In my English classes recently, my students have been looking at letters written by well known celebrities to their 16-year-old selves. Not only has this exercise proved to be a great way for my students to practice conditionals, but some of these letters have actually been pretty funny, others quite moving and some fairly thought provoking. So after hearing what advice my students would give to their younger selves, this got me thinking…what would my letter read like?
Actually, there would be quite a few things I’d like to say to a 16-year-old me, far too many to write in this post. Then I started thinking about the advice I’d give to myself as I first arrived in Brazil; and after writing this letter, I thought i’d share it with you all.
It goes a little something like this:
Welcome to Brazil! I hope I’ve managed to get this letter to you before you walk out of the airport terminal. Otherwise, in roughly about four and a half minutes you’re going to have your first cultural wake up call! Sitting on a wall to the right of the airport you’re going to see a small, Japanese guy eating a sandwich. You’re going to ask him where the taxi rank is and you’re going to do this in Japanese.
He has no friggin clue how to speak Japanese!
Yes, Brazil has the largest number of Japanese people living outside of Japan and it really doesn’t make sense that many Brazilians of Japanese descent don’t really speak the language, but that’s just the way it is. I know that you’ve just come from Japan and that the reason you didn’t start studying Portuguese there is because you think you can ‘blag it’ and get by in São Paulo on the Japanese you know. Well, you really can’t; Brazil is a Portuguese speaking country!
So Andrew, you absolute sexy bastard, you will just have to swat up on those Portuguese books I’m afraid….and the sooner the better. Unfortunately it will be some time before you seriously start studying, which is a shame. Trust me when I say this; if you spend half as much time in your first few months here studying as you do worrying about being robbed, you will probably be pretty much fluent 5 years down the line!
You see, you will find São Paulo is not nearly as dangerous for you as you expect it to be.
There are a few words I really want you to know right now, the three most important Portuguese words you need for your first few months here. Inverno, Desligar, Verão. These translate as Winter, Turn Off and Summer. The reason I’m telling you this is because when you take a shower in your new place, you’re gonna assume all Brazilians take cold showers. You will think this because you can’t see a dial on the wall to control the water temperature (the sort that were so common in Japan and the UK), and your shower only pumps out cold water.
Well on the top of the shower head is a dial that changes the temperature of the water with these three words written underneath. Nobody likes cold showers in cold weather Andrew, you especially. If you don’t read this letter you’re going to be enjoying 4 months of cold showers before you’re eventually told about this!
Let me tell you something else; you’re going to HATE São Paulo in your first few months here. No joke, you’re going to dismiss it as ugly, expensive and a pain in the ass to travel around. You’re even going to secure a job teaching English in Moscow (where you KNOW they take hot showers!) and make plans to leave Brazil.
Well guess what, you ain’t going nowhere!
This will be in part because of someone you will meet in a few months. Let me set the scene; you’re going to be in a club when across the dance floor you’re going to spot ‘the one’ staring back at you (We No Speak Americano will also be playing in the background. Let me tell you this Andrew, you will find MUCH better clubs later on in your stay here!). Six months worth of dates later you’re even going to get a place and move in together.
When things don’t work out a few years from now and you end up back on the singles market, what I want to say to you is this….you WILL get over it. For Christ sake Andrew, you’re in Brazil, of course you’ll get over it! Looking back over this period, you will wonder why you wanted to stay in and listen to that godawful Adele CD on Friday nights! My advice to you is to stop moping around and get back out there while you still have an impressive amount of hair on your head (I hate to tell you this, but in a few short years that mop will not look so luxuriously full!)
One last piece of advice: When supermarket checkout assistants have problems understanding you here, they won’t say:
No, Brazil isn’t like England! Why say all of that when instead you can just say “WHAT?” or “I don’t understand.” Over here, this is quite normal. It isn’t considered that rude at all. Supermarket cashiers generally hate everybody, so stop taking it personally when they glare at you with the exaggerated patience of an adult talking to a small child. They really do it to most of their customers!
You have no idea how much fun and craziness await you in São Paulo (and how much soul searching you’re about to embark on), but enjoy it my friend. You’re in for one hell of a ride!
Lots of love,
What advice would you give yourself as you stepped off that plane and into your new expat life?