Learning Portuguese

 

element5-digital-352043-unsplash.jpgI was once asked what did I view as the biggest challenge in my relationship with Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend), and my answer was that I do not speak Portuguese. That is still my answer today. Luckily, Minha Namorada speaks English quite well, and that has allowed our relationship to flourish. However, it is still very important to me that I learn Portuguese. There are many reasons but one of the most important reasons is culture.

Culture helps define who we are, it tells us where we came from, where we are going, and it binds a community together. While Minha Namorada and myself are building a life together now, and while A Familia Dela (her family) always do so much to make me feel welcome, I still always feel a bit excluded from her Brazilian Culture, simply because I don’t speak enough Portuguese to participate fully. Unless there is an English translation out there, I can’t understand the shows Minha Namorada watches in Portuguese, I can’t read the books she’s read. But, even translations tend to lose much of the raw emotion and feel of the originals

As well, at the best times when families are just laughing and joking, and everyone forgets themselves, it becomes that much harder for me to follow the conversation – I am inadvertently excluded at the time when everyone is attempting to make me feel most welcome. I am never offended by this, and in fact am very touched that they are so welcoming towards me, but it does bother me that I can’t follow along with everyone.

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My favourite memories of family, mine or Minha Namorada’s, are when everyone lets loose,  laughing and enjoying each other’s company.   I just wish I could understand more when I’m with her family.

After two years, I can generally read news articles in Portuguese without too much difficulty, and I’ve learned enough Portuguese to be understood one on one. Minha Namorada’s friends and family are always impressed with how much Portuguese I’ve learned since we first met, but I still have much to go. It is a slow process, as I expected, but one which reaps many rewards. And not just in my relationship, but also in my ability to broaden my horizons. Being able to read non-english sourced newspapers gives me new perspectives on world events that I would not have known if not for those newspapers. Only about 1/7 of the population speak English, so learning languages helps me learn about the other 6/7ths of the world.

 

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So, let’s start a conversation about tips/tricks, and other observations about learning (and hopefully eventually mastering) Portuguese.

Journal Day 8

Fast forward seven months, and its my next trip to Brazil. In the meantime, Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I had grown much closer, we spoke every day on WhatsApp (video calling is a godsend to long distance relationships), and she had spent a large part of the summer with me in Canada.

This time, I felt much more comfortable walking into her home after a long flight, smelling terrible after 24 hours of travel, and craving a shower – this was a big sign of how welcome her family had made me feel from day one of my first trip. We didn’t hang out too much at her home though, as Minha Namorada wanted me to see the Sunset from downtown and so whisked me away after just enough time to stretch my legs and say hi to her family.

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The couple just ahead of us were speaking in English – it seemed they couldn’t understand each other in their native languages, so they used English as a universal language.   

While I did get some beautiful views, we missed the sunset by about five minutes. Downtown João Pessoa is beautiful though, as I’ve mentioned. It used to be the richest neighborhood in João Pessoa, and the architecture reflects that, but large swaths of downtown are now abandoned. The rich having moved to the coast to be right next to the ocean. Being unable to resell these properties for their values, they have now been long abandoned, and an uneasiness has settled around the downtown core.

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This is not a safe place to be at night, although during the day there are still many tourist attractions worth checking out – just start early, and leave after sunset. That being said, there are still busy bars downtown, so its not all parts that are unsafe. The basic rule is of safety in numbers still applies. If you want to go at night, make sure to check with your hotel if its a night where one of the downtown bars is having a large gathering, and then Uber directly there and back.

Downtown even has a thriving Chinatown community, where everything seemed incredibly similar to a China Town in Canada that, if not for the language. My first trip, I had barely seen any foreigners other than myself, and there are definitely less in Brazil than in Canada (for example, Japanese and Chinese restaurants tend to be staffed by ethnic Brazilians), but there are still lots of expats in Brazil. This trip, my suitcase had broken a wheel, and we went downtown to get it fixed – that is another lesson I liked from Brazil, there is a much stronger emphasis on fixing things that are broken, rather than just throwing them out and buying new. For 45 Reals (about 20 dollars) my suitcase was as good as new.

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Hot Temaki – my mouth waters just thinking about it.

I also insisted that first night that we have one thing I had been craving since I got back to Canada from my previous trip – hot temaki. Brazil has taken the wonderful taste of sushi, and they deep fry it in batter similar to chicken-strip batter, and it is one of the best tasting (and horrible for my waistline) foods that exists.

Journal Day 7

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My final day of my first trip to Brazil landed on Good Friday, and so it was a family-oriented day. One important lesson I learned that day was just how important family is to Brazilians. There is a stereotype of latinos having large families, and while Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) doesn’t have the largest immediate family, the closeness that she has with her extended family more than makes up for this. Her cousins act more like siblings, with her Tia (aunt) and Tio (uncle) were just as welcoming to me as her parents had been.

I remember when I was young sitting around the table with my extended family, my grandfather and uncle laughing, while everyone talked with everyone at once – participating in five or six conversations at once, always eager to jump into another. It is one of my most cherished memories of my family’s farm. As much as my portuguese didn’t allow me to participate in the conversations as much as I would have liked, that was the feeling I got as I sat around the table. The love of a family that are just happy to be in each other’s company. And I was not excluded for even a second, from the very beginning, I was family.

I did come to learn why Brazilians tend to drink more espressos, as I’ve never been one to turn down coffee (especially wonderful Brazilian Coffee), but it was not a good idea to have a mug in a hot apartment. I thought I was sweating before I had my coffee… A second cup was a close-fought battle between my taste buds and my sweat glands. But, I can say that I don’t know how anyone ever cooks a big meal in Brazil, because I would immediately grow to hate the excess heat from a stove or oven – I bet toaster ovens are big there.

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How was I supposed to resist?
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This is a picture of my sweat glands after the coffee

In the evening, we went to get ice cream, which brings me to another point. Brazil is not good for diets, as Canadians tend to think of cold treats as good for cooling oneself down in the heat, and Canada doesn’t tend to get so many extremely hot days.  The cold protects us from indulging too often, because its not healthy to eat those every day, but in Brazil we lose that natural protection.  This is not to mention that Nordestino (Northeastern) Brazilian fare is heavy in cheeses and breads.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was that I concluded my first (but certainly not last) trip to Brazil.