Monday, July 20, 2009

Almost famous

I made the local paper today in Porto Alegre. No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was.

I went to a café that I frequently visit between classes, though I haven’t been there for several weeks. Me being me, of course, I have made friends with the staff. Today, one of the young waiters approached me and asked me if I take taxis. I was so puzzled by his question that I doubted my Portuguese comprehension for a moment—frozen in a flash of confusion which, still, often happens to me in day-to-day conversations. He carried on for a minute before I caught up and began to understand that he suspected I was the subject of a crônica (a column, a repository for vignettes, if you will, about daily life) in the Diário Gaúcho.

Me: Zuuuhhh?

Him: (paraphrasing and translating here) There’s a story about you and a conversation you had with a taxi driver. You told him all Brazilian men were “muito safado”?!

Me: (turning beet red and beginning to panic) What? When? Where is it? Oh, please, no!

Him: Ha ha ha! It is you! I thought so! My friend saw it and called me this morning! Ha ha ha!

Me: Zuuuhhh? (thinking [all at once]: No this can’t be happening! & Where is the paper?! & Your friend? I came up in a conversation with your friend and it was memorable enough that he pinpointed me from a piece in a tabloid? & But, But….!)

He retrieves the paper and turns to the inside of the back page.

Me: (working on my Portuguese speed-reading skills while feeling mortified.) Ooohhhh nooooo! That’s not what I said!

I learned shortly thereafter that the author of this crônica is a rather well-known and frequently-published taxi driver here in Porto Alegre by the name of Mauro Castro. He also published the story today on his blog, a collection of tales he’s acquired in his career as a driver, here.

There are a few problems with Mr. Castro’s version of events.

1. Perguntou se eu conhecia. Eu disse que “ainda” não. Ela achou graça.

She asked me if I had been [to Chicago]. I said no, “not yet”. She thought it was funny [in the sense of "charming", I suppose he meant].

Actually, he responded to my question “no”, and I interjected (as I always do and with humorous intent) “not yet!” Apparently, Mr. Castro thought it was funny enough to turn the joke around in his favor.

2. At the end of a paragraph in which Mr. Castro pretty accurately recounts our conversation, lies the sentence which is both the crux of his crônica and the biggest misrepresentation of our chatand, more importantly, me personally.

É como ela define o homem brasileiro: “Muito safado!”.

Let me explain. He asked me whether I had found a Brazilian boyfriend, wanted to get married here, have kids, etc. I responded with laughter in my voice that the first two words I learned in Portuguese were “muito safado”. Muito means very and safado means (more or less and quite subject to context), mischievous, rogue, shameless, or as I was originally taught, untrustworthy (in relationships).

That’s how she defines Brazilian men: “Muito safado!”.

Loyal readers, I presume you are beginning to sympathize with my irritation and frustration at this column.

3. Perguntei se não estaria generalizando. Ela não entendeu a pergunta. Expliquei que “generalizar” seria como dizer que todo americano é alienado. Ela, então, quis saber o que significa “alienado”.

I asked [her] if that wouldn’t be [considered over-generalizing]. She didn’t understand the question. I explained [to her] that “to generalize” would be like saying that all Americans are alienated. She then wanted to know what “alienated” means.

Once I get past being insulted by this part, I find it humorous on two levels. First, that generalizar and alienado are cognates—friends of the foreign language student—that are essentially the same in each language. So if I didn’t understand his question, certainly it wasn’t due to limited vocabulary, but rather my difficulties in understanding the fast pace and truncated syllables so prevalent in southern Brazilian Portuguese. Admittedly, listening comprehension is my worst skill in the language. Second, I don’t sense from the article that Mr. Castro intended the irony of highlighting what he perceived as my generalization of Brazilian men, whilst painting a picture of me as the “friendly but foolish American.” Fortunately, some of the comments posted in response on his site have already pointed this out.

I could simply read the crônica as it was likely intended—as a humorous anecdote—if he didn’t go so far in identifying me. If he left the identifiers out and simply couched his tale as an exchange with a USAmerican, or better still, with a foreigner, I, as a writer myself, might not be so annoyed. But to include those clues while taking some pretty big leaps in the name of artistic license is irresponsible at best. Porto Alegre is small and doesn’t receive a lot of foreigners. I stand out. He included specific details with regards to my identity, and already, a waiter at a café knew I was the subject. Moreover, the re-telling wasn’t accurate. Writer to writer, Mr. Castro, that was a big faux-pas. (It’s French.)

And his last bit…

Fiquei observando quando minha passageira desembarcou e correu, protegendo-se da chuva fina que caía sobre Porto Alegre. É uma gringa voluptuosa. Eu não disse isso a ela, claro. Primeiro, porque me acharia mais um brasileiro safado, segundo, porque eu teria de lhe explicar o significado da palavra “voluptuosa”.

I sat watching as my passenger disembarked and ran, protecting herself from the fine rain that fell over Porto Alegre. She’s a voluptuous gringa. I didn’t tell her this, of course. First, because she would think I’m one more safado Brazilian, and second, because I would’ve had to explain to her what “voluptuous” means.

…truly solidifies my reaction to his crônica as one of dueling emotionsentertainment and insult.

“Voluptuous” is also a cognate. But this gringa knows enough about Brazilian culture to understand that here, and particularly in men of Mr. Castro’s age, it’s considered a desirable trait. I enjoy the compliment, Mr. Castro.

Moving on! Soon a post about my incredible birthday celebration yesterday, among other things...