One of the reasons I enjoy traveling is the smaller cultural differences that you discover. Those things that you don’t realize until you’re in the country and experiencing them, that aren’t worth mentioning as huge things to someone going to that country. In Brazil, where I speak just enough broken Spanish to kind of convey what I need in Portuguese, a lot of these moments turned out to be language driven. I mean this in a way beyond the obvious differences in pronunciation that confound me greatly, although letters are read rather differently here.
We drove by many truck stops and corner markets. They all advertised “Gelo Cristal”. Did these people of small towns secretly all down luxury champagne like rap videos? Were there so many loaded tourists stopping at these middle of nowhere truck stops on a dusty road? No, they were just advertising that they sell clear ice, as opposed to some other form of cloudy, muddy ice.
My favorite language confusion moment came when I was having dinner with a woman from Manaus, the largest city in the Amazonas region. She is a court reporter, language teacher, and had fantastic English and I’m told, French as well. Her interest in the nuance of language was high. She asked me the difference between the words salary and income, they were not described to be different in books. Then she told me about her work, and as a funny story mentioned that in Brazil you can be sued for being cursed. My mind raced, were shamans and witches running around in squabbles that ended in courts and jails? It took a few moments on blank looks on the rest of the English speakers at the table for us to realize what had happened. No, you can be sued in Brazil is someone swears at you and you get offended at the curse words.
It’s funny little incidents like this that made me wish I spoke the language of each country I am in more. So that I can converse with the locals and laugh at the unexpected and untranslatable things. That story does make me wonder though. It’s good to know I won’t be random assailed by black magic in the Amazon, but how do Brazilian soccer matches not just end in a million lawsuits?