Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Learning Portuguese

What's that you say? "But Michael, I thought you went to down there to teach English, not to learn a language. And why would you learn Portuguese if they speak Spanish in South America?" Well, my linguistically less-than-savvy fellow Americans, to start out they actually speak Portuguese in the largest country in the Southern Hemisphere. Go figure! It's a good thing I did a little research before plunging into this program headfirst!

As many of you may already know, I was a Spanish major in college. As some of you may know, Spanish and Portuguese are arguably the two most similar and mutually intelligible of the Romance languages. But the differences are plenty, lemme tellya. I took a couple of classes last year in "Portuguese for Spanish Speakers" more or less for fun, just to give it a try. At the time it was a less-than-attractive tongue, at least to my ear (I see an opportunity for a joke here). However, with my good friend Juste's encouragement, I stuck with. Of course, we had one of the most interesting and witty professors at Gettysburg teaching us the ins and out of a new language, which made it fun. What followed, however, were nine months of waiting around, not using Portuguese at all, save for some lessons on Livemocha.com, before I was finally plopped down in Brazil. I was not prepared, to say the least.

For anyone who thinks just speaking Spanish in Brazil will get you by, it won't, especially not for any length of time in the north or northeast of the country. Portunhol (Portugués-Espanhol hybrid) will only get you so far. Very few people up here speak or have access to Spanish. You're more likely to find people studying German and French than Spanish, from my experience. That blew my mind.

The accent here is radically different from what I was exposed to. As a comparison, I'd say my situation is equivalent to someone learning Australian English and then studying abroad in the rural south of the United States. Apples and oranges. More than anything though, it's fun! Miscommunication is usually just frustrating or funny, and rarely life-threatening. So as with many cultural differences that one must deal with when going abroad, I just smile and endure the silly, awkward, hilarious, or strange language exchanges I experience. No matter what, I come out learning something each time. For the ability to speak a new language and have the potential to communicate with millions more people, all the troubles along the way aren't really troubles at all.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Kylle, Kylle!" says the Påskebryg

Spring has spring in the Cope! For a couple of months there, I had truly forgotten what the sunshine looks like, and become as white as Gollum to boot! You can’t quite call it warm yet in Scandinavia, and yet there is this general sense of exciement and energy that’s taken over the city. A couple hours of sunlight and suddenly everyone flocks to the parks, the harbor; really, any open space will do. There is no open container law in Denmark, so it’s pretty common to see someone heading down the street casually carrying (or biking with) a six-pack…or two.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and if I had forgotten, I’m sure the church bells at Marmokirken down the street would have reminded me, as they rang for twenty minutes straight. It wouldn’t be Easter without candy and surprises, so I decided to hide chocolate eggs around my flatmates' bedrooms. Highlights of the morning include one flatmate asking if “anyone has lost an egg?” and another inquiring if he had to hide the egg again after discovering it under his pillow.

I celebrated by meeting another Fulbright scholar for brunch at the best little café we’ve discovered outside of the city., where she surprised me with not ONE but TWO Reese’s PB Eggs! Peanut butter isn’t typically used in candy here in Northern Europe, with marzipan (sweet almond paste) preferred instead. Since Europe invented Nutella I can’t fault them too much, but I would trade 30 marzipan eggs for one PB egg!

Then it was off to a friend’s apartment in Norrebro, where we gorged ourselves on chocolate bunnies and raspberry sparkling wine, which helped set the mood to paint Easter eggs. I have the art skills of a 10 year old, so my flowers came out a bit …interpretive, but Martina wisely stuck to painting polka dots, which you can never go wrong with. We decided on a stroll by the lakes to admire the sunshine, and it was one of the best afternoons I’ve had yet in Copenhagen.

Oh, I also saw the Hunger Games movie! Luckily, my sole American friend, Kristen, is also obsessed with the books and insisted on going to see the movie adaptation ASAP. My roommates were not so easily convinced, questioning, “Why is it called the Hunger Games, who would want to play that game?” Our seats were located next to two Danish men in their thirties, whose reasons for being at the movie screening still escape me. Their sole goal seemed to be drinking as much beer as possible before the end of the film. Their timing for opening said beer cans was impeccable – in the middle of a particular moving scene, the only thing you could hear besides Katniss’ sobbing was the hiss of beer tabs opening. Stay classy, stay classy.

I actually have a lot of updates to give about my classes, research, and plans for next year - so after finals this week, I'll try and do another post. Happy Påske, everyone!