From left: Anna Louisa, my host niece, Pureza, my host mother, Joara, my host sister, Octavio, my host nephew, Jezia, my other host sister, and Jesse, my host father.
I have spent my first two weeks in Brazil living with my host family in Curitiba, the capitol city of Parana, one of the southern-most states in Brazil. The night before I moved in with my host family, the Tufts 1+4 fellows were still staying together in a hostel in the historical district of downtown Curitiba. We ordered pizza out to celebrate Daniel’s nineteenth birthday. Brazilian pizza is much thinner than traditional American pizza, but it compensates with toppings. My favorite pizza from that night had cheese, onions, corn, tomatoes, and… and something that started with a “p.” I thought the name was “pimenta,” so I spent the first week telling my host family how much I loved “pimenta.”
“Você gosta de pimenta?” my host mother, would ask.
“Sim! Muito!” I would respond over and over again. With only about a week’s worth of Portuguese classes, I did not know how to say much more than, “Yes! A lot!”.
It was not until my host father ordered a pizza covered in peppers one night that I realized my mistake: a “pimenta” is a chili pepper. That mystery pizza topping I liked so much was “palmito,” palm hearts. I accidentally spent my first week and a half in Brazil telling anyone who would listen how much I loved chili peppers in my quest to find the mystery pizza topping. Oops.
While I was in Curitiba, I attended SESI International, a private international high school. In the mornings I had language classes with the other Global Citizen Year fellows and in the evenings I had cultural workshops. While some of these workshops were organized solely for fellows, others focused on building understanding between Brazilian SESI students and international fellows. After a series of shorter workshops, we had a final extended project called “This is America, This is Brazil,” where we broke into mixed SESI-Global Citizen Year groups to discuss cultural differences — music, government, art, food. Together, Zoe and Isabel, two other American fellows, Luana, Ivvy, and Amanda, three Brazilian SESI students, and I discussed what it means to eat like a Brazilian. According to our experiences with our host families and their own cultural norms, in Brazil:
It is not unusual to leave the television on, typically on Globo, a channel that features numerous novellas (Brazilian soap operas), throughout the day: this includes meals.
Brazilians typically eat as large family gatherings. Many weekends are characterized by churrascos, all-day family barbeques with the whole family. Whether an informal lunch or a large family barbeque, meals are an important time for family to connect and catch up with each other.
While in the United States many people buy frozen fruit, vegetables, and other food to supplement fresh food, in Brazil – thanks to the tropical climate – nearly everything is fresh.
American “finger food,” like pizza, is eaten with a fork and knife. Even pastries and sandwiches are usually eaten with a small napkin. This also applies to ice cream, which is eaten out of the cone with a small spoon.
Meals: Breakfast is a small, unimportant meal, which is followed by a mid-morning coffee break of fruit, coffee, and pastries. Even on weekdays, the family often comes home to eat lunch together. Lunch is unarguably the most important meal in Brazil. Brazilian lunch is characterized by buffet-styles bowls of rice, beans, meat, and salad (lettuce). Because lunch is the main meal, it is sometimes followed by small desserts. After lunch is also an appropriate time to take a little rest or take your second shower of the day to try to beat the heat while you process your food. Midafternoon, Brazilians have a second coffee break. Finally, around 10pm, Brazilians have dinner, which is equivalent to lunch, but in smaller portions.
The family-focused nature of Brazilian culture has come as a pleasant surprise, but after my American upbringing, I am still adjusting to some cultural norms. Growing up in the United States, breakfast was always the most important meal. In fact, breakfast was so important that teachers would even serve breakfast in class on the mornings of standardized tests to make sure that everyone got a good start to their day. Meanwhile, for me lunch just means a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple. I still have to remind myself not to lick my ice cream or pick up my pizza. The television is still very distracting for me during meals (“Além do Tempo” is my current favorite novella). But overall, I look forward to meals with my host family; meals are a great time to connect because nothing brings people together quite like food. When in doubt, talk about the beans and rice.