I know, I have a bit of a tendency to stammer.. or rather, not quite stammer, but more like stumbling, when I talk it’s like running downhill in flip flops, there’s so much that I want to say, and sooner or later I’m going to fall flat on my face at the bottom of the hill in a muddy pile that was once a sentence. That’s why when I travel I slow down, I take my time, I take off the verbal flip flops and I enunciate. And so when I arrived in Porto I thought, my Portuguese may be pretty much non-existent (despite having read through my phrase book about 50 times!!), but my English-speaking friends will be able to understand me. So, I arrived, and in this one apartment there are my three Portuguese friends, two people from Turkey and there was until yesterday an Italian guy, and I have also been introduced to a third Turkish guy and a girl from Finland. Can any of them understand me? No.
The stumbling stammer has been left behind in England, I’ve never spoken so clearly in my life and still, no one can understand me. It’s pretty frustrating to sit in a room with people from all over Europe, talking easily in broken English between each other and as soon as I ask ‘how are you?’ or ‘how was your day?’…. ‘what did you say?’
I think it’s partly because I say things like ‘gr-arse‘ and ‘b-arth‘ whereas they say ‘gr-ass‘ and ‘b-ath‘, but for the most part… apparently I am just too English. It’s one thing when I can’t join in a conversation because I don’t know the language, which of course is my own fault, but quite another when I can’t join in a conversation because I have the wrong accent.
Strangely, people here always presume that I’m French. I don’t know if it’s the clothes (mostly people ask if I’m French when I wear this skirt) Can’t say that I’m complaining. In fact, early today it took me five minutes to convince an elderly Portuguese woman that I am in fact English, despite my English accent and of course, the fact that I was speaking to her in English. ‘No, no, Français!’ Sure, if you say so.. it’s not an insult so, whatever.
I really have tried to learn at least some Portuguese though, but still after 9 months, I’m still stuck at the basics: hello, please and thank you. My first phrase book wasn’t really helping me though, as it contained such ridiculous phrases such as ‘Please help me, I have lost my pen’, ‘I have ripped my pants’ and ‘I have many diseases’ and in the ‘everyday use’ section, some worrying phrases about rape and murder. Yes, you could argue that these are important phrases, but everyday use? That’s worrying.
I’m sure it’ll just click for me eventually though, especially as here people are so friendly, even when they realise I can’t speak Portuguese, they insist on talking to me all the same, which is nice I suppose. I’m not really used to it yet though, I mean personally, if there is a language barrier, that ends the conversation right there unless I have to continue it, like when I am couchsurfing or if there is something urgent that I can only say in English; ‘your house is on fire’, ‘I am having a heart attack’, ‘a bird has just pooed on your head’ etc. Maybe people think I am lying, or maybe they think that as I am apparently French, I would be able to magically understand Portuguese?
Anyway, on a cheerier note, I’ve fallen a little bit for Portugal again. I realised it while sipping cappuccino on the harbour front in my favourite cafe; it’s unbelievable cheap for a harbour-front cafe, modern and beautiful and yet I’ve never seen it more than half full, which is just perfect. Porto is one of those places when you can just spend hours people watching, and I’ve started to collect interesting characters; Portuguese Sean Penn with a mouth ready for false teeth; a cat with a mouth like Carey Mulligan (as in it looks like a corner of it’s mouth is being pulled up towards the sky with a fish hook); a morbidly obese woman with smiley face shaped sweat patches (and somehow the face had a ketchup nose) on her back; Asian Indiana Jones meets Dame Edna. Everyone has something that they collect when they travel; this is mine, and I’m rather excited to add to it.
I love that Porto has red phone boxes and postboxes like in England. It’s taken me three days to re-notice since September, but there they are, right in Avenida dos Aliados. I love that the metro is 1000x simpler than those in London and Paris, though sometimes I think the simplicity takes the fun out of it somewhat, and I especially love that the metro has air con! Both the stations and the tube itself. London, take note, you may not have Porto’s climate, but for god’s sake, you need air con too! I love Livraria Lello bookshop, which is quite possibly the most beautiful bookshop of all time, though I rather wish they didn’t have a no camera rule… and I also wish they’d allow me to have a shoot there, but alas, no.
Photo from here
Photo from here
I was not at all surprised to learn that JK Rowling once lived in Porto and that this bookshop was a thread of inspiration behind Harry Potter.
I even love the beach, Matosinhos, though generally I am not a beach person. I hated it for a moment when the sand (I swear it wasn’t sand, it was glitter, someone has emptied 100 million pots of gold glitter and called it a beach), almost stripped the flesh from the soles of my feet, but I forgave it. It was my own fault, and I have learnt my lesson; keep the sandals on when it’s 35C+ degrees. The sand will be hot.