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.





20 comments:

Sharon said...

I never went to uni but am amused to find out how some people managed to wangle their degrees!

Lindsay said...

I think you had better join Lurch at the evening classes?

KittyB said...

Hmmm, a few bells ringing, I did French and Spanish with int'l bus studies, pretty debauched time too, got kicked out. Oh dear. I have no degree at all. Can speak French fine, but have forgotten most Spanish, and have no business knowledge, international or otherwise. WHat a waste!

Mud in the City said...

Brilliant. I always thought Portuguese sounded more like Russian than Spanish as well. V weird!

Mean Mom said...

You taught yourself a code to translate portuguese to spanish to english? Surely you deserved the degree just for that? Sounds like genius to me!

Your immediate boss was a star, when you explained what you had done. Colin put the pressure on, when he asked for those pamphlets, didn't he? Bet you weren't the only one to invent something.

Expat mum said...

Oh what a tangled web we weave....

blogthatmama said...

It's a disgrace, Sharon, that's what it is! Yes Lindsay I should be going to those lessons with Lurch but I've got to babysit. I'll be posting on my portuguese progress soon.

KittyB, it's never too late, when I set up my international jewellery business with a twist I'll know where to come...

Thanks for the visit Mud in the City, enjoyed your blog.

Mean Mom, funny thing is the code's coming back to me when I talk to Lurch - my boss was and is a brilliant woman, I ended up working for her for 10 years in two different companies and we are still friends now. I think Colin meant well!

Expat Mum it was a very good lesson to me - I still have a recurring nightmare (seriously) about being recalled to do my portuguese finals!

Casdok said...

A great story and a good reminder not to do things like this - which i am sure we are all giulty!!

cheshire wife said...

It would have been better to have stayed modest!

Stinking Billy said...

Thoroughly enjoyable!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Some of the most narcissitic but sucessful people tell a porkie pie here and there to big themselves up - it usually ends in them being found out but they make shed loads of money in the process!

Mae said...

An amazing story.

Grit said...

omg... i covered up for years that i speak no italian whatsoever. a third of my degree was in italian medieval literature.

i think i might have just confessed. bugger.

Lori ann said...

Haha! i would have been sobbing too, I do not like predictiments, yet somehow I always seem to get myself into them. Perhaps your husband can teach you?
xx

Mean Mom said...

There's an award at my place and a tag, if you fancy it.

Angela said...

The good thing in Hamburg is that there is a huge Portuguese community, and you always find someone who speaks both, Portuguese and ...oh, German, yes. But Portuguese anyway. And actually, it IS so much like Spanish, at least the written part. And certainly easier to learn than Xitswa (the other language my Mozambique children speak). I like your blog! Carry on!

The Dotterel said...

It's interesting, but the people I know who are most fluent in a foreign language have almost always never studied it! Do you think there's some connection?

French Fancy said...

I've tagged you, lady.

Excellent entry, by the way, but I expect nothing less.

cheshire wife said...

Sorry, I have tagged you as well. Perhaps it would have been better to be modest after all.

Milla said...

oh Gawd that's the sort of thing I do. I boasted of Italian on the back of a bored couple of lessons at school. Got caught. Hustled into a closed office for privacy and hissed "parle inglesi?" desperately. Shamingly, of course, even the telephonist could speak English so I sort of got away with it. Portuguese though, not easy.