Across the Pond – The Spectator
Note: “Across the Pond” is a column in which freelance writer Grace Schutte will write about her study abroad experience in Valladolid, Spain.
Last week was Carnival: A week-long outdoor party that at one time had religious origins, but is now an excuse to drink outside and stumble through the winding cobbled streets at ungodly hours.
It is very similar to Mardi Gras if that can give you an idea.
But today, I’m not here to talk about Carnival shenanigans, or the number of drunken men and women I saw peeing in the streets. Today I speak the Portuguese language.
The university where I study during my stay in Spain granted us a few days off to indulge in all the antics of the carnival. So when the time came, a group of my friends and I hopped on the cheapest Ryanair flight to Portugal, we were able to find.
Portugal is a small country located west of Spain. Many assume they are similar, thanks to their closeness. But, they have always been separated geographically and are two distinct countries, with their own unique languages.
My friends and I hadn’t given much thought before. Anyway, we soon found ourselves at Lisbon airport with no way to communicate.
Or so we thought.
We headed for a line of taxis outside the main gates of the airport – our hostel was an hour and a half walk away and we were all tired from our travels. At the head of the line, a policeman helped direct the different groups to their rides. He spoke English and managed to get a big enough taxi for our group.
We quickly learned that our driver – a quiet, elderly man – spoke no English. I helplessly showed her the address on my phone and sat down, ready for a 20-minute ride in silence.
But, from time to time, he spoke, generally to point out a monument or a district of the city that we had to visit during our stay. But when he did, it was always in Portuguese. And the craziest thing is that I understood it.
When spoken, Portuguese – to me, at least – sounds like a combination of Italian and French, with its almost singsong sound. All s are more like z’s, a feature in direct contradiction to Spanish, and word endings are less pronounced.
Despite all this, because Portuguese and Spanish share Latin as a foundation, I could understand what he said in his language and respond in mine.
My mind was blown.
Generally speaking, it is normal for Europeans to speak more than one language; however, because Lisbonthe capital of Portugal, is a leading tourist destination, most speak three or four.
The fact that we were there during Carnival, a peak time for travel, further amplified this. While walking down the street, more than five distinct languages could be chosen at any time. When you meet a foreigner, the first thing you ask is, “What languages do you speak?”
My little language learning heart soared the whole time.
It was bad to speak in English in Spain. I mean, the reason I’m here in the first place is to improve my second language – in Portugal, however, it was like an extra tool in my arsenal. That, and my broken and imperfect Spanish, was another valid option for communication.
Do I now want to drop everything and learn Portuguese? Have I already checked the prices of apartments in Lisbon? Yes and yes. But, now that I’m back in Spain, it reminds me of all that I still have to discover here.
In what world are we living.
Schutte can be reached at [email protected].