Communication Discord

Music and Lyrics

I’m trying to find humor in the fact that I still can’t speak Portuguese very well.

A few days ago, I went to a salon to get my hair colored and cut, and to have a manicure. I didn’t anticipate too many difficulties; I’d been there before. Granted, I had previously come with an entourage that included my Brazilian mother-in-law and my daughter, both of who’s need for attention downplayed my inability to properly speak the language.

I walked into the salon in the morning hoping, but not hopeful, to make an appointment for that afternoon or the following morning. After a sputtering of my Portu-Spanish (in Brazil, they call it Portunol – Portuguese and Espanol), and waving of my arms, the woman at the reception finally remembered me. She agreed to schedule me see the same person I had last time and was able to make it for that afternoon. The ease of the availability should have been my first clue.

Now, there are some benefits to not speaking the native language of a country. For example, I’m not particularly fond of chatting it up when having my hair or nails done. I enjoy the peace and the retreat of being tended to, be it in a foreign country or the United States. So I used my “Desculpe, eu não entendo” probably more than I needed to that particular afternoon. (This only inspired the manicurist to attempt to teach me words in Portuguese, which disturbed my peace as I felt obligated to nod my head as I repeated things that she said.)

A few minutes after the stylist put the color on, it began to burn my head. In an English speaking country, or if I happen to speak Portuguese, I could simply say “Excuse me. My scalp is burning. Could you please take this off my head.” Instead, I released a soft shriek and began digging through my purse for my Portuguese dictionary. I was panicked and could not even recall the Spanish words for what I was experiencing. This caused the stylist and manicurist, in addition to the other patrons, to look at me in curiosity and concern. No luck in the purse, I started to frantically tap away at my iPod for google translate in hopes of communicating the increasingly painful situation. My shrieks grew louder, and I  pointing to my head and yelling things like “pain,” “burn” and “fire,” hoping that there would be some recognition. People began to circle around me. Finally someone figured out what might be happening and suggested that the stylist wash my hair. One seared scalp, and a jack-ass haircut, later, I left seriously discouraged.

(Ok, so it’s a little bit funny.)

What I do find humorous is the Brazilian interpretation of some of our songs. At the dinner table one night, Sophia began to sing the “I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee” song. Something that she was taught at her school, I knew, because they were learning about bumblebees. I don’t know how many of you know this song. It is not actually a song that I learned in school, but instead, learned on the playground from older children when the teacher was out of earshot. It involves smashing a bumblebee in the hands, wiping it on the shirt, and the lyrics get more and more disgusting and disturbing from there. From what I remember, it was only a couple jungle-gym rungs away from “I’m running past first and my pants begin to burst… diarrhea.”

Yet, they are teaching it in the Brazilian preschools (not just my daughter’s, but also other preschools, I’ve learned). I get it. It has a happy, catchy, melody, but that is, essentially, the joke.

I decided not to say anything. I’m certain that the British snicker under their breath as we teach our children “Ring Around the Rosie,” which references the rosy, red rash symptoms of the bubonic plague and the fact that they had to cremate the bodies in order to cease the dead-body smell and decrease further spread of the disease.

It’s not my first experience with musical misinterpretation.

My husband and I had our church wedding and reception in Buzios, Brazil, a beautiful resort-town/fishing village a few hours outside Rio de Janeiro. My mother-in-law offered to plan the entire wedding if we agree to have it in Brazil. I jumped at the chance, thrilled to be able to simply show up in a white dress and be surprised.

However, the night before the ceremony, we had unexpected responsibilities. The Catholic church in the small town had some specific conditions, including the fact that we were required to hire the local church musicians to play at our wedding. The church director explained that we could select six songs, but all needed to be of religious content. At this event in the church basement, we were joined by my mother-in-law, her best friend, and her best friend’s husband, for supervision, in addition to the church director, a keyboardist, and two vocalists from Buzios.

Though both of us were Catholics of record, my husband and I were stumped after AveMaria. The Brazilian crowd was of no help (two jews and an atheist). So the church director adjusted to our situation and granted us an extension of the musical genre. We could include classical music, but there was one parameter we were working within. The musicians had to be familiar with the music. Not an easy task, as our keyboardist was not a student of classical music, but we managed to hobble together a list of five songs, leaving one empty slot.

Again we were stumped. All of our selections were either already on the list, or not within the repertoire of our musical trio. Being that my brother was a classical guitarist, and luckily in Buzios for the wedding, I called for his advice and asked him to meet me outside the church.

I was only gone for about 10 minutes, so I don’t know how things took such a wrong turn. I returned to the church basement with my brother. The musicians were packing up. Everyone was smiling at the apparent finality of this daunting task.

“What happened?” I asked.

I was told they had selected the final song. Yesterday by the Beatles. Neither of the religious nor classical genres.

“Yesterday?” I stuttered. “‘All my troubles seem so far away, now it looks as though they’re here to stay’ Yesterday?”

“Yes,” my mother-in-law responded. “It’s a beautiful song.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Wait. ‘Suddenly, I”m not half the man I used to be, there’s a shadow hanging over me,’ Yesterday?”

The mood in the room shifted quickly. In their eyes, I had become a Bridezilla. My brother went to go hide in a far, dark corner of the church basement. He could see where this was going and wanted no part of it.

My mother-in-law’s best friend chimed in. “The tune is so lovely.”

“No. Not happening. I will not have people listening to ‘Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t stay’ at my wedding.”

My husband went to join my brother in the corner.

“But no one will know the words,” offered my mother-in-law.

Now I was angry. “At least half a dozen Americans will be wondering why we selected a morbidly suicidal Beatles song while these two (I pointed to the now frightened and confused church singers, who actually didn’t understand the lyrics because they didn’t speak any English) are belting out ‘I did something wrong, now I long for yesterday!’ People will be questioning the validity of my marriage before it’s even final!”

Eventually they backed down. My brother offered up another classical selection, one that failed to register in my brain because I was still steaming over the Yesterday battle.

However, I still wonder to this day, had a truck not hit a tree the morning of our wedding, knocking down a power line and killing all electricity within a five-mile radius of the church and, therefore, making it impossible to have any live music, if Yesterday might have shown up on the playlist anyway.

I guess I’ll never know.

For more Born Again Brazilian, go to

Gallery | This entry was posted in Culture Conflicts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Communication Discord

  1. I have lived in Brazil for a year now, I understand the language barrier can be frustrating and amusing. I once asked for a crash helmet for my cow.

  2. HA! I know. I’ve told people that I’ve finished eating my purse. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Pingback: Update: Communication Discord | born again brazilian

  4. Pingback: Update: Communication Discord | born again brazilian

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s