of conversation.

"Are you German?" he said in German. Nope

"Are you French?" he said in French. Nope

"Are you British?" he said in English, faint accent but nothing as I expected. Close, very close.

So he asked me to speak some more Portuguese, I obliged, then he interrupted me mid stream.

"You're American!" he declared. We have a winner.

He wanted to know where in the States I lived, so I told him. He knew Texas and even Dallas. He smiled and said.

"You are from the place where the geevil is from."

Geevil? Did he mean Gerbil? Weevil? Then it struck me. In Rio, the 'de' is pronounced like 'ge'. The was telling me I was from the place where the devil is from. Obviously he was talking about Bush. He launched into a tirade about our president, it was not flattering. Of course, for me, opinions are just that. I like to hear them since it lets me know more about how someone thinks, what boundaries will exist in my relationship with them and how to navigate around them without drama.

Second thing about Brasileiros - They are passionately opinionated and not afraid to express.

I didn't care that he had an opinion, so what, everyone does. I agreed with some of what he said but what really stuck in my mind was that he was speaking English without much of accent. I thought maybe he wasn't from Brazil orginally. Wrong. He was emphatically from Brazil. He made it clear that he was of 100% Portuguese descent. Each time he made this point, and he made it often, I felt the shadowy emergence of a caste system or at best, racial profiling.

Turns out he starting working as a butler for a Brazilian family in his hometown in the state of Bahia, at 14. The family moved to London and took Juvenal with them. He was 16 when he left Brazil, he didnt know a word of English. In the two years he lived in London he learned English via the indoctrination by fire method. When the family returned, he took the opportunity to leverage off of his new language skills to enter into a more lucrative profession - working in a high end hotel. Lucrative you question? Yes, actually it is. In Rio, the average Joe takes home about $300 month. Juvenal, now armed with English skills allowing him access to work in a high end hotel, takes home about $1000 month. Yes, still below unemployment income in the US but this defines a very small middle class in Rio.

In other words -- Language is power in Rio. This would explain the stacks of English, Chinese and French language books he kept behind the bar. They don't teach any languages in government run schools and outside English courses cost upwards of $10,000 a year, only accessible to the 1% of Brasileiros who are 'bastard rich', as Juvenal would say.

Juvenal was very aggressive at learning English from this native speaker. But I got my share of Portuguese in return. In the end I gave him my email -- "Keep in touch amigo!"

He did. While he kicks ass at speaking English, it took me 15 minutes to decipher his 2 line email.

Baby steps.


Blogger lasomniloquy said...

The Geevil...haha...I may purloin this term from you.

11:40 PM

Blogger Jim said...

LOL, feel free :)

7:08 AM


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