Porto Alegre was our first stop in Brazil, after the crazy border crossing. We arrived late and took a taxi from the rodoviária (bus terminal), and checked into a downtown hostel.
The city in itself had nothing special but we stayed there a few days to ease ourselves into brazilian culture. A total different world.
Safety, for instance. Chile and Argentina are pretty safe places, although they have their share of annoyances, especially in big cities, where pickpockets and dodgy neighborhoods can be expected. But we didn´t care too much about it and walked everywhere even at night, took taxis without thinking twice and even though we were not careless, we were pretty relaxed.
Brazil is not necessarily a dangerous country but crime does exist, and can be quite violent. There is much more street crime, sad stories and weapons altogether. Porto Alegre can be quite dangerous at night and some district are best avoided — the key is to guess which ones. So we did like we did in Panamá, Perú or Bolivia: go to the ATM and carry the money back in your shoes or your bar, always walk in busy streets, trust your guts and be alert. Common sense.
Another major adaptation is obviously the switch from Spanish to Portuguese — which none of us speak, by the way. Although I am far from being fluent in Spanish, I can read a newspaper, understand people, and be understood in most situation as well. Made life pretty easy: checking in a hotel, asking for directions, ordering food etc. was never a problem. Well, it´s not like that in Brazil.
I had started to learn a few conjugations and useful words, but the accent is quite difficult, especially the nasal sounds. Italian and Spanish are both quite easy to pronounce for me (probably because I speak French) and I was always understood easily, even when trying a new word or expression. But Portuguese…
I really wanted to avoid speaking Spanish to Brazilians. I can imagine it may sound arrogant if I expect to be understood this way: after all, if someone speaks German to me in France, I won´t have a clue of what he is saying. But yet, Spanish is the language the closest to Portuguese that I know.
In Brazil, my mind is perpetually trying to make sense of of things, using languages that I speak. “Nome” is “name” in English, and of course “nom” in French. “Peixe” equals “pescado“, from the latin “pesci”, also “poisson” in French, and “fish” in English. “Cafe da manhã“… okay, “manhã” looks like “mañana” in Spanish, and “cafe” is obvious. So “morning coffee” is… yep, breakfast. “Hoje” is close to “hoy“, although not the pronunciation — but it still means “today”.
Trust me, it gets tiring after a couple of hours.
Some words left us puzzled. What the hell was this famous “frango” we kept on seeing on restaurants menus? I really did not want to try pig testicles, so we thought about it. The “frango” was apparently either grilled, either in a burger. Pig testicles do not fit in a burger, so it must mean… “chicken“. Nothing to do with the Spanish “pollo“, or the French “poulet“.
We should survive the language thing. We should. But would we survive the crazy hedonistic Carnival celebrations?