The Power of the Plate

Two gauchos welcome a Tunisan, a Spaniard and an American to the table

Written by: Brett Eby, CNPL graduate (BS 2014) teaching English at TopWay school in Brazil

You can travel low, and you can travel high, you can travel far, and you can travel wide; you can go to the mountains, or you can go to the sea, but one thing will never change: people gotta eat. I arrived in Brazil in July 2014 with two suitcases, a backpack, and a couple months of Duolingo Portuguese training, which I quickly realized was not nearly enough to speak and understand the language. Luckily for me, the stereotype of Brazilians being a welcoming and hospitable people holds true, and when one Brazilian cooks, at least ten people are eating. The Sunday tradition here is to have churrasco, cooking large pieces of meat over hot coals, and here in Rio Grande do Sul, Gauchos are the masters of churrasco (it’s great for the soul, not so great for your blood pressure). The atmosphere of sitting around a table provides a great setting for a classroom. Sharing a meal can take away a lot of the timidity, anxiety, and nervousness of trying to speak a language surrounded by people who are all fluent. Mainly, because if you do say something stupid (which believe me, you will, it’s unavoidable), you can stuff your face with a piece of steak and drink some beer to calm the nerves. The relaxed setting also provides an opportunity to see familial life here, and not only the verbal communication but the body language that people use; so even if you don’t understand all the words, you can understand the messages being communicated.

A traditional churrasqueira

churrasqueira

A traditional churrasqueira

As an English teacher, I have to get my students to speak in English. Sometimes, this isn’t a problem at all, other times; it’s like pulling teeth. The most important thing when trying to get people to speak in a different language is finding something that they want to talk about. It’s difficult to tell what kind of music a person likes, what politics they follow, or whatever else may interest them. Since everybody has preferences when it comes to food, using it as a conversation starter can help ease the tension. Food is a topic everyone knows, and deals with on a daily basis, so they feel comfortable talking about it. As a foreigner, I often ask for suggestions on restaurants and bars to go to here in Passo Fundo since it’s all new to me. This has proven to be a great way to get the ball rolling with our conversations, and helps my students feel more relaxed as we move on to other topics.

 

Two gauchos welcome a Tunisan, a Spaniard and an American to the table

Two gauchos welcome a Tunisan, a Spaniard and an American to the table

Food isn’t all about providing your stomach with subsistence, it’s also a tool to learn about the language and culture of an area.

So eat up! There’s a lot out there to learn.

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