Monday, June 14, 2010

Lost in Translation

I was very fortunate that my family moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when I was 14.  I spent my high school years living in the most beautiful city in the world.  I kick myself now because I did not try every food possible while I lived in Rio.  However, I did try a number of regional dishes and some remain family favorites (subjects for blogs to come).   While exploring the Brazilian cuisine our family also tried to maintain both our family and American traditions like making homemade fudge and the Thanksgiving turkey.  Balancing the two cultures and learning the language - Portuguese - resulted in quite a number of miss-communications and some hilarious errors!

 For example, we had only been Rio a few months and Mom wanted our live-in maid/cook/friend/teacher, G, to make a pudding that that G. had made a few weeks earlier.  By this time Mom was a couple of weeks into Portuguese lessons and thought she could create a dinner menu for the family rather than let G. cook what ever she felt like.  So Mom bravely asked G. to make "pudim de" (pudding of).  G. asked "pudim de que?" (pudding of what?)  Turns out that G. had made an orange pudding that Mom had liked.  And Mom remembered it as "pudim de" not "pudim de laranja" (pudding of orange, or orange flavored pudding). G. was trying to find out what flavor of pudding Mom wanted.

My sister and I used to make up words from English when we didn't know the proper word in Portuguese
The most notable error was when we made fudge - a family favorite.  My sister and I had passed many Portuguese class vocabulary tests by the time we decided it was time to make fudge.  But we hadn't ever heard the translation of this wonderful chocolate concoction.  When we were finished we wanted to share some of this "candy of the gods" with our friend/maid.  But we didn't know the Portuguese word for fudge so we made it up (it often works).  We asked G. if she wanted any "fugie".  Apparently we got it wrong because she turned bright red (hard for a black person) and ran screaming to her room.  Turns out, we asked G. if she wanted a fuck.

G. occasionally would visit her family for the weekend.   For her first family visit during our employment she bought a guinea pig to take to her dad - a food gift.  My sister and I were horrified that anyone could eat such a darling creature; we had raised guinea pigs as pets before moving to Brazil. To dissolve our tears our dear father paid G. for her guinea pig.  We kept it outside of the kitchen.  It squealed every time the refrigerator door opened (because from whence often came lettuce).  G. repeatedly told us she was on diet but never seemed to loose weight.  Turns out that Mr. Guinea Pig ratted on her whenever she came home from night school and raided the refrigerator.  We never heard G. in the kitchen but we heard the g. pig and yelled for G. to close the refrigerator door.  G. hated that animal - it was supposed to be a food source not a diet source!

My sister and I were friends with the Brazilian girl who lived in the apartment above us.  We probably made a big mistake one evening when we were in the middle of making something - probably a cake - and we didn't have enough eggs.  So, American style, we went to our upstairs neighbor - our young friend wasn't home so we asked her maid for an egg.  We got the egg, and returned one the next day.  But looking back on the situation this was probably not "kosher".  The hired help aren't really supposed to lend stuff that isn't really theirs.

Mom and G. had a big argument before our first Thanksgiving dinner in Brazil.  Mom had invited about 10 Brazilian friends for a typical American Thanksgiving dinner and G. wanted to marinate the bird which was unheard of by American standards back then.  Unfortunately, Mom won and we all ended up with tougher jaw muscles for it.   These days it would have been OK but 40 years ago Americans hadn't heard about marinating or brining fowl.  G. wasn't necessarily ahead of her time, she just knew that Brazilian turkeys were tough birds because they walked to market, just like every other meat source in Brazil (which is why we quickly learned to only order the best cut of meat in a restaurant unless you want to chew each bite forever). We shall just say that the side dishes for the American-in-Brazil Thanksgiving dinner were superb.   But then I have never been fond of turkey.

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