life in the fast lane.

this morning i was talking to a friend on skype and she urged me to write about what i was experiencing, so if this post makes you cringe more than cackle, please hold her responsible not me.

you might think that being here for almost 2 months i have at this point assimilated, but no, i still find myself nodding slowly with a creepy cheshire cat like grin on my face more times throughout the day than i ever expected to. although sometimes i think they ignore it, i’m pretty sure people understand this means i don’t really have a clue what’s happening. (sometimes both i and the other party just pretend i get it because it’s much easier that way than explaining say, a joke, or that all that girl said was she went to the store and bought a mango. we may not be on the same page very often, but when it comes to comprehension priorities we usually agree.) sometimes though there are people who are determined to make me get it. here are a few ways that manifests itself.

1. “fala para ela.” this means say it to her repeat what you just said while looking expectantly deep into her soul through her eyes. these words are the reason i only feel a little guilty about not working out at all while i’m here because every time i hear them (even if by some small miracle they aren’t being directed at me) my entire body tenses up. my abs are benefitting more from this phenomenon than they ever did when kelly and i were doing our run/core sterngthening/yoga workouts. even if someone says something that remotely sounds like these words-tense! it wasn’t always like that. at first it was like “oh, ok, yay. tune everything else out, put on the concentration cap, stare at their mouth, attempt to register words, say “nao entendi” and try again.” then it evolved into “tense up, oh no, fear, blush, try to get it, nod and smile” and finally “tense. pretend you didn’t hear. pretend you’re invisible. listen. distract by showing all of your teeth at once. use context clues to figure out subject matter. blurt out between one and three words that you actually know that maybe almost relate. and end by either laughing or looking away.” intense? yes, but successful.

2. following closely on the heels of number one is when people say

“entendiu?” which means did you understand? i expect that you were giving your complete attention to what that person was saying despite their rapid delivery in the midst of a fiery tempest of conversations amongst this throng of laughing people who don’t like to use their inside voices and are now ready to formulate a response that is both fitting and amusing. i used to say “nao” but i started getting in trouble for that, so it evolved into “nao entendi” (i didn’t understand), and eventually this wasn’t satisfactory either because it only resulted in the person repeating everything…while in the same atmospherical conditions…and me again not getting it. so in the true spirit of efficiency i began to perfect the nod and smile. it’s not easy; it has to be convincing. and it has to fit the context. sometimes it can only be a quick smile, but sometimes you have to make it reach your eyes. i’m telling you, even tyra banks would approve of the plethora of smiles i’ve perfected. unfortunately there does exist a time and person that this will not work for, which leads to number three.

3. usually the first two scenarios involve people who have a least a miniscule knowledge of english but refuse to speak it to you or for you unless you’re almost in tears, but i have noticed that an entirely different thing happens when you engage with people who speak absolutely NO english. lucky me, these sweet souls are usually the most emphatic and excited to talk to me. portuguese is their language and they are determined to teach me. it starts simple enough with maybe a short sentence about something general with words that even the most basic of travel guides will teach you, but one nod and grin gives them the green light and suddenly they’re nodding and rolling their eyes and laughing and telling you about something, which could be the weather, your lunch, or their fourth cousin’s trip to ireland in 1997, but you’ll never know because out of everything they’re saying all you can think is “oh! i heard the word girl, i know that word! wait did she just say morning, why yes, yes she did” but that elation happening in your mind only lasts about 3 seconds before you realize that the smile of accomplishment that crept onto your face was just interpreted as agreement and understanding, and suddenly you’re keenly aware that while yes, you distinctly heard “morning” you have no idea if it was “breakfast” or “tomorrow” or literally “the early hours of this day” and since context is everything, this oversight/realization means game over, you lose because now the talker is going to ask you a question, and it might even be a request that involves you physically doing something. it’s at this point that you have to come clean, put on your best confused face and say “nao entendi” which will inevitably result in them laughing, smiling, moving closer to you, and repeating what they said v..e….r..yyyyy sl..oooooo…wly which won’t help as much as you might hope because then you’re just unsure at what point the sounds end and form one word- it’s just like one long howl (or as the brazilians say when they make fun of each other for talking slow to me, whale). and it also ends with the speaker staring at you with anticipation and you looking back not wanting to crush their hopes and dreams, but knowing that just a nod and smile will not placate them. besides that, you probably have to literally do something now, and you don’t know what that is. so you try something new, “nao entendi essa palavra” (i didn’t understand this word). does it matter that by “this” word you meant “everything you said in the last five minutes? no, no it does not, because if you will remember, context is everything and if you can just understand one word, you’re well on your way to retreating from the edge of the plank dangling over the shark infested waters. and of course this person, who now recognizes you as the helpless, but hopeful pupil they MUST train, will help you understand this word because they love you and want you to succeed in life! so they repeat the word. you shake your head no. they repeat it again, this time with a nod and smile. you tilt your head as if you’re thinking of shaking it, but maybe you won’t because you mighhht understand and they begin playing charades while repeating the word. usually at this point i know in general what i’m expected to do, so i do it while continuously trying to figure out what i’m really supposed to be doing and waiting for the person to stop me and correct me. (usually i interpret not being stopped as “yay, you win, that’s close enough” until i realize the person is doing something completely different behind me looking at me with a confused look on their face wondering how i could have misunderstood them.) if they don’t get you by charades, they give up on you. or if someone who understands english is nearby, retreat to number one and ask them to “fala para ela.”

each situation has its own endearing qualities, but number three is definitely the most amusing. it’s like a live version of hangman where you guess entire words and actions instead of letters. number three is also what inspired this post because today i’m at home with the lady who helps cook and stuff and we just experienced this afresh. did i forget to mention in the case of number three, the person always expects each conversation, no matter how close together or far apart to each other they occur, to end with you understanding completely? i think now i have to either go eat my lunch or find my shoes. i don’t really know which; maybe i’ll try to distract and dazzle with a smile in case i’m wrong on both accounts.

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One thought on “life in the fast lane.

  1. you are right next to me when I read this, literally. i can picture each of these scenarios and i love them all for you and for the people involved. awkward jenna, made more awkward in times of misunderstanding. i can only love you for this post because i myself am awkward. missyou!

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