Sunday, June 20, 2010

Workingman Blues

The argument could be made that Americans work way too much. The term workaholic is more often complimentary than pejorative. Countless people I know sleep with their blackberries on their nightstands, or on the pillow beside them in place of partners, and are trained to wake at the sound of the little machine vibrating. That is, if they sleep at all, if they are not already awake shooting off e-mails, preparing for the day that is just a few hours away. The average vacation for those lucky enough to enjoy the luxury of vacation time is two weeks. Much of that time is often spent on calls to the office to check in on how affairs are going. All of this could be used to illustrate that Americans are too busy chasing the almighty dollar to take the time to enjoy life, or to rest and recuperate the energy burned in the chase. I think that in some cases this is definitely the case. When I was working in a publicly traded company, I knew that the lifestyle of many in that company was not for me at all. The ones who were not nearing burnout, though, seemed to thrive off the fast pace of the business. They enjoyed fighting with their numbers, which they dutifully tracked in countless interlocked spreadsheets that got bumped up to the corporate office seemingly every second.

That’s one extreme. The other extreme is a culture that takes frequent holidays, with many if not most workers getting the day off to celebrate. The majority of businesses in any given town will close for the entire day. It’s difficult to keep up with if you’re not used to the rhythm. Every other month I get a surprise holiday. When I am busy trying to keep my classes on or ahead of schedule, the word holiday turns into a curse. “Another F—ing holiday, great, behind again…”

Now that the World Cup is on, employers all over the city are being challenged to cope with a dwindled workforce any time Brazil plays a game. Most of them just close shop for the day and take part in the festivities—if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s not as if they will see a surge in customers or clientele on a game day anyway, unless they own a bar or restaurant. Ask someone to keep an appointment on a game day, and you risk a look of scorn that will turn your blood cold. I never encountered this in Boston—it was understood that if you shirked work to watch the Sox play, you could take the next day off, and the day after, and the day after….

So, that’s the culture here in my city. Like everything, it has its pros and cons. I do enjoy the extra time off now and then. One of my main reasons for moving here was more time to read, write, and study. On the other hand, it’s frustrating when I need something from a store, but find it closed due to a soccer match. I guess it doesn’t help that I have never cared for sports (admitting that to anyone around here raises a cry—yes, an actual cry—of disbelief). It’s all about perspective.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I Mean You

An error I often make when speaking Portuguese is using the singular você when addressing a group of people. Vocês is the correct form. And of course each person has its distinct conjugation--the plural often requiring a nasal vowel at the end. Of course, forgetting that there is a plural second person other than the decadently southern "y'all" (or "yaw," as it's often heard) is such an obvious mistake for a native English speaker to make as he mangles a Romance language that I kick myself every time.

One of the most common English mistakes I hear is the replacement of the verb "to be" with the verb "to stay." I'm sure this occurs because, in Portuguese, we can say either eu estava com raiva or eu fiquei com raiva, literally "I was with anger" or "I stayed with anger," or, I was angry; I stayed angry. One can of course stay angry in English, but first one must be angry. And even then the usage doesn't seem natural to me. "Tammy Sue got angry with Tyler for cheating on her with that tramp he met on the Springer show, and she stayed angry, too, I tell you what." To my ear, it sounds very colloquial. My point, though, is that ficar, to stay, expresses duration and, I think, added intensity, in these situations. Also, a common idiom is to say o banco fica nessa rua, "the bank stays on that street." This is silly in English; of course the bank stays on that street--what, will it get up and walk to another?

That's all I got. I'm pooped. I'll leave you with my good friend Monk. I haven't actually watched this video--something's iffy with my internet connection. But I trust that it shows what is advertised, a performance of "I Mean You."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Maria Rita

I have been listening to this song obsessively: