Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Weird facts about Brazil

If you have a runny nose, under no circumstances should use a tissue and blow your nose in public. Apparently it is considered a disgusting thing to do and people will stare at you in disgust. My Portuguese teacher knows of one occurence when one of her students was marched out of a restaurant because of this!
So if you need to blow your nose you should go to the bathroom! That explains why when people have colds here they just keep sniffing in the most dreadful manner! But when in Rome...

Same thing about tooth picks. Never use one in public, it's disgusting apparently.

If you have Brazilian guests at your home, when they are about to leave, they will wait for you to open the door. They should not open it themselves as it means you did not enjoy their visit and do not want to see them again! It is offending!

Bikini wear is actually a minefield for foreigners. There are the right bikinis to wear and there are bikinis that makes you look like a "puta" ( a whore) and people will stare at you! Our teacher explained the difference but I am not sure I get it. All bikinis here as so tiny! I am now tempted to bring to school ALL my bikinis (for my teacher to inspect!)  to ensure they are all fine! And showing almost all your bottom is NOT considered slutty... I'm confused...

If your neighbour brings a pot with some delicious stuff cooked in, don't just return it washed and empty. Your poor neighbour will be wondering why you hate her/him! You are expected to do the same a cook something nice back to them!

Don't ever describe someone as "open" (aberto) as it has a negative meaning and imply someone who has sex with anyone. It is offending!

Dont ever describe someone as "relaxed" (relaxado") as it means someone dirty. Brazilian are obsessive about cleanliness. They are usually impecably clean and their homes totally spotless so telling to someone that he is "relaxado" is very insulting!

That's all for now! :)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

How to get a CPF number if you're foreigner? 2 Easy steps!

In Brazil, without a CPF number you are nothing, you do not exist. You will be asked for it for anything!
Anyhow, now I have one I will tell you how to get one too. it's actually very easy! Only 2 steps!

Step one: Get your passport and some bill that hold your current address. This bill  DOES NOT need to have your name on it! Without a CPF number you probably won't have any bills at your name anyway! So it does not matter that this proof of address carry "Mickey Mouse" name!

Anyhow, with those 2 things go to the post office. Tell them you come to pay the CPF tax. They may ask you if you live at the address of the said Bill! Say yes.

Pay the tax (about 5.60 reais) and get the piece of paper that the Post Office Girl will give you and go home.

Wait for a couple of days!

Step 2: Go to the Receita Federal building. Post Office Girl would have told you the nearest address. If not ask her or Google it!  Bring your passport and the piece of paper given by Post Office Girl.

Get there early morning as not to queue for hours!

Tell the security bloke at the entrance you come for the CPF number. He will point you to a desk where you pick up a number. Wait for your number to be called. Hand over your passport, the CPF document given to you by Post Office Girl when asked and smile. After 10 minutes of imputing stuff in the computer, the personne there will give you a print. Keep it. Congratulation, you now have some sort of official existance in Brazil and can even join a Gym! Lucky you! :)

Rio Cooking etc...

I did an afternoon cookery class at this place:

It was brilliant.  Simone is a great chef and great gal! I love her!
We learnt about the traditional Feijoada.  I have been experimenting since on how to cook the  rice Brazilian style, cooking aipim (manioc),  couve etc.. and will do the beans tomorrow (they are in a water tonight!)….
I can’t wait to do the Moqueta class!

Also learnt how to make great drinks:

Recipes on request ! but best do the day class! Great fun! And you will stuff your face with food! How cool is that?!

For now I am back at school for another run of intensive Portuguese lessons!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Bike Porn and what you have to know before you come to Brazil!

If you come to live in Brazil you may have done your research and realise that everything is horribly expensive in this country (or at least Rio and Sao Paolo) ! White goods are wildly overpriced if you want modern technology, or just insanely expensive if you want type 1950s tech!
So you may think “Let’s buy everything in Europe (or wherever) and put in a container". Well the problem with that is that you cannot get the container out of your country (or out of custom) until you have all the paper work sorted. That includes the permanent visas + a long list of documents and “random numbers” (that I have no idea what they are but will require yet more bureaucracy!). So in conclusion it could take 6, 7, 8 months or more before you get your stuff.
Aware of this we took about 120 kg of stuff with us on the plane in June (including a bicycle!). For the rest, you either buy it locally or do without for a long period of time.
So we had to bite the bullet and buy a washing machine, a fridge and a TV  that was required to get internet sorted in the flat! Don’t ask!. Everything else Techy is in the container: vacuum cleaner ( I can use a broom stick), steamer ( I can mop the floors) HiFi (we have our laptops), some books ( I brought a Kindle!)…
OF course the alternative is to live in an apart Hotel but this is not our cup of tea and finding a long term place to live was a priority. We were lucky to find our flat very quickly, the rent market in Rio is crazy at the moment. So we snapped the flat but as it is unfurnished….  At least last week we finally got delivered a sofa and on Monday we got chairs. We can sit at the dinner table now! J
Furniture, like everything else is horribly expensive again. Although we found a street in Lapa lined with lots of antiques furniture shops. They also make new stuff. Price is a bit more reasonable. We sourced our chairs and TV unit from there.
Most expats coming will not speak Portuguese. This is a priority. So you will go round trying to find where to learn the local linguo! Well, again, expats means lots of money for the locals so prices can be bonkers. I found a really good school, reasonably priced, in Ipanema. It’s a charity and the money from the school supports an orphanage. By the way if you want to have a flavour of Brazil the school is always taking on volunteers on a 6 months minimum basis. You do not get paid but I think they provide accommodation in Copacabana and maybe living expenses. Pretty good I think!
If you are interested here is their website address:

Now about motorbikes! :D
Is that ok to browse the internet for hours looking at bikes? And then write down the specs of various bikes to compare? And do it again just to look at the pictures?
Or is this like porn? Bike porn?
I remember a good repartee from one of my brother’s friends, who was asked by a teacher why he liked riding his bike: “ I like to feel the beast between my thighs!” . :D
Well I used to ride horses in my 20s. Well, I tried to learn, but it is hard when you start in your 20s. After almost 10 years of lessons, few close encounters with death and visits to emergency departments of various hospitals around Paris, I decided I would never be able to actually learn how to control those beasts!  I think a bike is MUCH safer. At least it won’t try to kick you out of the saddle when you least expect it!
So I miss my bikes. I miss taking the bikes out at the weekend for a long day excursion here or there… or going away full weekend. I miss the feeling of freedom it gives you.
I was never the cool kid. At school I was the invisible kid who makes her home work and get very good grades all the time, especially in maths. That did not make me popular. I was rather geeky, or even nerdy I suppose! Anyhow, my” coolest” moment at school was when I joined the “Dungeons and Dragon Club”. With all the other nerds at school! J I was even a “Master” at some point! And being geeky I was a very good one!
But now, when I get my helmet on, get my leg over the seat, start the engine, check my mirrors and pull out, I just feel like the coolest kid in town! Truly! And then, when I stop somewhere, remove my helmet, and get some bloke on the street make a double take; “Yes!The midget on the Versys is actually a woman!”. That is priceless!
So I have been looking at bikes. A lot. I have traced all the local dealers online. I have looked at all the prices. I found out yesterday that the Harley Davidson Sportster 883cc cost only 28,000 Reais. A bargain, even cheaper that the Yamaha XJ6! I told Alistair last night about this. Usually, Harleys are so bloody overpriced. But as he commented: “Yes it is very cheap (for local price!) and it is a very nice bike…. If you like to break down by the side of the road all the time!“.
 Well I’ve been there before with my BMW! SO it’s a no then.
I am down to the Yamaha XJ6 or the ER-N6 (Kawasaki – same engine than my Versys!).
Or the Honda CB Hornet.
Now I just need my bloody Container, my Visa and all my bike gear AND a bank account so I can transfer money and buy a bike! It is going to be a long wait. In the mean time I will continue lurking on line at the Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda website, looking at the bikes. Look at that exhaust! The shape of the tank, its curve…. Definitely bike porn! :D

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The truth about expat life….

I stopped language school 10 days ago. That kept me busy and socialising a bit.
Being an Expat WAG is not all great all the time, even when you live in Paradise.  Last week I felt rather lonely. When Alistair went to work I had no one to talk to, no company. It can feel lonely. The weather wasn’t great either.
Going to the grocery shops can be frustrating as well. I can’t even start of a conversation with the cashier, because I really do not understand what they tell me. We don’t have pets yet and we don’t have kids… so yes when you move abroad in a country where you do not speak the language it can feel lonely in this big empty flat. Still! Don’t feel sorry for me folks, things are starting to pick up nicely!
But the really annoying thing is that I really look local. I mean, after 14 years living in the UK my beautiful olive skin had turned pasty white from lack of sun. But now, after almost 7 weeks here, I am starting to be fairly tanned, and I do not look like I’m out of the “Thriller” video anymore! So people talk to me all the time! In the aisles of the shops old ladies and folks will start conversations with me. Even in the street! The look of surprise in their eyes when I tell them that I do not understand!
The most annoying thing is that Portuguese speakers can understand Spanish, but Spanish speakers CANNOT understand Portuguese!
The funny thing is that Alistair looks so obviously like a Gringo that when we go to shops together, the shop assistants don’t even bother to talk to him! They come straight to me. We have been in many furniture shops, and even when Alistair asked a question, the shop assistant would ignore him and answer to me. Now he knows how I feel when we walk into a motorcycle shop! God that used to drive me crazy in the UK! I’m the one who want to buy a bike, never mind, they would still talk to Alistair and ignore me! Grr!
AS I have discussed previously it would be nice to meet locals. So we are starting. Today in the lift I met an old lady who lives in the 10th floor. She spoke good Spanish and we started talking. People love doing that all the time here. She is soon retiring and was learning Spanish at the Cervantes centre. We agreed we should meet from time to time to talk Spanish / Portuguese so we can both improve! How cool is that?
Last week was slow but this week, so far, I have been very busy. I saw my doctor again today and she wrote an explanation for AXA as to why I need a mammography. So again I will have to talk to some fat American bloke on the phone about my breasts! Don’t you love that!  J
Let’s see how that goes!
Last night we had a birthday party in a bar in Ipanema. It was a good turn out and we met another  couple of expats who live next door to us! We also drank way too strong Caipirinhas and got quite drunk!
So after finding a moment today (hey I’ve been busy!) I decided to go down the beach to work on my tan for half an hour. After that I was meeting Marnie. She was “introduced” to me by email. She is a friend of a friend. Both Canadians, both airline pilots.  And when Marnie  is not flying airlines she lives in Leme, just round from my flat. So we met for a drink in one of the bar/ restaurant by the seafront.
There, again another new friend! She told me she wanted to buy a plane in Rio. She can hire small planes too and fly round the town. Sounds cool. I told her to let us know when she wants to go for a flight!
Tomorrow I am doing a cookery class to learn to cook the Feijoada, with an American friend (another O&G WAG!) ! And more caipirinhas! Oh my poor head! I think I will have to spend Friday lying on the beach! ;)
I wanted to talk about my washing machine. It’s unbelievable! Honest.
Few weeks ago we went to a shop and bought one, for a prohibitive price. Hard to ask any questions as no one spoke any English (or else) and we do not speak enough Portuguese.
Anyhow, apart from the fact that the machine’s technology is from … hmmm. ..about the 1970s, it did not cross my mind to ask about hot water. Well I just found out, I opened the bloody thing while it was washing… and I can confirm.. it’s only cold water. I mean, this is not even 1960s tech… that must take us back in time to the 50s? At least?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Red tape and the joys of private Health Insurance for Expats!

We have some news on the Visas front. We were hoping to get the permanent visas sorted by end of the month but…. It seems now that the Directorship of Alistair has to be processed by the authorities before we can apply. This is going to take at least 3 months! Oh dear!
We were hoping that as he is the director of the company in Brazil (by default as the director has to be in Brazil!) we could apply quickly without a need to go back to the UK, now that the company is registered. 
Well, we will, but only once the role is processed. So in conclusion, as Alistair’s business Visa (and my tourist Visa) expires end of September, we will need to get out again.
We “hope” that we can get the temporary visas renewed from Buenos Aires rather than having to go back to the UK. I don’t fancy an 11 hours flight twice in a week!
Anyhow, time will tell.
Meanwhile there is a container with all our possessions, stuck in some harbour in England. We have not had much news from the relocation company, so we hope all is still there. The container will not leave the UK until we have the permanent Visas sorted! So it seems we won’t get any of our stuff until at least Xmas time! Oh dear!
That is, if all our stuff is not already on sale on eBay. As I said, the relocation company we use does not seem particularly responsive ….

Anyhow, I have now finished my 4 weeks intensive “intermediate “course on Portuguese. I have had some time this week to pursue some other issue.
2 or 3 weeks ago I went to see a doctor for a minor issue (women stuff!). Anyhow, my Portuguese teacher recommended me her gynaecologist who had her clinic in the same building than my language school. This put me in contact with the “International Health insurance” company. Namely for that AXA! Oh dear!
If you are American you will be familiar with dealing with those “people”, but for us Europeans it is quite a SHOCK! When I phoned AXA, which for South America means calling a number in the US (!) I talked to a bloke and had to detail exactly why I had to see a doctor. Go explain in details your menstruations problems to an American bloke on the phone! Oh dear!
Anyhow, he came back telling me I was allowed to see a doctor. “F*ck you mate, I see a doctor if I want! “ was my 1st thought!
Anyhow I saw the doctor. She requested blood and urine analysis and also a mammography and ultrasound of ovaries and breasts.
On Monday I went to give samples for the Blood and urine test. I then phoned the Insurance Company. I had been naive on that one.  I should have checked with AXA BEFORE getting anything.
It happens that they allowed me to get the blood and urine test but then the guy kept asking why the doctor asked for a mammography and ultrasounds. The answer: “Well I am not a f*cking doctor mate and  I do not speak Portuguese!” was in my mind but I restrained myself (Am I turning into a “grumpy ol’ woman” before my time?)! I explained politely that not being a doctor I did not question her requests. In any case they tried to call her but failed so I had to cancel the ultrasounds and mammography.
In Europe those sort of tests are done and usually free for women of 40 and over. It did not come to my mind that for these companies, anything that is not strictly necessary to keep you barely alive is not allowed and prevention is not a word that is included in their vocabulary!
Knowing AXA on reputation I must admit I would NEVER had taken any contract with them on anything. I always avoided them when buying insurance via brokers, always asking who the underwriter was.
So in conclusion I would very much like to get local private insurance that seems much better (and is probably much cheaper!). In any case, Alistair is trying to get his contract local rather than in the UK. It would simplify in term of tax, insurance etc… and after all if we live here, it makes sense to get pay here as well.  Again this is in progress and we will see.
As you can see there are lots of question marks and stuff pending. It is going to take a long time to be completely settled and feeling “at home”.
In the meantime I will try to investigate the Brazilian health care system which seems free. For what I heard it seems similar to the NHS in quality and delivery (i.e. medieval!) but knowing the Brazilians I am sure it will be more caring. In any case I would like at least to know how it works in case I need to see a local GP for small ailments. I really don’t want to talk to AXA anymore if I can avoid!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

It's been a month already!

Well I have been here for a month now.  What have I achieved or learned so far?
-          I realised that the bikini I bought in England is way too conservative for Rio, so I went to get  an “itsi-bitsi” bikini that blends more with the locals! And NO! It’s not a thong! I’ll have some way to go before I get there!
-          We now go to the beach with our own folding chairs and pareos (under no circumstance should you use a towel in the beach!)
-          If you’re a man you should wear a speedo, unless you want to stand out (only tourists would wear bermudas – or surfers!)
-          Coco juice is great but don’t forget, once you drink all, to ask the girl with the machete to cut the coconut open so you can eat the flesh!
-          If you expect delivery at home of some piece of furniture on Tuesday at 3pm you will be
-          lucky to get it the next day at 11 am, without warnings! Very much like the UK then!
-          The cycling/running lane along the beach is not for morons to stand in and chat while  getting off tourist buses, and block the path! Get the hell out of my way!

After 4 weeks here I have met many expats through my language school.  Being a foreigner is easy for me, after all I was already “abroad” when I lived in the UK. However I have come to realise the differences.
When I met Alistair in Paris in 95, he could use my network of friends from university to get an instant social circle. When we moved to London in 97 I fell back on his circle of friends and colleagues in town for our social life, to start with.
However, here, we are both foreigners and we don’t know anyone. It can be lonely, especially for me as I do not work.
SO far we have met many fellow expats, via my language school. Most of them however are like &$&Y%$ year olds ( some are in their early – mid 20s!). Makes me feel like a granny!
Anyhow, it will be nice to eventually get to know people more of our own age range and with shared interests!  I don't wnat to stick exclusively to "expat circles"! I hope that once we can buy a couple of motorcycles we could join a local motorcycle club and meet fellow bikers!  So far we only have been visiting bike dealers in Botafogo.
There is even a BMW dealer now! Alistair went there to investigate! The F800GS is “only” 65,000 reais (= 26,000GBP or a measly 43,000USD!). But hey! They may reduce the price as it is going to be assembled in Brazil soon! It will be only a very affordable ....  45,000 reais soon (= GBP18k or USD 30k). I have used 2.5 and 1.5 respectively for GBP and USD vs Reais.  
Anyone who knows my history with BMW (I had the privilege ride 23,000 miles around south America on an F650GS for a year!) will understand why I will stick to Japanese! “What part of “Honda” don’t you understand”?
I will make my point with this:
You may as well cut the middle man and get a pile of rust instead! J
That’s all for now folks!