Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Native Tongue - Lincoln, MA

Nico adds Spanish to his book of tricks

This morning I was out in the woods with my favorite sidekick named Coal. We ran into an older Asian man with his little fluffy dog, which was off-leash like my dog. I said "good morning" and he mumbled back. The two dogs ran and chased each other and played for a couple of minutes and I tried several times to converse with the owner. Finally it dawned on me that the man spoke no English.  After our dogs tired a bit, I waved at the man and we kept on our way.

My walks in the woods are when I most like to think about "stuff." Stuff like which summer camp my kids should do, whether or not there will be snow at the ski mountain this weekend and if we need milk. Important stuff. Also I wonder about which dead animal Coal is digging up and eating. Okay, other stuff too like what is happening with ISIS, the impeachable president of Brazil, will we ever sell our house there, etc.

This morning I thought about language and how it makes many Americans completely crazy. I can almost see the posts about how someone walked into the restaurant and didn't speak any English!! Can you believe it? Or asked for directions in a foreign language... or answered in an accent that was not understandable. I too am guilty of the occasional facebook post about Southampton soccer coaches whom I can't understand.

Here's the reality. We all need to get out of our country. Not as tourists. To live. I lived in Brazil for nine years. For the first six months of that tour of duty, I spoke no Portuguese. I tried and failed, and then asked the person if they spoke English. Most of the time, they did not. But never once did I get someone saying: "She can't speak Portuguese!! Can you believe it? She comes to our country to live and does not speak Portuguese!"  And I even had a major cheat sheet in BH, who was then BB (Brazilian boyfriend).

Within the first year I could speak passable Portuguese; now I am fluent. Unless the person is from the state of CearĂ¡, and then I have no idea what they are saying to me. Much like how I feel when speaking to Brits and they say stuff like "poncy" and I say "hunh?" Fiona, I mean you. Also native  Bostonians: what are they saying anyway?

The truth of the matter is that I went home and cried every single night that I did not understand Portuguese or speak it. But no one gave me a hard time. When my stepson Pedro came to live with us in Miami at age 14 for one year, his English was terrible. And the kids made fun of his accent (teenagers are notoriously mean anyway, but still). I never saw him cry but he was hurt for sure.

My kids, age 8, have Brazilian accents. I only notice it when I talk with them on the phone. Their English is fine. And they are bilingual, so they have that going for them. Well, except for the fact that they have an American accent in Portuguese. If you make fun of them, you will have to deal with mama bear. That is me. I am frequently crabby.

So although you will find me making fun of Brits at regular intervals because seriously, how can you resist laughing when someone smells "pongy"? But I can guarantee you that I will not be giving anyone who does not speak English here a hard time. Chances are they are trying. Chances are they go home at night and cry because they are isolated.  Maybe they don't. But do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

You are only allowed to disagree with me if you have lived in a foreign country that does not speak your native tongue for a period of one year or more.  Bring it.

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