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.
- Pão de queijo will quickly replace the blood in my veins.
- The bakery across the street is a holy place.
- 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.