Keep Em Shufflin’: Thoughts from my 8th Week

2 Reais fish lunch at Resturante Popular:

Pictures speak a thousand words…and I’m not trying to actually make this blog post thousands of words.


For those who are well acquainted with my diet…it’s ok if you are in a state of disbelief…so am I! Fish? Salad? Andy? Look Mom…I’m a big boy now!

…2 Reais equals 1.09 American dollars…now that is truly splendiferous.

Learning not to be ashamed of my accent:

I have a confession to make: ever since I started learning Portuguese I always wanted to have a proper Brazilian accent.  For the longest time having a “sotaque brasileiro” (or one of Brazil’s regional accents) seemed like the proper thing to aspire to.  I’ve always believed that few things demonstrate one’s language proficiency more than speaking like native speakers. Given this feeling, ever since being down here I’ve been rather embarrassed when my American accent has divulged my true gringo identity (those chuckles after I pronounce something like an American are rather revealing and…frustrating).

However, I guess in life there are moments when somebody says something to you that really changes the way you think about a particularly troubling issue.  I like to call them “well that makes sense!” moments (they also tend to catch us by surprise). I had one the other day during our Saturday morning English class that really changed my perspective on my non-native Portuguese accent and I figured it was worth sharing.

During our class we began discussing accents and the frustration many non-native speakers feel when trying to adopt a particular accent (the parallels between my students’ experiences with English and my own with Portuguese never cease to amaze me).  It was in the midst of this discussion that a student named Benjamin unintentionally led me to my very own “well that makes sense!” moment.  He said, “you know…as much as I’ve tried to speak English like an American I’ve learned that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my Brazilian accent.  It is a part of who I am and where I come from…I’m Brazilian and I speak English like a Brazilian and that’s fine with me.” After mulling it over for a minute or two, I realized he was absolutely right. In fact, he was shockingly right and it kind of floored me.

What’s so shameful about a foreign accent? Why is speaking like a native the be-all-and-end-all of language proficiency? Can’t you be totally fluent in a language and still pronounce words your own unique way?  Isn’t your accent a mark of who you are and where you come from?   I believe as an outsider there is always the temptation to want to assimilate.  When you are in a strange place and people give you funny looks when you speak, it is fairly natural that you would want to linguistically blend in with everybody else.  Yet I think I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I want to experience Brazilian culture and feel part of the community down here, I will always be an American speaking Portuguese.  I can’t run away from my American identity and in truth I would never want to.  Being an American is part of who I am and that is nothing to be ashamed of (unless George W. is President and our government just gave the international community the middle finger).  Plus, if somebody doesn’t want to accept me because I speak Portuguese a little differently I’m not sure I really want to give them a minute of my time anyways.  There is something to be said about feeling comfortable in your own skin as a language speaker and I think embracing your own unique accent is an integral component of that process.

Most importantly of all, when I marinate on this experience, I think it gives me a deeper respect for the absolute English fluency my dad has achieved as a non-native speaker.  For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of speaking (usually at length) to Doctor D…he definitely wasn’t born in America.  Yet, despite his Hungarian upbringing, he speaks flawless English…although once in a while he asks me for one of my “gums” (piece of gum is what he’s going for) and I tell him they’re in my mouth. I’d never really thought about it, but the fact that he speaks perfect English with an accent is really inspiring (and hilarious when he knows a vocab word my mom doesn’t).  His Hungarian accent ultimately marks his accomplishment as a language learner.  Even though he didn’t learn English as a native speaker, he’s still mastered the language (idioms and all) as a second-language. That’s pretty darn impressive when you think about it…

(I bet my dad just read that last paragraph with his chest puffed out while wearing that famous Dallos grin from ear to ear…mom…tell him to relax)

Are you a missionary?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to answer that question over the past couple of weeks.  It seems that the more people see me walking by in the street or saying “boa noite” to somebody the more they think that I am spreading the word of God.   I guess the running assumption here is that if you’re a gringo and you’re not a tourist, there’s a high likelihood you’re in the soul-saving business. My typical response: “(awkward) haha…não sou.” Apparently Donovan has only been asked that question when he’s walking with me…definitely interesting.

Other Happenings:

  • I’m going 6 hours by riverboat to a small town named Alequer next weekend…waterfalls, rainforest, and howling monkeys…should be an adventure.
  • Stingray Fact I Didn’t Know: When you swim in the Amazon you should always shuffle your feet if you are touching the bottom…it scares the stingrays away and assures that you won’t be in for a rather shocking surprise.  Thanks Fishguy Dan! Stingrays aren’t a joke here…
  • I spent this past Sunday in Barrio Maracána.  Totally and utterly flooded.  Like so many other hotspots in or around Santarém, it’s apparently the place to be when the river is low. Beaches, beaches, and more beaches.  For now…just water, restaurants on stilts, and boats that ferry you around town.  People just get on with life when it floods here…pretty amazing to see.
  • I’ve decided to offer a biweekly 2-hour English conversation class for any of my students that feel like participating…why? 1. Fulbright is paying me to teach English and I feel like I could/should be doing a lot more (plus the hunger for English classes here is immense) and 2. Other than my nascent side-project, lifting/running, and playing soccer, I have way too much free time on my hands.
  • As I sit here writing this…in my house…I have a rather large swarm of insects climbing all over me…and I am disturbingly undisturbed by it. No sense in wasting effort trying to swat the inevitable.  Discomfort really is relative.
  • A few finger snaps for the Amazon Kindle.  My Kindle’s free wireless 3G works perfectly here…downloading books has never been this easy. Amazon is killing it in the Amazon………ohhh you just knew that was coming didn’t you?

Another week, another blog post.  Call me butter, cause’ I’m on a roll!

…yup I just said that. Have a good week :)

Um Abraço Forte,


P.S My Facebook picture album and have both been recently updated…if you haven’t already (and let’s be honest…you probably haven’t)…CHECK EM OUT!

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One thought on “Keep Em Shufflin’: Thoughts from my 8th Week

  1. Joanne

    Dad says- FINALLY my accent is appreciated!
    Love you,

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