Brazilian Culture · Emotions · Learning Portuguese

A Small Post About Saudade

In Portuguese, there exists a word with no direct English equivalent. Ok, there exist many words with no direct English equivalent, but the one that most people seem to hear about is saudade. Often defined as longing or yearning, it’s a rather poetic term that can be seen and heard EVERYWHERE.

Miss someone? Saudade(s)* de você. 

Longing to go back to the beach in the middle of winter? Saudade(s) da praia.

*no one can really seem to agree on whether to use saudade or saudades in these situations. The singular is the older, technically correct one. However, as with so many things in Brazil, the word has morphed and changed, and now many people (including myself) use the plural. Check out this article (in Portuguese) if you’re interested in the history of this shift, and if you’re interested in taking sides.

It’s a term that with a quick internet search, any gringo can really understand. It’s not used as poetically anymore as it’s original definition will have you believe, but the feeling is still there. The wistful, longing, missing feeling that everyone experiences.

And among the madness that was my weekend (bars with walls of cachaça, Brazilian “Ikeas”, and great cheeseburgers), I finally bought the desk that I so desperately needed for my room. Upon setting it up (immense thanks to my amazing roommate who tackled it and constructed it for me, without directions) and putting things away, I found the cards that everyone had written to me before I left, including two especially poignant ones from my parents.

Saudades. So many saudades.

And amid my blubbering and crying over the words of my parents, I remembered something:

It’s ok to miss them. It’s ok to miss everyone. It doesn’t change the fact that you love it here, and that you wouldn’t change being here for anything. It doesn’t change the fact that you’re learning and growing exponentially.

I love and miss everyone in the US so much, and am so incredibly thankful that you all are so supportive of me. The strength it gives me is immeasurable.

Saudades de vocês. 


Food · Learning Portuguese · Places in BH

Padarias and Pronunciation

Learning a new language is hard. I mean, this is pretty obvious, but I don’t think people realize just how difficult things can be, especially when they were impossibly easy before. Trying to find rubbing alcohol in a pharmacy? Have fun explaining to someone the concept of alcohol that you rub into your skin. Is your road only one way? Be prepared to string together a sentence consisting of “uma rua que você não pode dirigir num caminho especifíco.

I never claimed to be a Portuguese expert. Be gentle.

So waltzing into the bakery right across the street from your apartment to get some pão de queijo and maybe a coxinha can get real hairy, real fast. That’s why it took me nearly 3 weeks to actually do it. I have been smelling the cheese and bread and chicken and other goodies for nearly 3 weeks, but have been too much of an absolute weenie to actually go in there and check it out.

So naturally, I waited until hunger drove me to the point where I had no choice but to go.

What do you mean, driven by hunger?

Fun fact: When I am in a new place, I don’t automatically jump into the adventures and amazing experiences that I crave. I don’t wander streets aimlessly, taking artsy pictures like that one girl from your college named Meadow who had a tattoo of rosemary/sage and proclaimed that “gentrification is just another word for genocide” while simultaneously patronizing the cold press coffee shop that destroyed an older local business.

I sit in my apartment, watch Netflix, and wonder what in the actual HELL am I doing here? all while being too afraid to actually go out and get something to eat.

This happened in Malta. My first 2 weeks consisted of me living off of peanuts and bottled water, all while being too anxiety ridden to walk 100 yards to the small grocery store. My family lovingly refers to this starving time as the Peanut and Water Diet.

It’s the shock, I think. It’s the shock of actually having done something, being in a new place, unpacking, and taking a breath. It’s the Well shit, I’m here moment. It’s the culture shock and anxiety. And I hate it, but I have to accept that it exists.

It’s also the fact that a simple Gostaria um pão de queijo can turn into an unintelligible mess VERRYYY quickly.  People could laugh at you. You could say some sexual innuendo that you didn’t even know existed. You could insult someone’s mother while asking for the bathroom. A million and a half things could go wrong, and you’re just the stupid gringo/gringa who wants a snack.

So for the past nearly 3 weeks, I’ve been eating the fruit and vegetables (and the occasional egg) in my apartment, all while looking longingly across the street.

Until this past Sunday, when I literally didn’t have any food and sustained myself on sleep, water, and Grey’s Anatomy.

Padarias: Holy Places?

So hunger drove me in. And then I proceeded to kick myself a million times, because it’s like the LEAST stressful thing I’ve done here. Seriously.

It’s a small bakery that really just has small hot snacks, bread, sandwich building things (turkey, cheese, mayo, etc), and pre-packaged processed foods. The counter greets you with pão de queijo, pão de queijo com frango, various takes on the hotdog/cheese combo, small pies with chicken and cheese, hamburgers with ham/bacon/cheese, etc. You get the idea. Nothing is particularly healthy, but it’s cheap, hot, and pretty damn delicious.

The guy behind the counter heard me say about 4 words in Portuguese and immediately asked where I was from. So much for my goal of not sounding like an absolute gringa.

He was insanely helpful, took the time to explain what things were, and offered to let me try things (please don’t tell his boss because I really like having an amigo in there). He practiced his English, and even asked me for my contact info so he could inquire about English classes.

And of course, the pão de queijo was hot and perfect. I especially love the one with the chicken and spices in the middle. I’m in the pão de queijo capital of the world, so of course it’s going to be spot on, but I just really appreciate that it’s delicious AND close enough that I can throw on a pair of Havaianas and perhaps some pants and run over there. Or, in a classier existence, take some to go on the way to the school.

In case you’re wondering, 5 pão de queijo and a bottle of still water (remember to say sem gas, gringos/gringas) here is R$5. That’s $1.53 USD for all of you who deal in FREEDOM MONEY.

It’s cheap, it’s warm, it’s cheesy, and if I don’t feel like pão de queijo, there are a ton of other snack options to keep my hunger pangs at bay.

So you like it. Where does the language learning come in?

In my humble opinion, everyone should learn a different language. And when they learn that other language, they need to immerse themselves. And when they immerse themselves, they need to go to bakeries and order food. It’s humbling and eye opening to remember that something that’s so simple “back home” can be a complete 180.

Think about it – you have to walk in, greet someone, maybe ask them about things you don’t recognize, tell them what you want, tell them you want it/them to go, grab your drink, go to the counter, ask about the total, give them your card and explain that it’s American and therefore weird/only operates as credit, and then sign for the credit transaction like it’s 1997.

It’s overwhelming, and that’s just to buy a ball of cheese/bread the size of a baby’s fist.

Thankfully, like 90% of the people that I encounter on a daily basis, the people in the bakery are patient and eager to help me. They laugh with me when I mess up the gender of cartão (it’s masculine, FYI) and don’t laugh when I’m trying to find the words.

It’s nice being in a country where people are patient in this situation. I can’t imagine having the tables turned and being in the US, where we have a lovely record of screaming at people to go back to their countries when they ask us what a corndog is.

Ok, so hit it home.

  1. Pão de queijo will quickly replace the blood in my veins.
  2. The bakery across the street is a holy place.
  3. Practicing Portuguese is hard. The people here make it not as stressful.

I will be adding a few photos of the bakery, what they have to offer, and the people there in the next day or so, so stay tuned for that.

In conclusion: language learning can be scary. The people and the pão de queijo here make it less so. God bless Padaria Cruzeiro, and God bless the people that work there.






“I can’t do this anymore.”

Reality checks are funny things. They can hit at 11:00 Brunch with your friends, when your card is declined and payday isn’t for another 9 days. They can hit when you’re knee deep in cold creek water, holding an empty leash and looking for a dog you know isn’t coming back. They can hit when you’re holding a tiny, wrinkly potato looking thing and realizing that it’s your child. And they can most certainly hit when you’re sitting in your office, crying over a person/your job/your car/your stolen lunch. They don’t come quietly, and they usually aren’t too subtle. That’s why they’re reality checks, and not reality snuggles.

My biggest reality check (to date) came when I was ugly crying in an empty classroom at my job over two equally distressing things — a guy (more on that later) and my overwhelming feelings of stagnation, self-doubt, and claustrophobia. Everything was the same, nothing was changing, and nothing was getting better.

Like nearly every other gringa on the planet, I had fallen absolutely in love with the first Brazilian I had really ever met; fallen in love with the first Brazilian who said Oi como vai? to me. Like I said before, this is going to be explored at another time, but needless to say it just wasn’t meant to be. This rejection, this absolute shame drove me to an empty classroom, where I sat at a desk and cried. I cried about him. I cried about my lunch that had been stolen from the fridge. I cried about the fact that although I was working in a place that I found interesting, I wasn’t really going anywhere. I cried about living the same routine day after day, and having nothing to show for it. And I most certainly cried about absolutely hating myself. Loathing. I was so predictable — fall in love with the person who doesn’t feel the same way, Meredith…it’s a really good idea, just like every other time you’ve done it! — and I was so disappointed in my predictability.

And then there was that reality check: I can’t do this anymore. I need something different. I can’t be here. 

“Honestly, you’re just going because you think you have a chance with him.”

Let’s call The Brazilian Pastel for the time being. The one thing that I can remember about Pastel without cringing out of embarrassment is his warmth. He just made everyone around him smile, and it was honestly amazing, because people in Washington DC can be some of the most jaded and cold people out there. And as I fell in love with that, I started learning about where Pastel came from, his language, and his people in an effort to try to connect with him.

Yes. I fully admit that the (arguably) biggest journey of my lifetime was borne out of a pathetic desire to impress a Brazilian with my nerdy knowledge of his country. Obviously this worked out really well.

But as the Worst Emotional Year of My Life dragged on, and I began to fall in and out of a depressive, dark place, I listened to Brazilian music. And connected with the Portuguese teachers at school. And cooked feijoada with a teacher who would end up being one of my absolute favorite people. I watched Brazilian movies, read Brazilian news, joined apps that gave me friends and contacts in Brazil, and began to study Portuguese. What began as a desperate desire to hold on to Pastel turned into a desperate desire to experience the place where Pastel came from. Most were supportive. Some were not. One comment that still stings was “Honestly, you’re just going because you think you have a chance with him.”

I’m not going to bother trying to argue with this. People see what they want to see. And although I didn’t see Pastel when I came to Brazil the first time, and although we haven’t spoken in nearly a year, there will always be people who will accuse me of coming here purely to see or speak to him.

But this is the truth, as plain as I can speak it: At first I fell in love with a Brazilian, but then I fell in love with Brazil. 

Procurar minha felicidade

Brazil is, in one word, breathtaking. In all senses, positive and negative, of the word, Brazil is breathtaking. Descriptions are for another post, but believe me when I say that Brazil leaves no one untouched. It is a force to be reckoned with.

I was looking for something different — something that would challenge me on all levels. I wanted to find something that would seem insurmountable and conquer it. I missed believing in myself. I missed being proud of myself.

I wasn’t challenged in the US. Before everyone starts raising their pitchforks, I know that this comes from an EXTREME place of privilege. I know that there are people who are desperate to get to the place that I was so desperate to leave. I struggle with this knowledge every day, and often wonder if it invalidates my being here. But I’ve also realized that I’m allowed to want this. I’m allowed to love this. And I’m allowed to be here.

I realize that for most, a change of pace is starting dance classes or speed dating. But I wanted to conquer something. I wanted to drop myself in a place where I didn’t speak the language and not just survive, but thrive. As I became more and more infatuated with everything that I had seen and experienced the first time I was in Brazil, I became infatuated with the idea of bettering myself through Brazil. Physically, mentally, emotionally, culinarily, etc. I wanted to conquer the hills in BH, I wanted to have smooth conversations, I wanted to immerse myself in a culture that was not my own to see what it taught me. I wanted to do all this because, simply put, I wanted to believe in myself again.

Ultimately, as one of my friends helped me to realize, I decided to move to Brazil to procurar minha felicidade.

Oh My God Meredith, Get On With It Already

I promise that my future posts will not be this long, nor (usually) this sappy. But I wanted to give everyone a good, detailed background as to why I decided to move here. Hopefully, it doesn’t seem so out of the blue now.

I hope that these posts will be humorous, eye-opening, and personal — I really want everyone to be able to experience this with me. The good and the bad.