The British are well-known for all manner of tourist/ex-pat crimes – the most common complaint I’ve heard from people here is that so many simply take it for granted that everyone speaks English and subsequently make no effort. At all.
As I’ve always felt deeply ashamed visiting a country in which I’m unable to speak the language, when I came to Portugal last winter I was determined to reach at least an intermediate level of Portuguese while I was here.
I had 3 months to do nothing but learn the language. No problem!
Except I was surfing and writing and climbing and looking after horses and running and swimming and reading and emailing friends and then I was on a course for 2 weeks and all of a sudden it was time to go home and I hadn’t improved my Portuguese much at all.
Oooh I forgot the best excuse – everyone here speaks English so I didn’t get the chance to practice!
There were occasions that I tried to speak to people, to begin with; then I went to the Intermarche to buy some stamps and the kind-face lady behind the counter answered me in English.
I was prepared for that so had been practising my reply
‘Fala comigo em portugues, por favor, estou aprendendo,’ I said (very slowly).
She responded in English ‘It takes too long. Let’s just speak in English, OK?’
I gave up a little bit after that.
I figured it was worse to feel stupid than to appear ignorant.
So, since I arrived for this trip I’ve been making much more of an effort.
Fortunately for me, and thanks to my dear friend ‘Da Luz’ (she lived round the corner from me when I was young and just HATES that nickname) I have quite a sound knowledge of the basics and structure of the language.
Da Luz devoted a fair amount of time to teaching me all kinds of useful words and phrases when we hung out after school.
She made me repeat these phrases time and time again, until I could eloquently (and in a near perfect Madeiran accent) tell her brother that he had an incredibly tiny penis* and to go and do rude things to himself, or one of his friends, or let someone perform said acts on him, in several different ways.
At the age of 12 I proudly informed Da Luz’s mum that I was pregnant, believing that I was telling her I was hungry.
I also learned how to tell someone to go and change their nappy.
How to say ‘wee-wee bed’ to a child.
The names for lots of foods and to count and the days of the week. Months. Seasons. Hello, good day, good afternoon, good evening, how are you, I’m good thank you, and you, happy christmas, happy birthday etc..
Da Luz was a great teacher. And I remember every word she taught me.
But there was one she missed out….
The Wonderfully Funny Family are incredibly tolerant and show great patience with me and my attempts to communicate in Portuguese.
Actually, that’s not strictly true – SheWhoDoesNotWishToBeNamed regularly tells me I sound ‘retarded’. (NB. Her word. Not mine.)
As most of our conversations are in the kitchen, they generally revolve around food, cooking, utensils etc.
Hence, I had no reason to distrust Norberto (despite the fact that his sense of humour’s quite similar to that of a teenager).
We made bacalhau (traditional salted cod dish) one evening and he taught me all the different types of bacalhau.
I wrote them down because I have a terrible memory.
I’m finally reaching the end of the story…
On Friday I was chatting with my friend (I have a friend! I know! I’m going to write about making new friends soon) at the beach and we got onto the subject of bacalhau.
I impressed him with my knowledge of all the different types of dish:
Bacalhau a Braz – boiled, then mixed with skinny chips, egg and onions before being cooked in the oven.
Bacalhau com natas (with cream)
Bacalhau com grao (with chickpeas)
Bacalhau no forno (with potatoes in the oven)
and then I couldn’t remember the other one.. the one that Norberto said was made without cooking it.. with just olive oil and garlic.. he told me that if you ate it that way it was a sure sign that you were starving.
Sergio had no idea what I was on about.
I quoted Norberto’s words ‘It means you’re so hungry you’ll eat any crap…’
He still had no clue.
I got my notepad.
I found it.
‘Punheta de bacalhau!’ I proudly exclaimed.
Sergio laughed and told me he’s going to find me a new house to live in.
Apparently I shouldn’t be learning words like that.
Click here if you’d like to know the translation
I love it here.
And I’m learning the language, with a little help from my friends.
* You have an incredibly tiny penis – This is a very useful phrase which could come in handy one day. You should memorise it, just in case.
Tu tens um caralinho pequeninho.