Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Azores Day 9: What's a Trip to Europe Without Some Language Barriers?

First things first Blog, when I say I'm going to take a picture of a cow, I actually take a picture of multiple cows. Case in point:

The ocean is a part of this because that's what the cows see when I'm not standing there causing herd befuddlement and taking pictures.
Livestock photography was just one small part of today's excursions. I also climbed on some rocks, got afraid of the tide again, and found out Portuguese people, like every other European, pretend they don't speak English until you try to speak their language and fail.

I've pretty much figured out how to navigate the landscape here. There are rocks to climb, waters to swim in, and pastures to hike across. None of these things, however, have taught me how to speak Portuguese. I don't know if there is anything in this world that can teach me how to speak Portuguese. It sounds beautiful, difficult, nonsensical, and like every single Latin-based language combined into one. Just when you think it's like Spanish, you find out it's more like French. Or Russian. Or none of these. And I guess the Portuguese get really offended if you try to speak Spanish to them because apparently the two have a history of not getting along. Also, I'll reiterate, Portuguese and Spanish are two entirely different languages.

I knew that fact even though I ended up speaking Spanish (poorly) today when I found myself in a tiny grocery store in search of eggs, milk, and, of course, wine. I don't even really know Spanish, but it's the only language that was ever even a little bit taught to me besides English. So when the two men who were lurking next to the wine started talking to me, I had nothing--I mean nothing--to say in their language. I didn't even know how to say hello in this language (it's ola) when I first got here. I mean, I knew how to say hello in Portuguese at the time of this interaction, but it wouldn't have made sense. The conversation had already been initiated. Ola wasn't going to cut it. After they kindly moved out of the way so I could look at the wine I said the only other Portuguese word I know: obrigada.

They were amused by this. I decided to try and instill their help since despite this grocery store's tininess, I couldn't find the milk. I had seen the word milk in Portuguese when Carly and I were at Biscoitos the other day. I remembered it was pretty much like the Spanish word for milk, leche. So I just went for it. "Donde es el leche?"

Shit. I was speaking (terrible) Spanish to Portuguese people. It's like you can't not do it.

But they were nice and could tell I was trying and that's when they pulled their European slight of hand and decided to whip out some English chops by telling me that the milk was right behind me. Of course it was. Why would it be in a refrigerator? That would make too much sense.

Beyond that, they helped me pick out some wine (from the mainland!) and ring up my things. Thanks Portuguese guys. You brought me out of my comfort zone and accepted me for the unilingual American I am. Except I was a little confused when everyone said ciao to me as I left. So we say goodbye like Italians?

So now I guess I know three words in Portuguese: ola, obrigada, and ciao (even though I already knew ciao from Italy, but whatever). Oh wait. Scratch that. I know a fourth: fodis which of course means fuck. Like Carly's husband says, you've got to learn the swears first. I don't know why, but it sounds like good advice so I'll go with it.

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