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It's pretty easy to be American here. Highfalutin discussions of cultural imperialism and the Monroe Doctrine aside, Brazilians are generally OK with us, at least since we swapped Bush for Obama. Teenagers dream of Disney World, Up is a box-office hit, Doritos are available on every corner, and even those weird cappuccinos they make at Starbucks (what, no chocolate?) are catching on.
But there is one situation where I am consistently humiliated to come from the United States. It happened again today, during a superficial medical exam to clear me to use the gym facilities at my local SESC, a non-profit cultural center that bears some resemblance to a YMCA.
I was asked to fill out a form with basic personal information, then tick off check boxes about all the conditions I thankfully do not have. But then came the section I dreaded.
In America, the answer would be 5’ 11”, 180 lbs. But that’s just gibberish here, not to mention just about everywhere else in the world except in the U.K. (Brazilians do use the Portuguese word for inches – polegadas – to talk about the size of TV screens, but that's about it.)
Yes, I know there are convertors to be found online, and I’ve plugged in my stats countless times, but I can just never remember. Brazilians are generally flabbergasted to discover my infantile ignorance about the human body. It’s as if I couldn’t point to my own belly button.
“I’m sorry,” I sheepishly murmured to the doctor as I handed him the form. “In the United States, we only use pounds and feet and inches.” So he ushered me to the scale and weighed and measured me.
82 kilos. 1.81 meters.
Didn't ring a bell. But at least this time, I recorded it in my Blackberry address book. Under M for “Me,” though M for “Moron” seemed equally appropriate.