When my Brazilian friend texted me “Oiii!” back in April, I thought he was angry with me. To be fair, I think that can be somewhat attributed to my family’s 7-month sojourn to England; there, “Oi!” really is at its best in expressions like, “Oi! Stop taking the mick!” Still, I might have known the word for “hi” in Portuguese.
Clearly when I decided in June that Brazil might be on the docket, there was a lot of work to be done. Thanks to the second-hand teachings of Carolina, the Brazilian exchange student my family hosted when I was studying abroad in Sevilla, I knew the words “feijoada” and “obrigada.” And my Brazilian friends at Duke informed me that the appropriate way to sign off any conversation, verbal or written is by giving “beijos.” Maybe that’s all I really needed to know, given that this extensive vocab would not only allow me to enjoy a tasty meal but also to show my appreciation for it, and all while making an affectionate exit. Heck, armed with “oi,” which by the way, Margaret, has been added to the scrabble dictionary, I could have even politely entered the conversation in order to request said feijoada.
Despite this near fluency, I responded, on a whim, to a craigslist post offering tutoring in Brazilian Portuguese. Enter Stela, an energetic, Jill of all trades, who, immediately after I finished telling her I used to be pretty proficient in Spanish proclaimed, “Great! You know nothing! That will make you much easier to teach.” Initially affronted by this remark, I learned pretty quickly that Stela is not alone in her assertion that Spanish is of little use when learning Portuguese. At the risk of generalizing, Brazilians tend to be very proud of the difficulty and uniqueness of their language, even while telling you in the same breath that, “It’s a useless language.”