29 May 2010

A Brief Episode

Sometimes I really lament that I'm not completely fluent in Portuguese.  Like today, for example.

I'm planning a party where my friends from all over the world are making food from their countries and bringing it to my place.  It should be fun.  I'm going to *try* to make apple pie and pancakes. 

So I'm at the grocery store, and I get in the shortest checkout lane, which is what I would have done in the States and have been doing here since February.  After a few minutes, a woman comes up, glances at me, and cuts me.  Puzzled, I casually step back to my place in line-- Maybe she just wanted to get out of traffic?  We do this dance a few times, when suddenly she starts yelling at me in Portuguese and pointing at a sign above the register.  She's speaking entirely too fast for me to understand, so I calmly say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Portuguese very well, I can't understand you."  This just inflames her more and makes her point even more earnestly at the sign, the sign that is composed entirely of words I don't know.  At this point, all I know is she's angry and she feels the sign in some way justifies that she be in front of me.  Still clueless as to why, I just gave up and said, "Ok, I don't understand anything you're saying.  Just tell me where to go." 

What I really wish I could have said is, "I don't understand you or the sign.  I just want to buy my apples, go home, and make a pie.  I'm tired.  I'm tired of people like you assuming I'm trying get one over you, especially in petty situations like the grocery store line.  I'm tired of trying to be a 'good American' by constantly trying to use your language and accepting your norms.  My fourth language is Portuguese, so forgive me if I don't speak it perfectly yet after just three months of not even studying it, just trying to pick it up in my classes and in the streets.  How many languages do you speak?  Have you ever made a mistake in a foreign country and been publicly yelled at?  Do you know how it feels?  Would it have killed you to show some compassion on a lonely, lost American girl?  No, no it wouldn't.  Shame on you and how you're treating me.  It's not acceptable.  Even here."

Instead I silently moved to a different line.  



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