Treated as a Local

Posted on | July 9, 2011 | 10 Comments

Here in São Paulo, I am often treated as a local, and I don’t even need to pretend to be one. I am not sure whether I am ‘mistaken’ or this is just the way they treat foreigners.

Other than the people who know me, when I come into contact with a local, I am assumed local by default. Even after talking to me and recognize my very foreign Portuguese, they would still speak to me in Portuguese. There is simply no option to speak English. I don’t have this common problem of locals not wanting to practice their language with me. The only place I speak English is in the office and at the hotel reception (the only people in the hotels who can speak English are the receptionists).

I arrived in the city 4 weeks ago and have been staying here for 3 weeks (I went back home for a week). During this time, I was twice asked for directions and twice pulled into instant conversations on the street.

The latest incidence just happened today. I was walking down the street and a homeless dude suddenly jumped right in front of me and started scolding at me. I have seen homeless people here trying to ‘join’ conversations with the pedestrians, so it seemed something quite common. He was yelling so fast that the only word I heard him repeating was ‘Japonês’. So I told him I didn’t understand what he was saying and I am not a Japanese, but he continued. I waiting for my turn to cross the street and left him behind.

Another funny thing is that sometimes even my colleagues would speak Portuguese to me by accident. At one time, my boss dropped by with a serious look after meeting with the customer. Then he started to explain the situation to me, but in Portuguese. I gave him a blank look. Then he repeated what he said. So I gave him another longer blank look. Then he suddenly realized what he was doing.


10 Responses to “Treated as a Local”

  1. Ricardo
    July 12th, 2011 @ 9:27 am

    So here you are in Brazil
    I have not visit the blog for sometime but what a surprise when I see that you came here.

    If you need help with the language, don’t hesitate to send me an email –

  2. Andrew
    July 20th, 2011 @ 6:55 am

    Sounds like you’ve picked up a lot of the mannerisms and body language of the locals. Benny over at FI3M talks about this as a way to intentionally GET people to speak to you in the target language instead of automatically going to English because you’re obviously a foreigner.


  3. edwin
    July 20th, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    Ricardo, thanks for the offer. Are you in SP?

  4. edwin
    July 20th, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    My situation is different. I don’t need to act. I am just being myself. The locals won’t speak English to me, even if they know I am a foreigner.

    As I have mentioned in my previous post, I find the speaking part relatively easy when compared to comprehension. Going into the store, describing the items I am looking for, going into the restaurant and ordering food, telling the taxi drivers about myself, these conversations are easy. But when my colleagues talk among themselves, I can hardly make anything out of their conversations.

  5. jmb
    July 27th, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

    Hola! I was reading your blog and thinking that maybe you or your readers find interesting this new language learning website. It has a lot of music videos subtitled in English, Spanish and French! Check it out!

  6. Live Language
    November 18th, 2011 @ 5:16 am

    Living in the culture and having people speaking to you in the native language is good way to learn a language.

  7. Lisa Powell
    January 13th, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

    That is a great way to learn a language. To submerse yourself into the culture.

  8. Sandy Allain
    August 8th, 2012 @ 5:45 am

    I came across to this website through a site that has listed about language blog. And I am posting this comment because I got intrigued by your blog title “tower of confusion” – what’s behind that?

  9. Simon Lind
    August 30th, 2012 @ 4:32 am

    Reproduction of Material

    Dear Sir

    I am contacting you on behalf of the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations as we are currently creating an online course for teachers preparing students for the Cambridge English: Advanced exam. One of the items we are planning to use has been adapted from I am writing to enquire about using this material.

    The course will be available online for registered members only. This educational product will be made available for purchase worldwide.

    Please could you get back to me as soon as possible concerning this matter.

    Kind regards

  10. Petra
    December 11th, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    Nice article. I think it´s better to be treated as a local than as a foreigner.

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