Finding Humor in a New Language

Winson Law - Brazil


March 12, 2012

In the ongoing adventure to gain proficiency in Portuguese, there are times when I have to make the universal face of confusion and times when I really get a kick out of learning. Below are three accounts of my daily, hilarious trek through the Portuguese language.

The Difference Between Puxe and Pull

Besides the obvious difference in language, puxe (pronounced PU-shee) in Portuguese holds the exact meaning as pull in English. Without getting into the intricacies of the numerous conjugations per verb in this Romance language, this form of “to pull” is used as a command. Unfortunately, since puxe sounds a lot like the opposite of pull in English, I tend to perform the wrong action. It’s no surprise that at the mall, I’m usually pushing on a door for five seconds before realizing that I need to actually pull. It’s also no surprise that when a laundry detergent that directs me to “puxe”, I tend to pry my fingernails into the cardboard instead of simply pulling open a little hole. Despite having spent five months in Brazil, I haven’t quite learned this difference yet. You can find me locked in a mental battle about whether or not to puxe or push the glass door in your local Brazilian shopping center.

What Does A Fish Do?

One Sunday after a usual meal of rice, beans meat, and salad, I sat down with my host dad, Gesse, and a newly acquainted relative to have a nice chat. Little did I know that I would encounter my first Portuguese pun.

A onde você trabalha?,” I decided to play it safe and asked where my relative works.

“Eu trabalha dois dias por semana na cadeia,” she replied by saying she works two days a week at a jail.

“Winson, ela faz o que a peixe faz, Gesse told me.

“Nada?” I responded, not knowing why he told me that she does what a fish does.

“Exactamente,” he replied with a smirk on his face.

Then my eyes brightened up and we all laughed. My relative does what a fish does, which in Portuguese can mean either swimming or nothing.

Except for My Daughter, Who Is in Canada

In the United States, consumers of popular culture create jokes made out of unintentional television mistakes. Fortunately, those in Brazil aren’t remiss to turn everyday people into celebrities. A few months ago, the owner of an apartment complex released a commercial to sell the wonders of his seaside homes. At the end of the segment, he is sitting down with his family, saying that everyone is back home enjoying the holiday season, menos Luíza que está no canadá (except for Luiza, who is in Canada). The nation, struck by the oddity and perplexed by the irrelevance of the mention of his daughter in a commercial for seaside apartments, decided to make this a national joke. My host brother uses the now well-known meme when talking about a friend who didn’t join his group of friends at the movies. Rede Globo, the national television station, actually brought back Luiza from Canada and put her on an afternoon newscast. So the next time Luiza isn’t at a family reunion, the entire country knows that she’s just in Canada.

Winson Law