Dangerous Words

My language tutors here warned me about a particularly dangerous problem with Spanish and Portuguese.

Apparently there is a word in Portuguese for “embarrass” that means “pregnant” in Spanish. Now, I can understand that in the past the one could lead to the other. However, one needs to be very careful when traveling around that one does not become cockily sure of one’s language skills and cause personal (and professional) embarrassment by basically saying that one is a promiscuous cross-dresser in a business context.

There is another problem though.

Don’t always trust the locals. The other morning I went to breakfast and saw the milk standing there with the following tag: leite quente. I knew from other places that leite means milk and asked the waiter what quente means. He, with confidence like Albert Einstein describing relativity, said “cold”. I try to make mental associations between words so I’ll remember them and associated quente with quench (to make cold).

A little later, I was on my way to get vinte cervejas and thought I’d toss in a little flair to show my host how far I’d come with the language. I put the quente at the end – vinte cerevejas quente I boldly told the waiter.

The effect was not what was anticipated. There was a stunned look on everyone’s face and that look of bewilderment that could be associated with finding out that one’s dog can actually speak.

I did notice this and asked what was wrong, only to be told that quente means “hot”. So now I make sure I ask two people the meaning of a word before making my mental maps.

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