The struggle to communicate

Getting sense out a rental-car company can be hard: now try it when the person at the other end of the line doesn’t speak the same language…

Travelling in Portugal is ‘interesting’, often in the classic Chinese sense… 🙁 My Portuguese is up to reading the newspaper (well, at least gleaning the basics, such as an article on Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons, which is now supported by Portuguese law as of yesterday), but it’s barely up to extending a car-rental by phone, which is what I had to do this morning. I won’t be unfair and say the company’s name, but I would have expected that the Lisbon Airport office of an international car-rental company would know English. I never had to face this problem when I rented cars before; not even when I had to rent Ferrari in Dubai. But hey, we did manage to get it sorted out. Kind of. Eventually. 🙂

I’ll admit it’s kind of disappointing that it seems for most people here, my pronunciation is so poor that they find it much easier to understand me when I speak in English than Portuguese! But it does seem important to make the effort, not only because on occasion – such as this morning – it really is essential, but also a matter of respect. And because there’s no way to understand much of the nature of the culture other than through the language.

For example, just how much difference does it make that English (as a language) is almost completely un-gendered, whereas gender permeates all of Portuguese and other Latin-based languages? How much does that difference affect social and other roles? Also relationships between words: ‘casal’, a couple; ‘casamento’, a wedding; ‘casado’, married; all strongly linked to ‘casa’, a house – a commitment to place as much as to each other which survives in English as an archaic meaning of ‘husband’ as ‘house-bond-man’. Hmm…

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