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🇵🇹⛰️ Portuguese Verbs in Norway

When my wife and I travel inside of Europe, tour guides and waiters are polite and ask us where we are from. I tend to blurt out “Portugal” - I think I do this to feel special. Despite the overwhelming American-ness about me, I desperately do not want to come across as an American. At least, not when I’m in a place that tourists visit. When we’re in our locals-only neighborhood in Lisbon, I feel no shame walking my dogs with a backwards Yeti baseball cap, athleisure shorts, a three-day beard, and some loafers.

I don’t think saying “Portugal” is a lie. If you were from Chicago, but lived in New York for five years, you’d tell someone you were visiting from New York. I’m not fibbing, it’s just a complicated answer on a continent that consists of ethno-states. I might be “from Portugal” but I am not Portuguese. Still, I don’t want to bother them with my life story and so I just respond with “Lisbon.” People mostly look at me with a quizzical stare.

I try even harder if I’m around other Americans. I am not proud of this. I’m sorry. I don’t do it because I’m embarrassed by Americans abroad. We’re absolutely better tourists than the British at this point. We got the feedback and adjusted. The Americans who show up in Europe these days seem, broadly, to be respectful and curious. We come across as Canadian now.

I just don’t want other Americans to know that I am one of them. I spent years building a new life in a new country. They are ordering coffee in English. I wind up terrified of interacting with random American tourists because they make me feel less unique. I know, I know, I should get over myself. This is a “me” problem, but it became an “us” problem in rural Norway a couple weeks ago.

About seven hours north of Oslo sits the Tafjordfjella mountain range. Nestled into a river valley that runs into one of the fjords is a small collection of ultra modern cabins. You might recognize them from films like Ex Machina or tv shows like Succession. You can rent the house where Oscar Isaac played a tech billionaire killed by AI. I did.

Hotel

The house sits about 100 yards from a converted barn where other guests of other cabins in the valley gather for a kind of communal dinner. This barn staff sits the guests down at a long table and serves a set menu. Guests are not overtly encouraged to chat or make friends, but it would be awkward if they didn’t.

Dinner

When they have more guests than can fit at the long table, though, they sit the overflow at a four-top by the window. In cases where four guests are staying together, this is probably great. On our first night they sat us here next to an American woman from DC and her mother.

And they exuded more American-ness than I do when I’m trying to stand out in Lisbon. Yoga pants at dinner! They talked about how much somebody’s house costs. They complained about work while on summer vacation. They put an ice cube in their white wine. My insecurity took over and, before we introduced ourselves, I asked my wife in Portuguese if we could switch over to Portuguese for the whole conversation. She relented. We proceeded to hide in plain sight in a language I was absolutely certain the Americans next to me could not understand (or place - many Americans guess that spoken European Portuguese is Russian the first time they hear it).

When we switch to Portuguese, the typical word proportion in our relationship inverts. In English, I am chatty. My wife is an introvert who is pensive and thoughtful. I cajole. In Portuguese, she dominates the conversation because, well, she speaks Portuguese. She is an intelligent woman, a Lisbon-based marketing executive, who works in a professional office in Portuguese.

I am not. The other day my company had “kids day” in our Lisbon office. I had no idea this was planned but when I arrived and found dozens of five year olds clamoring around our workstations my first thought was “excellent - Portuguese speakers on my level.”

Like most dinners in Europe with set menus, we stared down the barrel of a four-course meal. By the time our entree arrived my wife had grown weary of keeping up the charade with her date who mostly grunted in nodding affirmations. She demanded that I use more verbs or should we rat us out as secret Americans.

That presented a challenge. Here are the verbs I feel confident using in Portuguese:

  • Want
  • Need
  • Can
  • Do
  • Drink

An essential list but not one that makes for companionship. I do, however, attend a lot of Portuguese football games with my Portuguese buddies. These are rowdy dudes who bottle up decades of Iberian emotion that they only know how to express in a football stadium. I love them so much. And when they express that emotion, they do so colorfully.

Even the five year olds! After a Sporting player missed a fairly open goal kick I watched a small boy next to me stand in his chair and call the player, in Portuguese, a “dickhead son of a bitch” at full shouting volume. The adult fans around us nodded.

Desperate to keep my wife entertained and more desperate to avoid having to talk to fellow Americans, I reached for the one verb I learned from attending football matches with my friends. I looked her dead in the eyes and proudly inquired:

Queres foder agora?

“Do you want to fuck right now?”

Got her! She set the challenge and I rose to meet it. And, for a brief second, I was in charge of the conversation. She does not think I am funny in any circumstance and especially in this case. She rolled her eyes, reassembled her generally perfect poise, and moved on to discussing the agenda for tomorrow.

I figured I was in the clear with my crassness. As far as I could tell, we were surrounded by Americans, Brits, and Germans - the Portuguese spend August vacations at beaches.

The next morning, I made my way to the communal breakfast while my wife slept in. I’m an early riser. I sat down by myself at the long table with the latest edition of the Economist and a coffee. A glamorous couple sat down next to me. They had been at dinner the night prior, but seated closer to the kitchen. I nodded politely. They smiled and greeted me, in a Brazilian accent, bom dia - Portuguese for “good morning.” Fuck.

Published Oct 20, 2023

Austinite in Lisbon. Emerging Tech at Cloudflare.Sign up for emails