25 March 2010
MY SECRET FRIEND
I have written several posts about how difficult it was for me to learn Portuguese and some of the humorous mistakes Americans have made when trying to speak the language in Brazil.
In Peace Corps Training, language learning was concentrated only on conversation. When we arrived in Brazil, we hadn't been taught to read or write the language. Although we were all college graduates, we were Portuguese illiterates.
Despite my many Portuguese language mistakes, Brazilians sometimes make mistakes, too.
One year before Christmas, the young adults who lived at the pensão plus a few others who were not from Glória, but who worked there, decided to add a little interest for the holiday by creating a Secret Friend activity. Each person pulled a name from a hat. We were supposed to write notes to our Secret Friend for about a week. Then before Christmas, we were to give a small gift and reveal our identities.
There were lots of interesting people at the pensão, mostly government workers and bankers, and most of the young adults there were gregarious and full of fun. But I had picked the name of the only guy who was introverted and rarely said a word.
What could I write to him? And, of course, even though my Portuguese was improving, if I wrote in my less-than perfect Portuguese, he would know immediately the notes were from me. So I asked my friend Nancides to help me write notes to my Secret Friend. In fact, I asked him to help me compose them and also to actually write them, because my American penmanship was so distinctive.
I didn’t know at the time, but coincidentally, that guy chose my name, so we were writing notes to each other.
The idea was to write something short, funny, and clever. However, my Secret Friend was writing pages and pages of flowery prose, praising my beauty, my charming accent, my fair complexion, my long legs, my light hair. I had no idea who was sending me these letters, but it seemed the guy had a crush on me and was sending me inappropriately passionate messages, as if this game gave him permission to woo me.
At lunch time, everyone would bring their notes to lunch to read out loud and every one would speculate on who had written them. I didn’t want to read the letter I had received ---it was embarassing. But I asked Nancides to read a small portion, claiming it would take too much time to read it all. At random, he chose a paragraph. Suddenly everyone was laughing. I didn’t understand why, but then Nancides explained.
I can’t remember the exact mistake in Portuguese, but the writer had done the equivalent of leaving out an important comma, which made a sentence that was obviously meant to say, “I dream of you, Virgin....” In other words, he meant to call me Virgin, as someone might refer to a person as Honey, or Sweetheart. But by leaving the comma out before the word Virgin, he actually had written, “I dream of you as a virgin...” In other words, I was obviously not a virgin, but he dreamed of me as if I were.
Of course, this had completely gone over my head. But when it was explained, I ---not normally one to be embarassed ---blushed. And the guy who wrote it, although we hadn’t known who my Secret Friend was, turned bright red, too. Thus he had inadvertently revealed his identity.
Poor guy. He probably never dared write a passionate love note to anyone ever again.