The house of the CouchSurfers I stayed with for two weeks in Floripa resided on a street called “Servidão do Valagão.” When I first arrived there, my host told me to “fica a vontade” (“make yourself at home”). I sure did. The next day, I wanted to heat up food but the house had run out of gas. The guys told me to walk up the street to the house of “os meninos” (“the boys,” a.k.a. the neighbors) and use the stove there. I knocked on the door but no one was there. Regardless, I let myself into the unlocked house, heated up my food, did the dishes, and left. When my hosts asked if there was anyone at home and I replied that there wasn’t, they were impressed. “You told me to ‘fica a vontade’!” I exclaimed. They couldn’t stop laughing at how quickly I had adopted the customs of their neighborhood.
I loved staying on Servidão do Valagão because the neighborhood functioned as a community. One house had a cook, one house had gas, and one house had a laundry machine. Usually, the guys prepared food at one house and everyone ate there. My hosts always left the doors wide open. Even when they weren’t at home, neighbors would come over to hang out. I remember one night when I wanted to go to bed early but two of the neighbors were over. We landed up talking until past 1 AM.
Life on Valagão was truly bohemian. Even though everyone was either employed or a student, I couldn’t help but mock them (all in good fun) for being a community of musicians, yoga instructors and practitioners, and beach bums. When one day I commented to one of my hosts, “This is a house of vagabundos” (vagabonds, nomads), he replied, “You primarily!” True, I was the principal vagabond of the houe.
When the guys were together, they would have jam sessions. The sessions would usually commence with one guitar and one singer. As more neighbors entered the house, they would grab an instrument and join in the music. One night, they played for five hours!
Having one friend on Valagão meant making a group of friends. It made cultural integration EASY. On a phone call with my parents, they grilled me, “Aren’t you going to take a Portuguese course there? Can’t you take a three hour-long break from the beach everyday to study Portuguese? Didn’t you tell us that your goal for Brazil was to learn Portuguese?” I guess I did say that. The truth is that even when I’m on the beach, I’m learning. I’ve made friends on my way to beach and spent afternoons chatting with them in Portuguese. Even when it rains and I’m stuck inside the mall, if I go with a Brazilian it is a chance to learn new vocabulary and practice my Portuguese. I had several lessons in “colloquial” (slang, curse words, and words to use while shooting the shit) at the house on Valagão. My friends commented, “You speak fast in Portuguese! You speak Portuguese perfectly, except for your accent.” This was the night that I learned how to say “cheesy pick-up line” and “Where the hell is my f***ing _______?” As my girl friend gave me word after word to describe Brazilian men, the guys couldn’t stop groaning. “Iso é uma conversa de meninas!” (“This is girl talk!”) we exclaimed and resumed our conversation. She was explaining a phrase to me in English, when my host entered and as usual shouted in English, “We don’t speak English in this f***ing house!” I yelled back in Portuguese, “Somente falamos em português em esa porra da casa!” (“We only speak Portuguese in this f***ing house!”). That had him rolling on the floor, laughing. When I headed off to bed later in the night, I bid the group goodnight, “Oi galera, boa noite.” The minute I closed the door my host burst out, “She’s sooooooo Brazilian!” Score, life goal fulfilled!!!