I’m not sure if I’ve previously clarified the circumstances of my arrival in SP. But I was initially destined for Florianópolis in the south of Brazil, except the opportunity was pulled from beneath me at the last minute, due to an internal administration problem at Southampton. Pure luck it was that allowed São Paulo to even appear as an option for me, since Modern Languages at Southampton doesn’t usually have a link with USP. As a result, the only exchange they could manage was with the Business and Economics school… not quite languages, eh?
Nothing could have really prepared me for my first day at Brazilian uni. It was strange being the sole British student and liaising with only international students, who used English as the lingua franca. It was fun though, dipping into the groups of French and German students, making obscure observations in their language and seeing the shock and surprise etched on their faces when I revealed my British origins.
A Brit who can speak languages??? What?? Preposterous!! (but equally thoroughly entertaining!)
Admittedly though, this was a godsend in helping me make immediate friends. I people tended to trust me more when they realised I could communicate in their language. I can’t help but think that Swedish would have been a useful addition, but more on that later. We were all ushered into a lecture theatre to be given a proper introduction to the university, but first, we were to present ourselves.
“Hello, I’m Stephen. As you can probably hear from my accent, I’m Brit-
“OH MY GOD, BREXIT! IN OR OUT?”
Little did I know the trend this was to set. I should probably have included a Brexitcount in posts as well. I guess it makes a change from the usual lines:
“Do those big red buses really exist?/I love your red telephone boxes!”
Yes, I went to school every day in them. Really? I’ve never used one though, I hear mobile phones are the go-to communication device nowadays…
Maybe it would have been easier to hang a cardboard sign round my neck stating I voted remain as my voice became hoarse from the number of times I had to repeat that sentence. But you know, everything’s easier with hindsight, isn’t it?
In addition, since arriving in Brazil, I have discovered that foreigners have an odd fixation with the British accent. Through informal research, I have pinned it down to these ten steps which take place 99% of the time:
- You make acquaintance with the stranger, exchange pleasantries.
- They remark on your accent. You force a chuckle: “Yes, I’m a foreigner”.
- They ask where you’re from, you answer with a small smirk “United Kingdom”.
- They reply with “cool”. Nothing more regarding the matter for now. The conversation continues as normal.
- The fact of your Britishness will submerge for a period of time (hours, days, weeks.. who knows?).
- All of a sudden, your acquaintance (or possibly by this point, friend) will break a random silence with “I love the British accent”. All attention turns to you, and then comes the embarrassing part…
- “Say ‘water’”. You sigh, as it’s the only thing you can really do in this situation.
- Be a good Brit and comply.
- They will tell you that you have a weird accent. You reply that this is by default of being British and not American.
- If you’re lucky, all partakers in the dialogue will gush over how lovely your accent is. If you’re unlucky, they will make you say more words and copy you in parrot fashion and then proceed to say “Arry Po’er” in their best attempt at your accent.
I honestly cannot recall how many times I’ve had to say the word “water” over and over for the benefit of people hearing my accent here. Even more amusing is that in the London accent, it’s pronounced more as “wa’er”, which tends to confuse people even more. Spending so much time with exchanges means that I have genuinely had to shift my usual accent to make myself understood when I speak English. It’s fun when I can switch back to how I usually speak though on the off chance I bump into an English native speaker. I have found though, that when I come across new people, inform them that I am a Brit from London and they brush it off with “Ah, yeah I already know several people from England” and treat it as nothing special, I act like: Um, excuse me, I didn’t volunteer that fact for fun… If I tell you I’m English it means you should be bowing to the soothing elegance of my voice…. I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t appreciate all the love just for the way I say words.
This is just the start of my uni adventure in the University of São Paulo. To read the full post and the rest of my blog, Avenida Brasil, be sure to check it out at https://bloggingnobrasil.wordpress.com
Até mais e grande abraço!