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Brazil Diary: Lost in translation but loving it
by Mike Woitalla, July 12th, 2014 12:36PM

TAGS:  argentina, brazil, germany, world cup 2014


By Mike Woitalla

I find Brazilian Portuguese to be a beautiful language. The woman's voice coming over the P.A. at Sao Paulo's Rodoviaria Tiete bus terminal, reading departures and arrivals, sounds like a lovely song, which is what I first thought it was.

I just wish I could understand more of it. And I wonder if I offend when I make queries or answer questions with bad Spanish. Not that I usually understand the question.

At the Zona Sul, all the cashiers are women. Up until the day Brazil lost to Germany, they wore Brazil national team replica T-shirts, with five solid stars and the outline of a sixth -- representing the World Cup title Brazil was supposed to be in the midst of winning.

Before they start running the groceries through a scanner, they always ask a question in which I cannot recognize a single word. First I thought it might be, “Did you bring your own bag?” -- so I answered yes (sim). But this prompted a follow-up and confusion. Then I thought maybe it was, “Are you paying cash?” So I nodded yes and held up some bills. More confusion.

I finally figured the best default answer would from now on would be “no” (nao) -- which it was since they were inquiring on whether I had a Zona Sul club card, I finally figured it out.

Sometimes I do understand the questions. Like after I bought a beanie from Edson’s souvenir stand next to the Largo do Machado Metro station and he wanted to know if I was German.

I told him I’m americano – but alemao-americano. He practiced saying thank you in German, asked me if he was getting it right, and showed me his crib note written on the back of a sign in his kiosk. It read “THAN-KE.” I wrote “danke” next to it and we practiced a bit more before some Argentines showed up and he put down the Germany cap he had been trying to sell me and a grabbed a blue-white one.

The albiceleste fans outnumber the Germans significantly. Several reports cite the arrival of 100,000 Argentines, an estimate that sounds extraordinary. But it does seem that Argentines are everywhere. I heard their singing from the streets at 2 a.m. They tried sleeping on the beach, which is forbidden.

Rio authorities opened up the carnival sambodromo -- a series of stands that stretch the length of six soccer fields -- for Argentines to camp in.

When Germany faces Argentina in the 75,000-capacity Maracana Stadium on Sunday, 15,000 police officers and soldiers are set to patrol the streets on which the Argentines hope to create a victory festival -- and the Brazilians expect to join the Germans in celebration.

1 comment
  1. Gil Ramirez
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 12:05 p.m.
    Wonderful story. Brought me back to a few weeks ago when I was there at the start of the cup. I had the same confusing experience buying groceries when they asked me for my club card, even as I was able to get by speaking Spanish and my very limited Portuguese. Thanks to a friend, I was able to figure out the issue pretty quickly, but those little experiences at the counter exemplify to me how much we depend on the good hart of people when we are travelers; for it is not only the language that we lack, but the cultural context of every day life. Traveling with only the minimum necessary is a humbling and exiting experience that build up the spirit in many ways, opening us up to connect with others, and with a place and times. In particular at stores, I think that cashier clerks in Brazil are required to ask for club-card numbers from every customer, even when it is obvious that they are foreigners and most likely have no idea of those card benefits. Still, visiting Brazil during the WC was a lovely experience. They hosted a wonderful event, full of warmth and color that shine from the Brazilian soul. They are wonderful people who deserve a better team next time around. I hope next time we meet is at the final in four years time. Imagine that, USA-Brazil as a final in Moscow in 2018. Now, that is a dream.

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