Portuguese Language and Hospitality

Eduardo worked as a server in a local restaurant/bar. About 40 yeas old he was born in Portugal but moved to Angola in Africa as a boy. A Portuguese colony until Portugal granted in full independence in 1975, Angola has struggled with political and economical uncertainty since its independence.

With a small frame, salt and pepper hair and an attractive and angular face he sucked on a Marlboro cigarette while draining a Portuguese beer. As Tim and I struggled to communicate with the four women sitting at the table next to us, Eduardo smiled, caught my eye, nodded and went on to drinking and smoking. This went on for 30 minutes or more until the women left.

The beauty of traveling abroad is the interaction with local people. People of different cultures, people who speak different languages, people different than you in so many ways. We all have stories of people we meet on the road in foreign countries. People who open their homes to you, go out of their way to help you with language, take time out of their day to tour the town or just to simply learn more about you as you learn about them.

His eye contact, smiles and facial expressions were of a casual voyeur and eavesdropper eager to share in the comedy. So when we approached him with inquiry about the conversation and the humor he just smiled and spit out a string of Portuguese words. He didn't speak a bit of English. I tried my best Spanish on him and soon we seemed to be communicating. We offered him a beer but he declined.

There is such a degree of unselfishness in the hospitality and warmth of these people you don't know and chances are may never see again. On the streets of our towns and cities in American I find there to be so much fear, paranoia and simply people too busy in their daily lives. And I wonder if foreign visitors to our country receive the same hospitality? Would you take a day out of your life to take a visitor around your town, to a government office to help in paperwork or into your home for dinner with your family? Think about it. And these are of the experiences my new friends have done to help this foreign visitor.

Eduardo sat there smoking. His beer finished he just sat and waited as Tim and talked and finished our beers. Soon we were the only three left in the cafe/bar with the staff standing around, tapping their toes and waiting for us.

Eduardo was eager to show us his town. To show us where he worked. So we followed him around the corner to the restaurant bar and were greeted with the pulsing beat of rock music and an attractive 20 something group packing the tables and bar of this hip Porto hangout. For the next several hours (this bar closed at 4am) I learned of his wife, his leave from Africa due to economic conditions and his daughter in law school. I also interrupted his observations an judgements of some of the young people that were working in this bar. And all of this without knowing a bit of Portuguese.

To be sure, Portuguese is a difficult language. There are some similarities to Spanish as there are in most romance or Latin-based languages. But Portuguese has a harder edge yet a smooth drawling resonance to it. On the radio at on e moment you could confuse it with German with the harsh angry attack that some speakers give it and at moments Russian with strange sounds. None of the spoken Portuguese I heard had the soft, sensual and seductive quality of Stan Getz & João Gilberto's Girl from Ipanema.

Eduardo both proud and non-chalant gave us a private tour of the dining room upstairs. At once happy to be working as a server but another a look on his face of someone who wanted to do more ut happy to work so hard so his daughter could grow up with a better life than he. Soon we parted our ways and handing us a card the sincerity in his good-bye and hugs were felt as he urged us to comeback and have dinner when he worked.

I'm not sure when we'll be back in Porto. But when I do return I'll look up Eduardo and hope to share with him a few more words — perhaps this time even in Portuguese.