I found it interesting, one evening when I was cutting paper and taping stuff to index cards in preparation for a training session that I was leading in the upcoming days to reflect on learning and the timing of things we learn. And how, as Robert Fulghum stated a few years back, we really learned just about everything we need around the age of 5.

For starters, as I mentioned in a previous post our Brazilian office is located on the PUCRS campus in Porto Alegre. We have a couple of large workrooms and some conference space on the 7th floor of the Computer Sciences building.

The campus is quite beautiful with lots of greenery and a very interesting grandiose sculpture and fountain just passed the front gate.

Since I don’t have any photos that correspond directly to the rest of this post, I am just going to scatter the campus ones throughout to hopefully keep things visually interesting. I have included photos of both the greenery and the buildings as well as some shots of the fountain.

I believe I previously mentioned how the washing machines here can be quite frustrating to operate and how most of use believe that one of them is actually broken. I tried to be a good citizen and help my fellow travelers by mentioning this to our office manager so she could call the hotel and advise them of the situation in Portuguese. A few of the staff there speak some English, enough to get most of what we need accomplished, and this was just not in that category. So she called them and they wouldn’t believe her that the machine was broken and instead agreed to give me lessons on how to use it. Yes, it is in Portuguese, but there are pictures next to the words that mean you can pretty much figure out what the buttons mean. Anyhow, I agreed to be taught, kind of that kindergarten them of being humble.

Interestingly enough, when the women from the desk went to show me the operations she started speaking with one of the cleaning people and she told her that the machine was broken. Of course I smiled and chuckled, and it just proves that even when you know you are right, sometimes it does make sense to just go along for the ride and let the other person discover what you already know.

Last week went by quite fast as I started running training sessions for people in the office who have been working here for several months and this meant fitting them around their project schedules. Thus I would have a session from 8-10 one night followed by another from 8-10 the next morning. In addition to that I still have a few modules of content to flesh out.

All in all it turned out to be a bit of a rough weekend. I was extremely tired from the week so I went right home from work instead of going out to dinner with folks. It was relaxing, yet some loneliness set in and kind of stuck there for two days. Calling my friend Barb at home helped, thank goodness for Skype, yet I was still just missing my friends and my stuff.

And it didn’t get any better when I held my weekly battle with the washing machine again on Saturday. While they had admitted that the one was not working a few days earlier, I had no way of knowing whether or not it was fixed so opted to use the one that had a better track record. Of course, having slept in, someone had beaten me to it so I had to wait for their stuff to finish before starting my load. While I was waiting the staff wandered in and figured I must be having problems, when in fact I wasn’t, so I wound up trying to explain why I wasn’t using the other washer, and that didn’t go very well.

All in all it left me feeling as if they were treating me as stupid just because I don’t speak Portuguese. Yes, I wish I knew more of it, and I don’t. That doesn’t mean I am dumb, it just means it is hard for me to communicate here. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what they did that made it seem as if they thought the former, it might have been insisting on showing me how to push the washer buttons while pointing to the recently written out English instructions. Yep, that was probably the biggest contributer. And it left me, I’ll just go right out and say it, “p***ed off”.

So please, take this lesson away, when dealing with a non-native speaker in your own country, realize that they are likely just as educated as you, and also very frustrated by the fact that they are having a hard time communicating. It is not easy to learn a new language, even when you are immersed in it every day, and especially when folks around you seem to want you to speak perfectly before trying to understand you.

Just as you would with someone at the tender age of 4 or 5, give the person support and be ready to give them space if they seem frustrated. They are likely just overwhelmed and need your support.

By Saturday night I wasn’t feeling much better and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go out to a co-worker’s birthday party. Another co-worker convinced me to goand it was probably a good thing. Although I should have gone home after the official party which I got to around 10 pm. I am not sure exactly when it started since the invite didn’t actually include a time, which is really not surprising to me after having been here as long as I have. The clock just isn’t quite as central to things here as in the US, it seems a bit more central than it was in India, however, only a bit. It has been really hard to get folks used to a training class that starts at the time it is scheduled, and getting people to RSVP with any kind of advanced notice is equally grueling.

Anyway, back to Saturday night, I knew folks would be arriving at various times, and not wanting to be the only English speaker there I had a couple folks call me as they headed out so that I could arrive around the same time. That actually worked quite well. Of course, then I had to figure out what to drink. I wound up with a gin martini (with Tangueray, ok, not great) and olives (with pits – sorry dad, no blue cheese). I am not sure how much if an Vermouth was in it, so I sipped it very slowly as I had already had some wine with dinner. And I would have stuck with wine if they had been selling it by the glass, though given my experience with wine here, maybe it was a good thing that they weren’t.

That said, the birthday boy’s wife was drinking a local sparkling wine and asked me if I wanted to try it, and surprise of all surprises, it wasn’t half bad, so after my martini I switched to that. And that is where I should have let the evening end, instead I opted to go with folks to the night club after we left the bar. OK, I’ll admit it, I’m too old to enjoy going to a club at 2 am that is smokey and there is no space to move, yet you are supposed to be “dancing”, if you call getting stepped on by someone is heels while you try to avoid stepping on someone else with your heels dancing. No, I’m not bitter, I just didn’t last long, mostly I was tired and I had a hard time breathing with the smoke that had nowhere to go given we were in a windowless room. Maybe this is another pre grade school lesson, know your bedtime and respect it. Of course the time will have changed since those days of being shorter than everyone other than your younger sibling(s), but there is something to be said for listening to your body and trying to get enough sleep, even on the weekend.

And another early life lesson that I often reflect on here, seat belts. Well, maybe not so early life for me given that I do recall standing in the back seat next to my brother for some road trips, but as it is said in Anything Goes, “Times have changed“. I am confounded as to here, as in India, how folks just don’t seem to see the importance of seat belts. Those of you who were on my mailing lists back in the India days recall my talking about how we often had to beg and plead when renting a car for the weekend to make sure it had working seat belts. Here, they seem to be operational about 50% of the time, at least in the back seat of cabs. The ones in the front seem to work, though not all the drivers use them. There is one driver that we get regularly who just loops the belt as lightly as possible as he can over his lap before approaching the check point that we pass each day on the way to work. Most of the other drivers slip the belt on for this and off again later. Not sure which is worse, both are bucking the system, and the second group is only protected for a small amount of time at a well known check point.

Sunday had promised to be an adventurous day of heading out to wine country and given the weather we had it would have been spectacular. However, we only had one Portuguese speaker slated to go with us and when she had to cancel last minute we had to postpone the trip. Hopefully we will be able to reschedule for the weekend before I return to the U.S. At least I finally have found two reds at the grocery store which are not fruity, so I can enjoy some wine with dinner.

Where the theme of learning comes to bear most is in what I am here to do, and that is to facilitate training for the ThoughtWorkers being hired into this very new office. Doing that has gotten me to reflect on the things we are teaching and how they too are really things we learned at an early age. Of course there are new twists and applications otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to teach. Given that we are a consulting company, while we focus on technology at the end of the day we are providing solutions for clients and that means we are consulting, a lot of what we teach focuses on consulting. Here again it is wrapped in other concepts, all of the things we need to do to build software. Yet, in the end, it all builds on creating and nurturing relationships. This is otherwise known as playing well with others and is something we each do, unless we are living in a cave, everyday of our lives.

There is one thing that makes it harder here, and that is consulting in a second language. It is tough enough to be on your best behavior when at a client site when you and the client speak the same native language. When you are a non-native speaker avoiding the simple mistakes such as misspelling words in an email is much harder and requires constant vigilance. Add to that avoiding talking about inappropriate subjects, something else we all learned early on, where the subject list can vary by culture and you have a very tough assignment. And the list goes on and on.

I may have mentioned that one of my Brazilian co-workers was headed to Paris for his honeymoon and asked me for recommendations. So a couple weeks back I dusted off an old email that I had sent to someone else for their trip to Paris (this was quite a feat as the email was in our old crusty system – Lotus Notes – run away) and polished it a bit with some updates. He returned to work this week raving about Maille mustard and Veuve Cliquot. It feels good to have been able to show somebody something that you like so much and have them appreciate it, not the same kind of things that we shared with each other in kindergarten, but still a show and tell when it comes down to it.

I finally wore the Inter shirt that I mentioned in my last post to the office on Tuesday. Luck would have it that the first folks I ran into post training session, where I think people might have been too focused to care what I was wearing, were Gremio fans. One even had the nerve to send me an IM asking if all of my clothes were dirty. Of course I replied that the opposite was true, only the best ones were clean!

Up next, a weekend in Rio!

Tchau,

Wendy

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