I have written before about trying to adjust to the Portuguese language, and my listening comprehension difficulties. This morning I had a typical conversation – or effort thereat.
Coming home from a weekend in Lisbon I found a notice in my mailbox about an attempt to deliver a package, and please to call to arrange the pickup. So… this morning I called.
Not understanding the first few menu choices of the pre-recorded announcement, I opted for pressing 0 – I did catch something about ajuda help, so figured that might get me a live person rather than more recordings, and at least I could ask the person to repeat or speak more slowly if I didn’t get it the first time.
Woman with a lovely voice came on the line, said something which was wonderfully mellifluous and mostly passed me by, but from her inflection, and again that magic word help caught my ear – as in podia ajudar? – Can I help you? I took a deep breath and tried to explain.
Tenho noticia sobre uma caixa para mim. Tenho o numero… I had news about a box for me. I have the number (meaning the package reference). Not the most elegant way of saying, I found a slip of paper to tell me I’d missed the delivery of a package, and I’d like to arrange for delivery, but I didn’t know quite the right words for all that, so fudged with the words I could remember. It seemed to convey enough sense, the woman thanked me and asked for the number which I gave her.
She found the record and said something… at which point it occurred to me, this is always where I get into trouble: if you do manage to say something comprehensible, the other person imagines you will understand them when they answer. On the one hand, this is really nice and rather a compliment to your language skills – Gosh, I must have made sense! This works! – on the other hand, I am not yet over that deer-in-the-headlights response of just freezing and panicking and thinking, oh god, now what do I do? And when you freeze you don’t listen or comprehend very well.
Whatever she said I didn’t get, so I said as politely as I could, “Desculpe?” Sorry? She repeated herself, and I had an impression she was suggesting they could deliver that afternoon. I wasn’t going to be home, so I explained, “Preciso trabalhar no escritorio hoje, então, é possivel (and at this point I was fumbling for a dictionary to look up the next word) entregar a caixa hoje depois as cinco horas, ou talvez amanhã? Eu vou ficar na casa tudo dia amanhã.” Which means (I hoped) I have to work in the office today, so, is it possible to deliver the package today after 5:00, or maybe tomorrow? I will be at home all day tomorrow.
Again, I missed most of what she said next, and when she kindly repeated, I caught enough (the words não, no or not, and de noite, at night and hoje, today) to make me think she was saying they couldn’t deliver after 5:00 today, so I said, “Está bom, eu vou ficar na casa amanhã tudo dia, se pode entregar (thank god I kept my finger in the page of the dictionary) amanha.” That’s fine, I will stay home tomorrow all day, if you can deliver tomorrow.
Not elegant, probably not grammatical, and we won’t even discuss the accent, but it seemed to work, as her reply sounded like a confirmation of delivery tomorrow, and she asked for my phone number, which I gave her.
Now let’s see if I get a delivery tomorrow or not – then we’ll know whether I got it even remotely right.
About the picture: besides the DHL notice that started it all and the dictionary which is always to hand, those are verb conjugation sheets, regular and irregular, which really do live on the kitchen wall and I really do try to keep getting all the forms of estar and trazer through my poor addled skull. But most important is the green sticky, on which I copied a proverb which a friend very kindly sent me by way of encouragement (e obrigada uma vez mais, o meu amigo):
Quem perde os seus bens perde muito; quem perde um amigo perde mais, mas quem perde a coragem, perde tudo.
He who loses his goods loses a lot, he who loses a friend loses more, but he who loses courage, loses everything.