Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Welcome to my Casa!!

It's kind of long (17 minutes), but if you are curious about where I live--here is a tour of my home:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lost in Translation--Literally

Does it seem like all of my posts are centered around the same theme? Well, my life, right now, seems to be centered around that theme, so what else do I have to write about?! When you learn a new language, (which I hope I will, someday) you have to be careful about some of the subtleties of the language. Here are just a few things that I have learned to be careful about (the hard way):

1. Besides having masculine and feminine nouns with agreeing adjectives (this makes my head hurt, just thinking about it), there is the tricky business of conjugation. In Portuguese, verbs are all conjugated depending on past, present, and future tense (I know that we have this in English, too, but I swear it is ten times easier!) In addition, verbs are conjugated depending on the subject of the sentence. Pronouns (I, me, you, they, etc...) are optional in speaking. You can just drop the pronoun in any given sentence, because the conjugation of the verb tells of whom you are speaking. (For example: I am tired. You are tired. He is tired. In essence, you just have to say, "Tired" and everyone will know whom you are talking about depending on how you say the word "tired".) The other day, I was doing the dishes. (I was putting them in the dishwasher.) I feel a little embarrassed about having this luxury item, and have the compulsive need to comment about the indolence of Americans to everyone who sees it. My housekeeper saw me loading the dishes, so I did my typical self-deprecation act to ease the awkwardness.  I'm pretty sure I told my housekeeper that SHE was lazy.

2. The Portuguese words for "coconut" and "poo-poo" (I'm sorry to all you sensitive readers out there) are pretty much the same--the only difference being on which syllable you place the emphasis. I will not be ordering coconut while I am here.

3. The common word for shoes, (and the only word that I learned in my studies) is "sapatos", but another word for shoes is, "calcados". All of the shoe stores here are labeled "calcados", which to me, at first, sounded a lot like the word for pants: "calcas". I kept getting confused when I would see the signs for "calcados" and expect to see pants, but only found racks and racks of "sapatos" (shoes). The word for barefoot is "descalco" (without shoes)....calco, you see how similar these are?!  So, if I ever walk down the beach barefoot, and decide to stop and enjoy a coconut, I won't be telling anyone about it...just to be on the safe side.

4. I found out in my Portuguese class (too late) that the word I had been using to describe heavy traffic in the city was actually the word for drug trafficking. I feel slightly comforted by the fact that Marly knows my opinion on drugs: Trafico = bad

5. I kept telling people for the longest time that I was from "Estamos Unidos" ("We are united"), instead of "Estados Unidos" (United States). They were in the midst of a political campaign when we first arrived, so maybe they thought I was just politically active??? Probably not...

6. And finally, the subtleties in communication in a foreign land do not stop with oral language; one must beware of insulting gestures as well! We have been here for over two months now, and Tom finally decided to inform me that the "OK" sign (that I use all the time!) is equivalent to the middle finger in the U.S. I'm glad he told me this AFTER I had flipped off several neighbors...and possibly the gun-toting security guards at our complex.

Isn't learning a new language fun?  The first sentence I learned to say in Portuguese is, "I don't speak Portuguese". Tom said I wouldn't need to state the obvious. But, I find that I use that sentence as a sort of apology for all of the countless language faux pas that I commit each day as I struggle to communicate. I shudder to think of what I may or may not have said to people, but, in my current situation, ignorance truly is bliss...right?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the Importance of Language

I have always loved language. I love the way that words sound; the way that a bold black font pops off of a crisp white page. I love the way that a well constructed sentence can evoke powerful emotions in a reader, how a cleverly quipped phrase can make the brain work overtime, scrambling to decipher the speaker's true meaning. I even love the way that letters are put together to form a perfectly spelled word (ahhh...satisfaction!) And while I have never been a strong speaker (this is a source of intense frustration for me), I dabble in writing and I adore reading (everything from classic literature, to simple road signs, to labels on shampoo bottles). I even visualize words in my head as I speak them (does anyone else do this, or should I see a therapist?)

And so, you can imagine my irritation at present; being immersed in a foreign language, not being able to communicate even my most basic needs, at times. I continue to study Portuguese with the use of the Rosetta Stone on my computer, and Marissa and I are going to a Portuguese class at the University twice a week. We even had a private tutor come to our house. This private tutor stressed the importance of not trying to formulate grammatically correct sentences, but urged us to "just speak", using the words that we already know. "People will understand you", she said. And so, I finally let go of my need to speak perfectly, and began to "just speak". Let me share with you some of the results:

My friend, Marly, invited me to go shopping with her. I readily accepted the invitation, armed with my new-found linguistic confidence. It was wonderful! We spoke to each other during the entire outing. I knew that I wasn't forming accurate sentences, but she understood me! And I understood her!! (more or less) By the time we arrived at the grocery store,  I was looking for opportunities to converse--about anything--not just merely trying to survive the inevitable Q & A of a friendly neighbor. I saw a flyer that said, "Hawaii" in bold letters. I pointed to it and told her I like Hawaii--that I had been there--that it is beautiful. She paused in front of the stack of flyers and said something that I didn't understand. After several seconds of unsuccessfully trying to make me understand, we decided to just move on with our shopping. I didn't think anything more about it.

After  shopping, Marly took me to meet her father and sister. On the way, she asked me if I like to dance. It seemed like a random question, but, after all, we were practicing our new communication skills out on one another.  I told her I like to dance, but I am not a good dancer, and that I like to dance when nobody is looking. She laughed and said she felt the same way. (I think) A few days later, Marly showed up at my door and  invited Tom and I to an event that I understood to be a dinner/dance. I thought this was strange, since I had told her I didn't like to dance in public. But I was happy that she had invited us to go out. It sounded like fun. She told me the date and said that she needed to reserve a table if we wanted to go. I told her I would talk with Tom. That night, Tom called her. Marly explained that we had gone to the store together, and I had pointed to a flyer advertising a Hawaiian dance event at a local club, and said, rather enthusiastically, "I like this!" So, naturally, she checked into it, and was now making arrangements for me to have my fondest wish. (Tom wants me to tell Marly that I really like golfing at fancy country clubs-- with my husband-- and see what comes of it.)

While driving to the store with Marly on that same trip, we passed by the hospital, and this is when I learned that she had been very sick all week. She had an appointment to go into the hospital that evening to get some IV fluids. She still wasn't fully recovered, but, here she was, taking me to the store. She apologized profusely that she had not been over to check on me during the week (she had sent lunch over one day, via her maid, and a bag of  ice cream, via her son). She felt genuinely bad that she hadn't gotten out of her sick-bed to take care of ME. I hadn't once been over to check on her (and in my defence, I didn't go over, because every time I do, she invites me in and feeds me, or offers to take me somewhere. I feel like the needy neighbor. I wanted to give her a break.) Now, I felt like a schmuck.

I went to check on her the next day. She was home from the hospital, but still not feeling well. I told her I wanted to bring her lunch the next day. She said she would have to check with her husband.  And then... she invited us in to have pizza. (Palm to forehead!) As she explained, mothers don't have time to be sick. Apparently, neighbors of pathetic Americans don't either. She invited another couple from across the street, as well, turning it into an impromptu neighborhood party. She ordered pizza, and of course, we were not allowed to help pay for it. The other neighbors said she and Marcio do this kind of stuff all the time. I left that night, forgetting to confirm the arrangements for lunch the following day. I decided I would just make something and bring it over early. (Lunch is the big meal of the day.)

Late that night, as I was laying in bed, going over the events of the day, I thought about what I had said to Marly. I realized that I had told her I would like to make her lunch, not bring her lunch, implying that I had invited her and her family over to my house to eat! There were a couple of problems with this scenario: 1. I didn't have enough ingredients to make what I had planned for both of our families. 2. It was General Conference weekend, and the first session would start right around lunchtime. (General Conference is a biannual meeting for LDS church members with discourses given by the general authorities of our church. It is a big deal, and we don't like to miss it. [And, by the way, we were able to get the broadcast live from Salt Lake City, via the Internet, and watch all of the four 2-hour sessions over two days--without any glitches! It was nothing short of a miracle, and a tender mercy for me!]) Anyway, Tom had to go down and disinvite our guests for lunch. (He is always cleaning up my messes!)

Last week, I invited my new friend from church, along with her daughter, to lunch. (Yes, I actually invited them to come over to my house to eat lunch with me. Or, so I thought.) I spent the morning cooking a special meal (with dessert), setting the table just so, and making sure that everything was in order. When I went to pick up my guests (they don't have a car), I found the daughter out on the curb waiting for me. I asked her where her mother was. She told me she was downtown with her dad to see the doctor. I asked her if everything was okay. She didn't know. I asked her if her mom was going to come over to my house after seeing the doctor. She didn't know. Finally, I took her back to my house, and used Google Translate to ask her the same questions. I got the same responses. I thought it was strange that my friend hadn't let me know that she would not be coming. I was worried that something was wrong. I asked the daughter if she could call her mother and ask her my questions. And so, through the complicated process of using the computer to type out questions in English, translating them into Portuguese, which the daughter then read over the phone to the mother, who, in turn, answered the daughter, who then typed out the responses, which I then translated... (confused yet?), we finally arrived at the conclusion that I would drive into the center and pick up my friend for lunch.

When we found her, her arms were full of purchases, giving me the impression that she had never planned on coming to lunch at all. I couldn't get her to get into the car. She kept telling me that she had to wait there--(Hadn't we just agreed that I would come and pick her up for lunch?!)-- I finally figured out (actually, I resorted to calling Tom to translate, after several failed attempts to communicate) that she was waiting for her husband to pick up some items from the pharmacy up the street. After a bit of waiting, we decided to drive to the pharmacy to meet with the husband. We pulled up to the pharmacy, just as he was finishing up his business. I discovered that he was going to take a taxi back home. I invited him to join us for lunch, and he accepted. (I hoped that my chicken and rice wasn't dried out or scorched to the bottom of the pan by now.) And so, a lunch date with my friend, turned into a lunch date with her daughter, turned into a lunch date with the whole family... My head is still spinning with that one!

I mentioned Google Translate in the last example. I revert to this method of translation quite often. While this is a helpful tool, it does not always give a completely accurate translation, judging from some of the English translations I have read. One time, I used it to send a Facebook message to the newly called counselor in the Young Women organization. I told her, among other things, that I was "excited" to work with her. Tom looked over the message later and informed me that I had told her I was "nervous" to work with her. Hopefully, she didn't take it personally.

I have decided that I will not let these, or the countless other mishaps with language I have had since arriving here, stop me from trying. (Okay, I HAVE given up a FEW times, throwing myself on the bed like a moody teenager, but I am now recommitting to "just keep speaking".) People will understand me...more or less...right? 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The "Norm"

I have had a few people ask me when I am going to write another post. The reasons I haven't written for a while are two-fold:

1. I realized that all I am doing is whining about how everything is so different here. Nobody likes a whiner.

2. It now seems like everything is not so different anymore, so I don't have anything to whine/write about!

Okay, so things are still very different here, but I find that I am getting used to my new "normal". It's kind of like getting desensitized; I hardly remember what is "supposed" to be normal anymore. And then a few things pop up that remind me that I am living far away from any normal I have ever known. Let me give you a few examples:

Last week, I drove by some roadkill. The sight of roadkill, although gruesome, is very normal for those of us from a "rural" area like Cache Valley. However, in this case, the unfortunate creature was something I have never seen in Cache Valley (or anywhere in the United States, for that matter) before. It was a giant Gila monster or iguana or something. It had a green-grey camouflage pattern on its leathery skin and was about the size of my cat (Do you know Popcorn, the cat? He has a bit of a weight problem. He's not overweight... just under tall--and he's a little sensitive about it, so, let's not mention it again.)  I thought it was SO cool, that I drove by it three times just to get a good look at it. Had it been on a less busy road, I would have gone in for a closer inspection and a photo--I was that excited about it. But, alas, my memory will have to suffice.

And speaking of lizards, we have seen lizards of all shapes, sizes, and colors in the wild here. I have seen a few lizards back home, too, but never cruising around inside my house (I'm just glad this particular little guy was crawling around in the office, and not my bed!) And, I have never before witnessed a lizard changing colors right before my eyes--that was WAY cool! I like lizards!... (from a distance).

There are other creatures that I don't care to see at ANY distance. Like cockroaches. Here, I pause to send up a prayer of thanks that we don't have cockroaches in Logan. Thankfully, to date, I have only found one cockroach (and a partial cockroach) inside the house. I am just grateful that the one that I found on my BARE SKIN!-- in the SHOWER!-- was the partial cockroach (a 3 inch antenna [I swear it was still wriggling!]), and not the entire live cockroach (which I bravely made Tom dispose of, thank you very much).

There are lots of cool exotic birds here. We have a pair of bright green parrots who live on the telephone wires above our house. They are always together, and they are LOUD; fighting like an old married couple. I really want to catch one and keep it as a pet--how cool would that be?! Unfortunately, the only bird that has flown into the house is just an ordinary little song-bird, and he turned around and flew right back out. The windows and doors here don't have any screens, and it is very common to leave them wide open for the breeze, so we still have a chance to acquire a pet before we leave...I'll keep you posted.

And then there are the horse/pony drawn carts that you see occasionally clomping down major avenues, or slowly making their way straight through the center of the city. It's kind of charming, in an Amish sort of way, unless you are behind one on a very narrow road, and you are late to pick up the kids from school.

I'm getting used to the fact that a big mac costs more than a nice steak dinner; that when calling on someone, you ring the bell at the end of the driveway, and wait for them to call you up to the house; that you kiss everyone hello and goodbye; that lunch is the big meal of the day, and dinner is just a few snacks late in the evening (hence, many restaurants are closed for dinner); and, that when you stop by to see someone--for whatever reason--even if it is just for a minute--you are always invited in and offered a snack and a drink (note to self: add cake and juice to the shopping list, to keep on hand for unexpected visitors).

So, while I wouldn't say that I am fully adjusted to life in a foreign country, I am becoming more accustomed to this temporary life, and it doesn't feel so foreign anymore. But the fact remains that I am a "Foreigner". I'm not from here. I do things differently. And that's okay. Right? This brings up an uncomfortable point; something that I have struggled with my whole life: I'm 38 years old, and I still want to be accepted. I want to do things the "right" way. I want to please people. I want to "fit in". Living in a different culture adds a whole new level of difficulty to this already impossible task.

But, people have been so understanding and accommodating here. They don't even flinch when I bump into them awkwardly with a greeting kiss. Nobody whispers when I forget to dress up for a nighttime party.  I haven't been corrected when I have knocked directly on someone's door. I am finally learning that there are lots of different "right" ways to do things; lots of different "normals".  I'm beginning to become a little more comfortable with MY normal--realizing that I am who I am, and people can accept it or not. And realizing this, I'm starting to feel less ashamed about driving through my affluent neighborhood in our old beater car, sounding like a B52 Bomber coming in for a hot landing. Nobody seems to mind. I am slightly more courageous about trying to speak in broken and grammatically incorrect sentences. Nobody laughs at me. I am a little more daring about ordering things at the counter in the grocery store (except for beef--Tom isn't even fluent in beef). And, I am a little less embarrassed when the other girls come over to the house and see the barren wasteland that is my huge, minimally furnished, undecorated, sterile white abode. And if I forget to offer them drinks, I know my true friends will feel comfortable enough to ask.