While I was the “go-to” person in our family to decipher our neighbors not-so clear mastery of the English language, their requests were usually fairly simple — Can we borrow some sugar? or Can we use your telephone? (Trust me; it wasn’t that clear)
Despite those experiences as a youth, I wouldn’t consider myself to be much of an interpreter, especially on an international level.
I studied Spanish for two years in high school, but these days, the only things I really remember are a few Spanish Christmas carols, some curse words (not taught by Dora High teachers, just picked up through life) and how to ask for directions to the restroom. With that said, there’s no way I could be considered bilingual.
During a recent family trip to Disney World, I realized how incredibly lacking I am in foreign language skills.
While the Magic Kingdom was fairly deserted in mid-September, most of the visitors were from other nations.
While waiting on one of the many parades we watched during that week, we became fast friends with a Venezuelan family waiting beside us. My knowledge of Spanish was probably a little more than their knowledge of English. During our 30 minutes of standing beside each other before the parade, we communicated quite a bit, but that communication was mostly through facial expressions and laughter.
Their family consisted of a grandmother, mother, a teenage daughter and a younger daughter. I picked up the name of the younger daughter, because it’s the name of my younger sister and because the rest of her crew were constantly calling out, “Samantha,” to keep her out of the pathway the parade would be taking. Her name also happened to be the only word they said that I understood.
Despite the language barrier, Samantha and our children really hit it off. She kept asking our girls what their names were, and she struggled trying to repeat “Breeze” and “Daisy.”
After watching the parade with Samantha and her folks, we thought we’d probably never see them again. Several hours later while waiting in line to meet Woody from the “Toy Story” films, I heard a familiar squeaky voice speaking Spanish behind me. I turned and looked down to find Samantha talking with my girls again.
Samantha said, “How say your name?”
Breeze spoke extremely slow and said, “Breeeeeeeeeeeze.” (It’s funny that children even think if you speak slow that makes it easier to understand.)
During our 15-minute wait on Woody, our girls and Samantha talked and laughed, having no idea what each other were saying, and then we said our final goodbye to our new Venezuelan friends.
While my foreign language skills are pretty weak, they are nowhere near as weak as my wife’s. One of our days at Disney World, we visited Epcot. A highlight of that park is meeting Disney characters in the World Showcase area. While Andrea and the kids were waiting in line to meet Snow White, I took advantage of being in “Germany” by trying some authentic German beer.
When I returned to join the family in line, I found Andrea carrying on a conversation with two 20-ish looking girls. Andrea introduced me to the girls and informed me they were from Brazil. One of the girls keeps talking to our 5-year-old, Daisy. She asks Daisy a series of “yes” or “no” questions about Disney characters, basically stuff like, “Do you like Snow White?”
Daisy keeps answering “yes,” but Andrea keeps telling her, “Say, ‘Si!’”
As Andrea is giving Daisy a Spanish lesson, I realize that these girls are from Brazil — they don’t speak Spanish; they speak Portuguese.
While Andrea continues to tell Daisy, “Say, Si,” I try to give her a “cut it” signal by slashing my hand across my throat. After my hand motion, Andrea give me a puzzled look but continues to try to speak in Spanish to these poor Brazilian girls that have started to giggle about the situation.
I leaned in close to Andrea and whispered, “They don’t speak Spanish. Brazilians speak Portuguese.”
After the incident, we laughed and I told her that I had no idea what “yes” is in Portuguese, but at least I knew they didn’t speak Spanish. After a quick Google search, we both learned “sim” is the Brazilian Portuguese equivalent of “yes.”
It will probably be a while before we take another trip to Disney World, and I’m convinced a few copies of Rosetta Stone may need to be purchased before we do.
James Phillips is Editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.