The flowers may be out but I am too much of a realist to believe winter is really over. I’ve experienced those vicious little cold snaps that leap out to slap me in the face just as I start thinking about putting a T shirt on again. So I ordered another load of logs to see us through these first uncertain weeks of early spring.
The normal log delivery guy must have been busy doing springtime preparedness things because he sent another driver. Unfortunately he didn’t tell him where I live. So the new guy phoned me and in my best Portuguese I tried to give him directions.
The trouble with this is that I have a linguistically challenged tongue that struggles to perform the kind of oral acrobatics required to pronounce certain Portuguese words. The hardest for me is the rolling R. This has given me a lot of trouble over the years. Perhaps unwisely we chose to live on a road with a name that has three of them scattered at awkward intervals along its length.
I nomally get round this by directing people to a well known lunch-time restaurant near our house called Restaurante Pão Quente (hot bread). I can say that. Just. I struggle with the Pão part of it, a sound that is half an expression of pain and half one of surprise, but I’ve developed a passably understandable version of it which has got me by over the years.
Until this time. It might have been a bad line, his hearing or my tongue having a particularly clumsy day but I could not get him to understand what I was saying. I tried the restaurant name with no success. I tried giving him our address and that went even worse. So I went back to repeating the restaurant name. ‘Pão Quente, pão, pão, pão!’, I said, over and over. As my frustration increased so did the level of my voice. I didn’t think I was shouting. It was my problem, not his. I was the one with the language difficulties. But my wife said I was shouting. So I guess I was.
We eventually agreed to meet in the village and he followed me back to the house where he made it clear he had not liked being shouted at. I don’t blame him. What really got me though was when he looked at my garage door and said, ‘You should have just said you lived in the house with the big white door’. I had nothing to say to that. One of the charms of this country is the way it is unconstricted by harsh, unyielding, irrelevant details like house numbers and addresses. This is a place of real things, a community still close enough to know who lives where without having to rely on GPS co-ordinates. So now I know.
But the story doesn’t end there. At dinner that night I was telling my children, who unlike me are fluent in Portuguese, how much trouble I had getting the log man to understand the words Pão Quente. I told them how I had said ‘Pão, pão, pão!’ and their eyes went wide. They looked at each other and then in unison threw themselves back in their chairs, laughing so hard I thought their lasagne was heading straight for the shaggy carpet beneath the table.
Once they got their breath back they explained. Apparently my pronunciation of Pão does not mean bread at all. The way I say it is the Portuguese word for the male sexual organ. Yes, it’s as bad as that. The log delivery man was only asking for directions. Simple ones. Instead he got me on the phone yelling ‘hot penis, penis, penis, penis!’ down the line. Repeatedly. With increasing degrees of urgency and desperation. I may have to change my log supplier. I don’t think I can face the man again.