This last Thursday, after yet another unsuccessful visit to the Maths Department at PUC (the professor I was to work with having long departed and the facilities there being as useless as always) I decided to go to IMPA -call me keen, but that they I was inspired and thought I needed the www to research some bibliography.
It was quite a hot day, and I just couldn't find a more ecological/pocket-friendly means of transport, given that there's no public bus to take me there, than that provided by the taxi rank right outside PUC. So I took a taxi.
It was a surreal experience. When I got on, I said I wanted to go to IMPA, I thought the taxi rank being based at PUC might somehow reflect on the driver knowledge of research institutions. I was, obviously as you might have been expecting, wrong.
The driver didn't know what nor where IMPA was. But after I gave directions on how to get there, he was still curious about what it might be.
So I found myself explaining that it was a Maths institute. He could hardly believe I was a Mathematician - well, I don't blame him, most of the time I can hardly believe it myself!
In any case, this conversation took another twist, when he picked up on my accent.
During this visit to Brazil, as opposed to last, people have been generally complimenting my attempts to speak their language, and have been often confused as to where my accent might come from.
Not for the first time, I have been ask if I am Portuguese! (Maybe this is just an indicator of how unintelligible the Brazilians find their European partners-in-language.)
Last January, people seem to somehow allocate me a rather suspicious English accent when I spoke Portu-nhol (which I never agreed it existed, but must have been a conclusion from the fact that they know my partner is British.)
My taxi driver in turn thought I was Chilean (not too bad a guess, accent-wise). Then I obliged with my : I am Mexican. And the conversation usually follows along the lines of "I'd love to visit" or "I love your country/compatriots". Invariably, while in Brazil, the World Cup of 1970 will be mentioned. Apparently that sealed the brotherhood amongst these two Latinamerican countries. What with Mexico really wanting to win, but fully conscious of the impossibility of it, depositing its Football-glory dreams in Brazil (and Argentina at a later stage!)
The driver then ask me if my country was somehow close to Portugal -perhaps again misled by my accent. So I explained that actually we were geographically very close to the US. Oh, that mixed blessing.
He didn't seem very happy to hear that, and started ranting at how all these Americans (called Gringos, just like in Mexico, although here any white-skinned foreigner receives that motto) come to Brazil and want to stay, yet when a Latino goes to the US (if ever granted a visa in the first place) they all get all paranoid, and mistreat you because they are so afraid that you might want to stay. Worse even. They have the absolute certainty that you want to stay, and dislike you for it.
So, Taxi-driver has become a little extremist in his views. He went on to tell me how he has asked twice some American or other to step out of his taxi, when a silly remark strikes a sensitive cord. He told me with disgust of how he sees these Gringos getting involved with sometimes up to three Black girls at a time. He gets all angry about this...the he starts giggling about the fact that American women, especially of the white kind, prefer Latin men.
The little cheek starts then talking about how they are so passionate...
Shortly after that dodgy conversation which I tried to finish as quickly as I could, he discovered my husband is English. He then tries to confirm the rumoured coldness of Northern European men. I tried to defend my husband, but I was growing tired of these clichés. After all that is only our problem (not that I see any!)
And also, luckily we have arrived to IMPA.
That night, I went with my friend to the vernissage of her cousin who is a photographer. After that, we went to have a drink nearby. We bumped into lots of people on the way, so our group grew.
Alfonso was amongst us at some point and he recounted a story that happened to him sometime ago. He was out in town and got a bit drunk. He met a beggar, and suddenly upon learning they were both Chilean they founded a briefly-lived friendship.
In the course of their conversation, the man realised Alfonso had been raised in the US and was in many ways more American than Latin.
He decided to finish their friendship with a fight. Alfonso being a naturally calm guy took a single fist in the eye, and went home.
It is all good to be proud of your country, or your culture (Latin in this case) but...that is a bit extreme.