Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Smudge on my character
I have a skeleton in the closet and, after years of burying it, suddenly it's surfaced again. It's risen its terrible head because Lurch has started elementary portuguese evening classes.
In the 1980's I studied Hispanic Studies with subsidiary french at university. I could manage the french and spanish but I'm afraid that I began portugese in my second year, which was, coincidentally, one of the two most debauched years of my life. I had a new boyfriend and we used to go to a pub quiz every Sunday night. Monday morning 9.00am was my portuguese class. I think I made about 2 and after a term and a half I received a departmental warning and was told by my personal tutor that I wouldn't be able to go to Spain for my year abroad if I failed portuguese. I rallied and immediately bought all of my literature books in english and taught myself a code for translating portuguese to spanish to english. I only had to translate from portuguese to english and I managed to pass. I couldn't speak a word of it and my tutors were not impressed.
Cut to 5 years later and Colin, the european head of the global drinks company I worked for, had asked Human Remains to produce pamphlets on everybody to include 'skills they were too modest to mention'. After an attention-seeking entry of 'European' under nationality I also included portuguese in my language skills(hoping it wouldn't be noticed). 'My Favourite European Corporate Polyglot! Amazing! You are the only portuguese speaker in the company!' bellowed Colin at me. I tried to smile winningly and hoped he would forget but he was so proud of me, the European Corporate Polyglot.
I realised I had nothing to fear, nobody spoke portuguese so I basked in his admiration until the fateful day when he cantered towards me, waving a piece of paper, yelling 'The Brazilians are coming! I've prepared your itinerary, let's go through it this afternoon!'. I felt sick to the stomach, he had scheduled in 5 key brand presentations in portuguese, to be given by me, followed by a tour of London by helicopter, with me as translator, and a fabulous dinner to end the perfect day, with me as translator again. I had done the same with our French and Mexican distributors so there was no reason for him to presume I wouldn't be able to do it. My knees were shaking, I couldn't speak. Eventually I had no option but to tell my immediate boss, sobbing with worry and shame. She laughed her head off and rang Human Remains to explain my lack of expertise. They arranged for me to go on a residential 'Active Listening' course on the appropriate days and I got out of it. I have never been more ashamed or relieved in my life. Colin was bitterly disappointed and harangued HR but, saints that they were, they wouldn't budge.
So Lurch began his course. When he arrived home after the first lesson I shouted 'boa tarde' to him. He came into the bedroom with a quizzical look on his face 'I'm no expert but isn't it boa noite when it's dark?' he asked. 'Hmm, maybe' I grunted. 'I told our teacher that you had a portuguese degree by deception' he countered. I said nothing.