ALLISON HILLSBERY/THE HOYA
ALLISON HILLSBERY/THE HOYA

I’ve reached the point where I’ve stopped speaking English in grocery stores. I realized early on that eating lunch at restaurants every day was not going to work out, so now every other day I stop at the mercado for a small supply of fresh sandwich rolls. However, two times since my arrival, I have flown into a mild panic when other shoppers stopped me to ask questions in rapid-fire, heavily colloquial, to-me-incomprehensible Portuguese. A normal person would have responded with a polite “Outra vez, por favor?” (“One more time, please?”). I, on the other hand, opted for a wide-eyed “Não falo português” and an awkward escape maneuver. It had the same effect as speaking English in the grocery stores — it marked me as obviously American.

Thankfully, this is no longer the case. I knew a decent amount of textbook grammar and vocab when I arrived in Rio, but two weeks of intensive language classes and the daily routine of living with my Brazilian host mom has made me much more comfortable with the language.

However, even a rare, correct, well-pronounced phrase is not enough to convince anyone that I’m a native of the city. My host mom affectionately calls me brancinha (little pale one) and my blonde hair automatically betrays me as a foreigner. So, while my tanner classmates are sometimes mistaken for actual Brazilians, I have accepted the fact that most people approach me knowing that I am an americana, regardless of my steadily improving syntax. In a different time, in a different place, I might have found this discouraging. But, this summer is a different story.

When I told people that I was going to Brazil, the inevitable response was, “Ah! You’re going to be there during the World Cup!” In theory, I definitely realized that they were right, but I had no idea then the type of impact the Cup would have on my daily life here in Rio. Living in a host city during the height of a massive international athletic competition is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Rio is a cosmopolitan city to begin with, but the Cup has turned it into a virtual magnet for people from a wide range of different countries. Everyone brings with them their own languages and culture, which makes being a trilingual American obsessed with Latina America a completely unsurprising occurrence.

I’m not a huge soccer fan, so I don’t keep up with the daily game schedules. However, I never have to wonder which countries are getting ready to play. Every morning as I walk to school, I take note of the jerseys, face paint and banners that passers-by proudly sport on their way to watch the games. I’ve learned to recognize at least eight new flags since my arrival and color schemes are quickly becoming synonymous with nationalities. I bought my yellow Brazil jersey on my first day in the city, and now I can at least blend in well in that respect when the masses congregate on the beaches and in the local bars every game day.

After the games, which are indescribable experiences in and of themselves, for the victorious, the defeated and the observing parties alike, the cultural amalgamation continues. Rio is known for its vibrant nightlife, but the current assortment of people going out during the weeks of the Cup make the celebrated samba halls and dance clubs even more exciting. You meet someone, you tell them your name, you ask them where they’re from — pretty standard right? Wrong. People usually address me in English or Portuguese, and I tend to lead with the same. However, without fail, I’ll meet someone who speaks French and Japanese or Arabic and Italian, in which case, communication reverts to the universal smile.

It’s a very special time to be in Rio. The city is made of its people — both native and foreign. Rio right now is about making memories and connections. It’s about meeting people and taking the time to learn about who they are and where they come from. It’s about grabbing a beer with someone you may never see again. It’s about stopping for a cafezinho with the woman who lives across the hall. It’s about new Facebook friends who don’t speak your language and that random individual photo-bombing your group picture on the beach. It’s about getting closer to classmates that you hope to see again back home. People from all over the world are all gathered here in this beautiful city, and we will never all be in the same place again. I think that’s pretty cool.

Allison Hillsbery is a rising sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. Ready for Rioappears every other Monday at thehoya.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*