Dr. Fitzgerald said that we were about to have an experience that will change our lives. Men was she right! Six weeks have now passed and I continue to learn a lot here in Brazil. Lesson #1: Patience and kindness go a long way. So I knew that people speak Portuguese in Brazil. However I didn’t except that only a few number of people speak English. Yeah I went through my Portuguese lessons but I didn’t master the language. So here I am in Belem and hardly anyone speaks English. Only the college students and other professionals who have gone through a higher education. I was shocked when I went to the bank and no one spoke English! NO ONE. IT’S A BANK! I quickly realized that I had to rely on what I learned in my Portuguese lessons, the Portuguese dictionary, Google translator, hand gestures, and pen and paper (for drawing when all fails).
There have been so many times when Monique and I could not communicate effectively in Portuguese. That’s after using all our resources! It sometimes gets very frustrating. I remember one incident where we went to the supermarket to buy some groceries. We also needed to get some matches for our gas stove. We forgot to look up the name using Google translator and the Portuguese dictionary didn’t have it. So I decided to walk up to the store manager and try to explain what I needed using hand gestures. That didn’t go so well. The guy just kept smiling. I didn’t have any other choice other than drawing a picture of a stove and matches on a piece of paper! The manager luckily understood my drawing. He took me to the aisle that had the matches. He smiled, shook my hand and wished me a good afternoon. I was so amazed by his kindness and patience.
That simple incident made a big impression on me. It got me thinking, how many of us are kind and patient with non English speakers back in the U.S? I have read and heard so many stories of people who are outraged by non English speakers in America. There are even blogs where people can vent about such things. Some people are even outraged that there is a Spanish option when calling banks and other businesses! I am glad that the ATM machines here have English options. I am so thankful to all the Brazilians I have encountered that have been so kind and patient with an English speaking person like me in their Portuguese speaking country. I hope that I will have the wisdom to extend the same patience and kindness to others in America who do not speak the nation’s language.