It’s been awhile since I’ve been in another country where I didn’t speak the language, the person that I am with didn’t speak the language, and the majority of the public doesn’t speak at least a little English. But in Sao Paulo, we encountered just that. Outside of our hosts (who constantly apologized for their English speaking skills although they were clearly better than our Portuguese) we found that very few people spoke English. There were so few English speakers that the day we went to Ibirapuera Park, a woman running by shouted to us, “English! It’s been so long since I’ve heard English.”
I gave Nellu a lot of flack for insisting his Romanian fluency allowed him to understand what people were saying at the Brazilian consulate in New York. But its true, he can understand a lot of Portuguese when spoken slowly and read enough to get us by. It’s almost become a fun party trick. (Between his grasp of Romanian – and familiarity with similar Latin languages – German, and a little Japanese, not to mention his above par IT skills, I am really glad I convinced him to come on this trip. )
But on our second day in Sao Paulo, when we finally got going and desperately needed coffee, neither Nellu’s Romanian nor my stunted French was going to get us anywhere when we tried to convey to the store clerk that we’d like milk for our coffee. Hence Nellu told me, “Until you learn the word for milk, you’ll just have to drink your coffee black.”
With the help of Google translate and a little voice coaching from our friends, we learned. It’s leite – pronounced in Sao Paulo as let-che. Although when I tried to order the coffee pictured above, I still royally confused our waitress. It must have been the scared look in my eyes as I thought, “Please understand me.”
Another fun foreigner move: at the Mercado Municipal de São Paulo, this wonderful market full of fresh foods, we ordered alcohol free beer.
Apparently, Liber means liberation from alcohol in Brazil.
More on the Mercado Municipal in the next post.