“The room we usually have class in is booked today” began the whatsapp message my student sent me a few hours before our class was due to start. “So I’ve reserved us a room on the 10th floor. See you soon!”
“No problem!” I responded, “See you there!”
I didn’t give this room change too much thought. I mean, there isn’t much difference between the rooms on the 14th floor and the 10th, in this building, except perhaps that the ones on the 10th have swivel chairs (so when I’m in there on my own waiting for my student I can pretend to be a judge from The Voice).
A few hours later and I was waiting by the lifts in the reception area of my student’s offices. As the doors opened I was greeted by the ascensorista (the person whose job it is to press the buttons in the lift. For more on these, check out this blog entry I wrote about this bizarre job).
“Qual andar?” (Which floor?) she enquired as I stepped inside…and unfortunately for me, that’s when my mind went completely blank.
‘Shit! What is the ordinal number for 10?’ I asked myself.
“Dezie” I said a little unconvincingly.
This woman then looked at me kindly, as if I were a slow learning child. “Ah! Treze!” she repeated kindly, like she’d just figured out what I was supposed to have said. She then reached out and pressed button thirteen on the shiny panel in front of her.
“Nao, dezie!” I repeated a little louder (As if the problem wasn’t that she’d misunderstood the new Portuguese word I’d created, but that she’d misheard it!)
“Oh!” She nodded in recognition, before pressing button 12, “doze!”
The lift was already on its way up at this point and I started to panic. On reflection I should have just said number 10 (dez), but well…I didn’t, because I’d convinced myself the ordinal number for 10 in Portuguese was ‘dezie’.
Then I had an idea. As I was stood a mere few centimeters from the buttons, to save myself any further embarrassment I decided to reach out and press button number 10 myself.
The feeling of relief I felt at having that button light up, however, was very short lived.
As I looked down at the button presser sitting in her chair I noticed her lips had pursed, her forehead had knotted and she was now sitting bolt upright in her chair. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I quickly felt the air around me thicken too…I clearly shouldn’t have pressed anything!
“Voce precisa estudar mais Portugues” (You need to study more Portuguese) she said defiantly.
At first this comment stunned me into silence, but then I felt it necessary to ask her to repeat what she’d just said.
“Voce precisa estudar mais!” she repeated.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know I can, at times, sound like a stuttering caveman when on occasions I either forget words or completely mistake them for others. But I take class once a week and I study whenever I have free time, so I wasn’t about to let this comment go unchallenged.
“Os numeros são problemas para os meus alunos em Ingles tambem” (Numbers are problems for my students in English too).
“Serio” (Oh really?) she muttered, with her tone leaving me in little doubt that she didn’t believe me. As if she were an authority figure on studying numbers in foreign languages.
“Seriously, you sit on your fat arse all day and press butt…” Actually, I’ll stop writing about what was going through my mind at this stage. Instead I’ll say this; I was not happy!
However, it then began to dawn on me that I’d crossed a line and invaded her territory, her button panel. So here is what I learnt from this incident.
Lessons Learnt: When in a lift in Brazil and an ascensorista asks you for your floor number; don’t be thinking it’s OK to go pressing those buttons yourself..and study more Portuguese!