There is this woman in church here in Rio who for the last two days has been calling me out in public. Yesterday as I was leaving the Cathedral she spoke loud enough to cause others to turn around, referring to me as what I thought was lunch, “almoço“. Today, she sat right behind me and began chattering about what again I thought was lunch! Strange!
Well, I left and began searching for what she might have been saying. After a while, I concluded that she was saying “moco” which means boy. Now, this made me angry. Why would she call me “boy,” I wondered. And why the persistence? I had noticed her looking at me from time-to-time since I got to Rio earlier this month; by why the “boy” stuff?
After a few more searches, I concluded that she had to be saying more than just moco, because I had originally thought she had said almoco. Then I found the word “Bom moço” and realized that was what she had called me. “Bom moço” means “good guy”.
She is quite a strange lady, to say the least, and though now I know she is making positive references to me, I still wonder why I am the recipient of this attention.
Two words of advice:
1. Whenever you encounter a situation in which you garner unwanted attention abroad, the best advice is to leave. I have seen too many Americans enjoy being the center of attention, talking loud, and making a spectacle of themselves, only to wonder why they later get robbed. Nobody in the church or its vicinity had to know I was a non-Brazilian. Instead of speaking to the woman above or causing a scene, I just stated that I would return, and acted as if I had to suddenly leave. So what if they thought I was crazy, they might never see me again.
Too often Americans think they can diffuse a situation, when in fact you are probably just going to make things worse. Get out of the situation, regroup, and then try to figure out what happened. Many African Americans, in particular, believe they have “street smarts” and can handle themselves in Brazil. Do not fall victim to this thinking.
2. When in Brazil, language difficulties, such as this one, often occur, because we in the USA rarely hear Portuguese. Even though I can interpret quite a bit of written Portuguese, the spoken word presents challenges. My suggestion is that you purchase a language CD program prior to visiting Brazil. Transparent Language is a fairly economical choice.
And, do not believe, as many do, that speaking Spanish will help you in Brazil. As I imply above even knowledge of Portuguese is insufficient if you do not hear it everyday. Furthermore, Brazil is a large country with various regional dialects. Even listening to a CD will not prepare you for these divergences. Plus, as is true everywhere, Brazilians often employ colloquialisms. You will always be totally unprepared for the current fads in speech. In Rio, among the young population, there is often a vocabulary even older cariocas (residents of Rio) do not understand.
The Cathedral on NS Copacabana Avenue in the heart of Copacabana.