After getting over the initial disappointment of arriving in Sáo Paulo and realising my Japanese skills couldn’t be transferred to conversations with many of the Japanese people living here, I have been studying Portuguese steadily over the last few years. These days I watch films in Portuguese, I try to understand memes made of Inês Brazil, I go to the theatre to watch plays in Portuguese and I’m regularly having classes too.
I’m still nowhere near fluent, but I’m getting there, and part of the learning process is messing up every once in a while!
I’ve already written about an awkward moment I had in a lift when speaking Portuguese, and in this post I move on to the time I embarrassed myself in a restaurant….
So, after finishing class one Monday afternoon I left my student’s office and met up with a friend in a nearby restaurant. Because we’d both been out over the weekend, we purposely got together to dissect the events of the previous few nights. I was still feeling a little delicate at the time, so when the waiter came over to take our order I was very keen to order the greenest/healthiest thing on the menu.
My friend told this guy what he wanted, I then ordered what was basically a lettuce salad with orange juice. I handed back my menu to the waiter with a smile, instantly feeling a whole lot healthier…until he asked me a question that completely threw me:
“E você quer o vinho?” (And would you like a wine?)
‘Erm…hang on a minute!’ I thought to myself! ‘Nobody else in this place is drinking alcohol and this waiter hasn’t ask my friend if he wanted wine. Just me! Maybe he thinks I look like the kind of guy who wants wine with their meal…at one thirty in the afternoon on a Monday!
So I theatrically crumpled up my face, looked unimpressed and said (very firmly), “nâo!”
An awkward silence filled the space between me and the waiter, who looked a little taken aback at my bluntness. But I felt like this guy needed to learn. After all, it isn’t polite to point out to your salad-ordering customers that they could pass for a Monday-lunch-time-wino.
I looked across at my friend to see if he’d caught what I’d been asked. He had, of course. But instead of looking as surprised as I was, he gave me a confused smile. Then the waiter, perhaps sensing the awkwardness in the air, walked off without the order for the bottle of Merlot and large straw he clearly imagined I would have asked for.
“Did you hear what he just asked me?” I asked, knowing full well that my friend had heard. I guess I asked more for the opportunity to sound shocked than because I was doubting my friend’s ability to hear. “Do I really look like someone who wants to drink wine on a Monday lunch time!?! I noticed that he didn’t ask you if you’d like wine, just me!”
My friend bit down on his bottom lip, tilted his head ever-so-slightly and looked very thoughtfully at me. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise that this is the moment we were both reflecting on our own versions of what had just happened. Then the small smile that had started tugging at the corners of my friend’s mouth gave way to a huge grin.
“He didn’t want to know if you wanted wine, Andrew. He wanted to know if you wanted a little egg!”
“A little egg?” I repeated. “He was asking me about…a little egg?”
Then the penny dropped; I’d mistaken the word ‘ovinho’ for ‘vinho.’
I knew that egg in Portuguese was ‘ovo,’but I hadn’t thought that the waiter would be using it in its diminutive form, ‘ovinho.’
I instantly felt embarrassed.
How had this happened? Why had I never noticed the similarity between the sounds of the words ‘vinho’ and ‘ovinho’ before? And why would you even ask someone if they’d like one little egg in the first place…like, who does that!?!
Lesson learnt: Study more and always accept anything that sounds like wine!
I’d love to say that all of my mistakes in Portuguese are down to simple misunderstandings like these, but they’re not. Not at all. And what I’ll do in some future blog posts is describe other embarrassing mistakes I’ve been making with the language.
What’s the most embarrassing mistake you’ve made when speaking another language?