Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Understanding Brazil – Giving Directions

If you’ve come across this missive by accident after hitting the interweb in search of those directions that your friend emailed, because you can’t find the way to his house, his explanations made no sense and the reference points he gave you to look out for never appeared, there’s a good chance that you are in Brazil. Maybe this should be in the ‘Ask a Brazilian’ section: Why are Brazilians so singularly useless at giving directions to another place? Or perhaps a new Gringoes topic – ‘Ask a Gringo’. Has anybody ever arrived at a Brazilian house after receiving directions from the dono or dona?

The problem with Brazilians giving directions isn’t that they give you the wrong information, it is that they fill your head with so much worthless information that it is impossible to ever find your way to a shop, house, bar, market, club or even hospital. It isn’t just my lack of Portuguese that causes the problems, as Blondie tends to ask the way when we’re both lost together. She comes back as baffled as I do about where we supposed to go next. She is Brazilian though and proved it well when a Peruvian friend arrived the other week. He came all the way from Lima via Rio without any problems at all, finding the right bus at the station, changing later, getting off at exactly the right stop until he ended up right outside our place. Here he was stuck though. Early Saturday morning, we were in bed, he had to call his brother in Peru from the orelhão (enough of a task in itself in Brazil), who then emailed us to tell us our guest had arrived. Blondie hadn’t given him the address. Just a small detail.

When asking directions to a bar in the street, nobody ever says ‘Não tenho idea’. They spend half an hour telling you about where they think the bar might be, usually involving trees that have no relevance to their tale. ‘You’re going to see a tree. Well it isn’t that tree. Go past that.’ More details about how Tio once had a vasectomy on that street, and something about a giant cow follow from what you understand, before they finally tell you to walk 8 blocks then ask somebody else. All directions in Brazil finish with you needing to ask somebody else. That somebody else usually sends you back the way you came and you gradually find yourself getting closer to your target in ever-decreasing circles, like a drowning spider about to go down the plughole. The giant cow remains a mystery.

To be fair though, I did once get perfect directions in Brazil. We were invited to a party in Trancoso, but out in the bush not by the beach as you’d expect. The house owner came to town repeatedly to pick anyone up who wanted to go. The drive was as dark as anywhere could be, with an hour of driving up and down muddy tracks on the rolling hillsides, bouncing through ditches and streams until we reached the house in the middle of just about nowhere. Not being a likely place to find a taxi passing an hour after dawn, we asked how to get back to town. The directions given by the dona da casa were incredible. Turn right; down the hill; through the wooden gate; over the plateau; through the monkey forest; alongside the river; turn right at the flower shop and there you are! Only an hour’s walk somehow. A magic path. Or perhaps it is always that easy when the references are so perfect. We’d arrived at the house and headed to the serving hatch with two fingers held up ready. ‘Dois cervejas por favor’.

‘Where are you from, lads?’ came the answer in a lovely soft Lancashire accent. She was English.

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