Thursday, February 19, 2009


L is for Language. With Mum and Dad here, I took the opportunity to "show off" my grasp of Portuguese when Rachel wasn't around by ordering food at restaurants, making enquiries in shops and asking for directions. Most of the time things went smoothly but I still found myself in occasional situations where, as a gringo speaking Portuguese, the assumption from the receiving end was that I could speak no Portuguese at all. In Joao Pessoa on one occasion, I found myself jamming my finger into a menu at the item in question (which was "Apfelstrudel") which clearly so flummoxed one rather pale-looking waitor, that he ran off. Ten minutes later back came a colleague of his who nervously said in very broken English "I help you?". Its funny how something like this can make one frustrated when one has poured out a lot of time and energy into learning a new language. WE DON'T NEED THE WAITOR WHO SPEAKS A BIT OF ENGLISH - WE JUST NEED THE ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS PORTUGUESE!

Another time, we pulled over to ask for directions. All I had to ask was "Sir, do you know where Marco Zero is?". So this is what I said to the security guard by a builing: "O senhor sabe onde fica Marco Zero?". A blank stare in reply. "Como?"came the tentative reply.

At this point, Rachel reached across the seat and spoke through my window. She said: "O senhor sabe onde fica Marco Zero?". The man smiled, relieved. He then helpfully gave us directions. Now, maybe this has more to do with the Brazilian man wanting to help out a beautiful lady, but in language terms WHAT DID I DO WRONG?

Fortunately, this kind of thing doesn't happen too often. Dad, bless him, actually worked quite hard at picking up some Portuguese (to add to the half a dozen languages he already knows) mainly so he could communicate a bit with Nelson. But, one afternoon we came across a (for these purposes, unnamed) employee of the Cultura Inglesa language school who Dad intended to wish a Happy New Year too. This was the conversation:

Dad (trying his Portuguese): Feliz ano novo!
Mr.X (in Portuguese to me): I don't speak English.
Me (in Portuguese to Mr.X): He said "Feliz ano novo!"
Mr.X (in Portuguese to me): Feliz ano novo? Wow! English is easy. That's exactly the same as it is in Portuguese...

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