I am walking down H Street in Chinatown, DC. There is a young couple (or at least a couple of young people) walking parallel to me, each pulling a suitcase on rollers. They are talking to each other in a totally unintelligible language.
I try to figure out what it could be. They are white; look like they could be from Nebraska. That allows me to potentially eliminate a large number of possibilities. They have light brown hair, and don’t look very Mediterranean; they clearly don’t look Middle Eastern.
The language doesn’t sound like a Romance language. I know it is not a Slavic language. Or a Scandinavian language. Is it Estonian, I wonder? Or Lithuanian? It’s not Hungarian.
So, I ask.
“Portuguese”, they say. Portuguese? There was nothing in it that sounded Romance (I already said that, I know). How could it be Portuguese.
It turns out that they are also fluent in English, without a trace of an accent. They look at my reaction when they told me that they were speaking Portuguese. The young man responded to my surprise:
“It’s a very difficult language, he said. Don’t even think about trying to learn it.”
Should I have been insulted that he thought that Portuguese was beyond my ability to learn? Or should I have felt good that he thought I was in the market to learn new languages?
Do I know any Portuguese at all? I know Janeiro = January. And Rio must mean ‘river’. Somehow I remember that good = bom.
It’s a start.