All the Amazing Conversations


by Sophie von Muench

The other day, my host father asked me what I talked about all day. I could only laugh, because I had no idea how to begin explaining the conversations I have most days. After thinking about it, however, I realized that the conversations I have had here in Brazil have been the most formative part of my experience. So, here is a taste of some conversations I’ve had within the last couple months. 

  • How to firmly tell a whining, crying 8 year old to stop it, and why it is important
    • While one part of this is very easy for me to understand, the other is extremely difficult for me to do without feeling like a terrible person. 
  • The importance of alone time
    • The previous conversation led directly to this one. My host sister wants to stay with me at all times, including when one of us is in the bathroom. Also when I am working, or trying to sleep, or even when she’s playing with her cousin. She also doesn’t appreciate it when I stay out too late (i.e. 7:30 pm), because I miss three whole hours of playtime, and asks me to hurry home after work next time. However, we are making progress, as she now generally complains about me leaving without screaming and crying.

  • What you will take with you when you die
    • Thinking about this is my homework until I leave in April, assigned by my host father. (He didn’t accept my first answer.)
  • What the oldest game in the world is
    • My host brother says tag, while his cousin in convinced it’s hide and seek.
  • Is optimism just ignorance? 
    • My host father and my host uncle say yes, especially when considering Brazilians. There is a big culture of celebrating life even through hardships, a trait that is widely praised, and which is one of the central ideas of Carnival. Or, as my host uncle said, “People here have no idea what is going on in their country. As long as they have beer and Carnival they are happy, without thinking about the problems of Brazil.”
  • The failing state of Brazil and fear of the future
    • This was actually the same conversation as the last one. And has been repeated many times. It goes along with how dangerous (and dirty and overrated) the country and the city are, which is a favorite topic of my host parents. They are very sweet to be worried about me, share their experiences with me, and make sure I understand that I need to be careful, but this can also be frustrating.
  • Which is the best beach on the island
    • Despite the aforementioned opinions, there are definitely perks to living here.
  • Zombies
    • Also dragons, fairies, mermaids, and vampires. Some conversations about fantastic beasts are easier for me to understand than others. I can hold my own in a joking conversation with my host brother about how I’m a vampire who is going to suck their blood if I get too hungry, but get lost when my host sister tries to explain complicated games where I’m a zombie chasing a girl — but will explode when I get too close, except if she closes her eyes, and if I throw a cord at her that’s fire and then I won’t explode except if the fire touches me too and she can kill me as well sometimes, and depending on how she kills me I have a different fake death… or something.
  • What the difference is between knowledge and wisdom
    • I don’t know if this one counts, because unlike all the others this one was in English. Discussions with the other fellows who work with me at R3, my apprenticeship, can get very philosophical. Others have included whether we believe in objectivity or relativity, the existence of free will, what it would be like for Trevor to live inside Nico’s mind, and of course what the best superpower is. And no, being able to teleport does not mean you can fly, which we established with a very in-depth definition of flight.
  • The difference in secondary education systems of Brazil and the USA
    • In Brazil, public universities generally offer better educations and don’t collect any tuition. To get in, you only have to pass an entrance exam — though this is difficult. There are many Brazilian college students volunteering with us at R3, who are probably extremely confused by our explanations of the American system.
  • Why the words ‘hippo’ and ‘giraffe’ don’t have gendered forms in Portuguese, though almost everything else does.
  • Stories about playing in the streets of Chile
    • My host parents are actually Chilean, though they’ve lived here in Brazil for a long time. I enjoy listening to the stories of big family lunches, soccer games and climbing trees back in the good old days.
  • Race and prejudice in Brazil
    • This was with a sweet old lady at the bus stop, but unfortunately I understood almost nothing. I was trying, though — so hard I actually missed the bus I’d been waiting for.
  • What SWAT is
    • My host brother thought it was “the most powerful police force in the US”, dropping bombs and catching serial killers and apprehending the worst kinds of criminals with all the newest weapons technology.
  • How easy it is to learn a new language!
    • Or so said my Uber driver one night when I was coming back from a friend’s birthday party. He claims to have learned French in just two weeks, and thinks learning a foreign language is a piece of cake. 
    • I respectfully disagreed.
  • How the My Little Pony Applejack is too shy to read loudly in front of her classmates. 
    • As my host sister begins to read more confidently she is eager to teach her ponies as well.
  • Afro-Brazilian culture
    • Capoeira, a traditional dance and martial art form, and Maracatu, a traditional form of music and performance, are two aspects of the incredibly rich Afro-Brazilian culture I have gotten to try here.
  • The linguistic nuances of a running joke
    • My host family teases me that I have a secret boyfriend. Apparently there are more levels to this joke that I do not understand because I am not a native Portuguese speaker. 
  • How my host grandmother wants to be a man in her next life
    • This is because women do all the work.
  • “Oh, sorry, I forgot about the glasses!” 
    • This was told to me by my host sister, and I count this as a win, because it took me a long time to get her to understand to be careful of my glasses. (I am extremely grateful that my glasses are still intact at this point. Also pretty surprised. So far, they have been hit, squished, sat on, and stolen by a monkey.)
  • America’s image in the world
    • Alternatively known as “Why everyone hates gringos”, “Why Americans are right to be afraid of terrorism” or “How America has messed up throughout history”.
  • How to make Brazilian fried chicken
    • Brazilians use so much mayonnaise!
  • What the glands above seabirds’ eyes are for
    • They secret excess salt, which I was told as I assisted a necropsy of a P. Puffinus. (This is not the same bird as what we think of as a puffin.)
  • ‘Brother-in-law’, in English
    • My host parents thought it was ‘brother-in-love’ for a while, which I personally like a lot better.
  • How good intentions can be hurtful
    • This applies not only to good-meaning citizens who find healthy penguins on the beach and pack them into refrigerators to bring them to R3, but also is a reminder to be aware of the footprints we leave in our communities. 
  • The cat climbed into the ceiling again?! 
  • “You’re my best friend. I love you.” ~ my host sister.
    •  Sometimes, alone time is overrated. Finding a place within a family around the world is definitely worth a few tough moments.

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