Monday, September 3, 2007

Bom frango!!

This is a story that I forgot to tell you.

Before you can become fluent in another language, you have to abandon simple translation. Learning Portuguese words and conjugations in relation to English is the first step, but to truly communicate you have to cast aside the dictionary associations in you head and embrace what words mean to the person with whom you are speaking. As my friend Riley said, “You have to forget how to talk and just talk.”

This is a story about my inability to do that.

When we first arrived in Quelimane, we stayed at the Hotel Flamingo. The Flamingo is one of the nicer hotels in Quelimane (read: the only place I would allow my mother to stay). If you remember from a few entries ago, it was a little too expensive and our budget dictated our departure.

Every hotel so far, no matter the quality of the room, has featured a breakfast of some sort. As a matter of fact, the quality of the breakfast has been directly proportional to the quality of the room. At the Flamingo, it was always nice and every day there was something a little bit different.

Keep in mind that we hadn’t had many Portuguese classes yet. We only knew a few words, two of which were “bom” (good) and “frango” (chicken). However, ask anyone in our class: if I knew any words, I would try them out on someone.

On our second to last day at the Hotel Flamingo, they served a nice grilled chicken breast. Being the cultural ambassador of the group, I decided to let the staff know that we liked the chicken.
On my next trip to the buffet to refill my coffee, I tapped the waiter on the shoulder.

“Bom frango!” I said gleefully. My enthusiasm was met by a bewildered stare. Then, a few moments later, “Ah! Bom frango, sim! Muito obrigado!” (…yes! Thank you very much!)

Connection made, right? I returned to my table to relate my latest linguistic adventure.

“Guys, I just told that guy ‘bom frango’ and he looked at me like I was crazy. I always feel like I’m saying it right and they never understand me.”

“Listen to what you said to him,” said Troy. Troy is a sage man. “Out of the blue, you told this guy ‘bom frango’. That sounds like ‘bom dia’ (good morning). Imagine if some guy from a foreign country walked up to you and said ‘Good chicken’!”

As we realized that I had just greeted the waiter with a ridiculous, if hearty, morning salutation, everyone at the table got a genuinely tear-jerking laugh at my expense. And since that day, anytime any one of us says something ridiculous, or if what we had translated in our heads doesn't really fly in Portuguese, the code word is “bom frango.”

I have told this story to many native Portuguese speakers; it flops every time. This story mostly flies with English speakers learning Portuguese. However, no one has laughed harder at this little ditty than our Portuguese teacher Olivia. It seems that, being a near-native Portuguese speaker, she has a particular appreciation for an American smiling joyfully at an unsuspecting waiter and wishing him “Bom frango!” But as hilarious as the story is by itself, she's got the best line:

“He should have said 'igualmente'!” (you too!)

6 Comments:

Blogger Laine said...

Your t-shirts look so white in the photo. Where do you wash your clothes/

September 5, 2007 at 6:39 AM  
Blogger Kenneth Cantrell said...

Wow! Have just spent the last two
hours reading all of your great
stories and adventures from the
beginning! (I'm slow but I'm very
thorough!)

Have been very busy at work and worrying with busted water pipes!
It got so dry in Murfreesboro that
the ground shrunk so tight around
the cheap plastic pipes that it
bursted them! Can't complain since they lasted 32 years! My point is that we have our own dry season here in Tennessee!

Thoroughly enjoy reading of your
adventures in Africa! Laine's favorite line is Meryl Streep's
"I had a farm in Africa"

This is a great adventure for the both of you, and I appreciate your
courage for taking on this project. (We suffered with limited use of water for about eight days, along with having no internet nor telephone service for about ten days due to an electrical storm.
You only have to be without something for only a little while to appreciate what you normally take for granted.)

I think it helps us to realize and appreciate your adventures in Africa even more!

Be careful, Stay Healthy and keep
us posted of your great adventures!

Kenneth

September 8, 2007 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger Kristi said...

Don't worry Kevin, I'm having language problems too! The other day, I got in an elevator, and an older gentleman started speaking to me in German. He seemed really nice, so I thought, I should try to tell him I don't speak German. So, I tried to say, "Bitte, Ich sprechen kein Deutsch" (Sorry, I don't speak German) However I said "Dutch" instead of "Deutsch." He laughed heartily, then said in perfect English, "Well, neither do I!"

September 11, 2007 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

As for laundry... our empregado, Paulo does it. There are no washers or dryers here. They put clothes in buckets with this unbeleivablely powerful stuff called OMO (I think it's powdered bleach). The clothes soak in buckets, then they scrub them outside on a concrete washboard thing, rinse once, and hang them on a line. It gets them clean, but not rinsed well. I think I may be having a little contact dermatitis problem from the OMO. Either that or a parasitic disease. I'm going to go with contact dermatitis. Anyway, this method also is destroying the clothes. Gettting scrubbed against concrete wears them out really fast. This picture was taken only a few days after our arrival in Quelimane. Our clothes are swiftly becoming dingy and threadbare! Which is just as well, because they are cooler threadbare.

September 15, 2007 at 5:38 AM  
Blogger Olivia said...

I have to say that even though I wasn't there for the actual event, "Bom Frango" was one of my favorite Kevin moments (closely followed by the bicycle taxi event and Aguinaldo's mother commenting on his legs). Anyone who has spent any time (at all) with Kevin knows that his ability to tell a story is priceless. And one of the brilliant things about Lara is that underneath the polished, innocuous-looking exterior lies a sharp wit and keen sense of humor - a fabulous pair. I wish I had kept better track of all of the amusing things that happened during our classes. There were many many moments of hilarity. What a lucky Profesora to have had the opportunity to spend time with this crew!
Saudades da Professora Olívia

October 5, 2007 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger Olivia said...

I have to say that even though I wasn't there for the actual event, "Bom Frango" was one of my favorite Kevin moments (closely followed by the bicycle taxi event and Aguinaldo's mother commenting on his legs). Anyone who has spent any time (at all) with Kevin knows that his ability to tell a story is priceless. And one of the brilliant things about Lara is that underneath the polished, innocuous-looking exterior lies a sharp wit and keen sense of humor - a fabulous pair. I wish I had kept better track of all of the amusing things that happened during our classes. There were many many moments of hilarity. What a lucky Profesora to have had the opportunity to spend time with this crew!
Saudades da Professora Olívia

October 5, 2007 at 9:26 PM  

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