My Portuguese Mailbox

One of the smaller but noticeable differences between life here in Portugal and life in the UK or the States is that they are very big on stuffing mailboxes full of promotional materials.  Many mornings you see groups of people, usually teenagers, in uniform t-shirts, hauling a shopping cart full of flyers, and methodically stuffing them down every mailbox they can find.

Most of it is what you would expect, and goes straight into the recycling bin before I even enter the building – sale flyers from the local supermarkets, homewares or garden centres, and the local freebie newspaper.  The newspaper nearly always features a photo of someone sufficiently good looking to catch your eye – but no article I’ve read yet has ever made clear any affiliation whatsoever between these people and my neighbourhood.  Usually they are a Brasilian telenovela star who lately made a guest appearance in Lisboa or Faro – i.e. at the other end of the country.  Recycle those, then!

One of the few things I’ve kept is the Ikea catalog.  Not that I expect to need anything, but the catalog is the best imagineable “pictionary” for household goods, and I do study it from time to time to learn words and expressions.


The best part is, it seems to have actually been written by someone Portuguese – the words are the words I hear people using when I am in the shops, and when I use them myself, I get what I intended.  Clearly a mesa de cabaceira is a bedside table (cabaceira is something at the head), taça de servir must be a serving bowl, lanterna is close enough to English to be obvious even without the photo, c/vela grossa must mean with (c/ for com) a big or fat candle – I cross check a standard dictionary and grossa means thick.  Almofada is a pillow, and when I look in the bedding section, the word is used for both pillows for sleeping as well as decorative ones.  Espelho is a word I always forget for some reason (denial?), but this reminds me, mirror.  The only one that threw me is at top right – pelucha.  Did that mean stuffed animal or snake particularly, or is this one of those draft catchers you put along the foot of a door or window?  Check regular dictionary – it means plush, and by extension, a plush or soft toy.

This in contrast to the Dorling Kindersley Portuguese / English pictionary, which uses a number of either very old-fashioned and formal or simply wrong words.  I know THAT for a fact, because I carefully swotted up one day on the meat section, went to the butcher’s to exercise my new-found vocabulary, and we couldn’t figure each other out at all.  He is a lovely man, very patient and happy to help me with language skills as well as meat, so I went home to fetch the dictionary, and showed him the picture of what I wanted and the word it assigned.  My butcher looked at it, chuckled, and just said, “Não” and shook his head.  He fetched what was in the picture and taught me the correct word, and explained the word in DK meant something totally different, and furthermore was a word used by “velhos” – old people.  Oops.  Wish Ikea did groceries.  The flyers from the supermercados are often just lists of prices, with no pictures, so I can’t always be sure quite what’s meant.

But my mailbox also gets a fair few tiny handbills or cards from local businesses.  The ones from the mens’ hairdresser and car radiator shop go into the recycling, the one for a local yoga class is interesting – kept that one.  But what really fascinates me are all the fliers from the local psychics.  Forget the port trade, it’s necromancy and fortune telling that really thrive here in Vila Nova de Gaia, to judge from my mailbox.  Most Masters or Reverends (!!) of Spirituality offer a range of tarot, palm reading, astrology, tea-leaf reading, talking with spirits, you name it, something will work to tell your future!  At least one claims a PhD in fortune telling.

But this one took the cake:

Top line:  You have serious problems

First thought:  no question mark?  Just the bald statement, I’ve got ’em whether I know it or not?  Hmph.  Second thought:  did this go to everyone in the building, or is this guy just picking on me?

Master K— has both a business and mobile phone!  Somehow I hadn’t imagined these people to be so technologically hip.  I wonder (irreverently) if iPhone or Blackberry have Ouija Board applications yet.

The rest translates roughly:  Come visit the grand master, now also in Vila Nova de Gaia (meaning…? he’s half in some other realm at the same time?)  Solve all your problems, whatever the situation (love, business, illness).  You being in whatever part of the country or foreign.  Assuntos, like so many Portuguese words, has many shades of meaning according to context, so something like Serious and rigorous matters (is he referring to my problems, or his skills?).  Spiritualist and curandeiro – the dictionary offers both “healer, medicine man” and “quack” – oh gosh, another one of those awkward situations don’t know which way to construe the word in this context!!  Hours from 8:30 till 23:00.  What, you mean spirits need sleep too?

I’m keeping this one tacked to the fridge door, if my Portuguese doesn’t get better soon, I may need his help.

2 thoughts on “My Portuguese Mailbox

  1. Hey, Cynthia. I enjoyed this post. Maybe you should collaborate on a quick reference guide that includes pictures with the local butcher. ;-)

    I’m not kidding, actually. It’s hard enough translating between America and England and that’s all in English. Pudding, cookies, biscuits, pasties (I always thought they were things strippers wore; apparently they’re a food. ;-) ) My English friend and I are always misunderstanding each other. Makes for some fun conversations.

    • Hello Margaret! You’re kind not to have given up on me yet! I do actually want to write about the butcher and some of the things available there I’ve not seen in other countries, but it would have to carry a warning, not for the vegetarian or even faint hearted. And I sympathise – chuckling – re American / British English. After a day or two at my first job in England my boss decided to call me in and set me straight before I made trouble, or embarassed all concerned. The conversation was a riot, but bless him for it, it was a very good idea.

Comments are closed.