I have tried, and tried, to master (more like butcher) the art of a few Portuguese words, pleasantries, and phrases. I am sure I don’t sit not alone in this self-berating as I endeavour to immerse myself into my new Portuguese culture.
With 12 years of marriage to an eloquent (even if I say it to myself) Portuguese man, I have listened daily to simple conversations between my beloved and his children, his mother and various friends. So, I actually have a good comprehension of (at least my husband’s) Portuguese. And much to the chagrin of those who think I may be blonde, and English, I am dangerous enough to catch people out who are trying to catch me out!
Armed with this new fantasy power of inner eloquence, I have come to believe that if I spend enough time re-iterating my husband’s phrases and words repeatedly in my head, I will be able to speak (in my mind anyway) almost fluently! The reality, however, is far from this delusionary dream. And despite hours of mentally practicing the simplest phrases, what spews forth from my mouth is clearly (judging by the faces of my conversationalist) unintelligible gobbledegook.
My expat friends all think I should cut myself a break and embrace the joys of Google translate. I must admit, in my darkest hour I have resorted to the friendly ‘’voice in the box’’, however, the bewilderment/amusement/open mirth of those on the receiving end of my new technological friend shows that maybe there would be less confusion if I had let forth a stream of my own misguided, vowel-heavy, bizarre sounds and utterances.
In an ongoing four-year construction project I have brought many a Brazilian contractor to their knees with laughter and/or frustration as I emphatically tell them such things as that they need a U-turn, not a U-bend, and other such lunacies.
I am not alone, either. I have a lovely, mild-mannered Swedish friend who was brutally fired by her lawyer after the brusque and rude (courtesy of Google translate) letter that she fired off to him. She had so offended him that he dropped her case. My friend begged on hands and knees to be reinstated as a paying client, offering up the first draft direct from Google by way of an apology and explanation.
Another tip I can offer (please bear in mind this is my experience only) is to never ever mention the fact that you might speak another romance language, like Spanish, French, or Italian. By right of geographical location, many Portuguese people think they can speak Spanish. As a Spanish speaker, I have been horrified at the stream of what can only be called Portunhol, an undecipherable, heavily dialectical new language, with no base in Castilian nor south American Spanish, that defies comprehension and is definitely more challenging than Portuguese itself!
Favourite conversation topics at Sunday get-togethers with my Portuguese family usually include my mother-in-law asking when I will be speaking Portuguese. I have explained on many occasions that I probably do not have enough years left in my life to ever be at a level that would be worthy of her ample table nor her intelligence! A general misperception with kindly Portuguese folk is that a few lessons will render the bewildered foreigner fluent and fully conversant, not a kindergarten-level buffoon.
So, my expat friends, as is often with the ups and downs in life, finding the perfect solution is never easy. Maybe it takes hours, or years, of diligent study, which, if I were not running a full-time international business and living a never-ending Lisbon home renovation, I would happily embark upon.
In the meantime, I will keep trying, and I highly recommend you only work with English-speaking lawyers!
With dual British and USA citizenship Lisa has lived in England, Spain, USA, and Mexico and is now resident in Lisbon and Algarve. Interior design entrepreneur and co-founder of Tripwix Vacation Rentals, a Lisbon-based luxury rental and property management agency.