Translated by Emilia Liz Murphy
Last Saturday a Canadian friend called me asking for some advice about fixing his computer. The problem was very simple, and I resolved it within five minutes. I stayed at his house for a while, talking to him and his wife, and when I was leaving, they both said “Gracias, muchas gracias!”
Smiling, I responded in French.
This couple is very nice. He is a contractor (a person who works in civil construction, somewhat like a mason, but he is also a plumber and electrician). I don’t know what his wife does; I have never asked. I met them through a mutual friend.
When I met him, the first thing he said to me was “Hola cómo estás!” I then responded in French – or in English; I don’t remember – and at that time I said I didn’t speak Spanish, even though I have studied it. Then, as a good Brazilian, I explained that Brazil is the only country in the Americas whose official language is Portuguese, and I talked about a whole litany of things, historical matters, etcetera.
On the second, third, and fourth time we met, he again complimented me in Spanish, and I always responded in French. One day I even taught him the correct words in Portuguese, but it had no effect. This continued until at some point I started answering him in Spanish as well.
Last Saturday, the story repeated itself, but in a more humorous vein. We were at a party at house of a friend of my wife’s, and a guest, on noting that we were not Canadian, started speaking to us in Spanish. I responded in English, and he got a frightened look on his face, as if he had committed a gaffe. Then he asked me in English where we were from. When I responded that we were Brazilian, he said, “So, no Spanish?” I said, “No, we speak Portuguese.” From then on the conversation focused on Brazil.
These were not the only occasions in which a Canadian, Quebecois or not, spoke to me in Spanish, and it won’t be the last. In the end, they want to be nice and show their openness to people from other countries.
What the heck is South America; aren’t you a Mexican?
Be prepared to hear all kind of absurdities when you are there. The typical Canadian has no notion of history or geography the way we do – well, I’m speaking from experience and from the studies I’ve done. For many people, there is no difference between the Americas. For others, south of the Rio Grande there is only a vast and immense territory called… Mexico. I’ve been asked whether Brazil shares a border with Mexico.
Many people also believe that outside the Canada-US axis there are only Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, places where most Canadians spend their summer vacations.
In the end, be prepared. You will be surprised.
Does being Brazilian mean being Latin?
Every day that goes by I am more convinced that I am not the stereotypical Latin American. For various reasons, but mainly because I don’t speak Spanish and have no Spanish cultural roots. Culturally speaking, Brazil is very different from its South American neighbours and even more so from the Central American countries.
There were other influences, other mixtures that through the past 500 years have made us Brazilians a special people. For that alone, Brazil is so big that has the luxury of defining its own stereotypes (which is a good subject for another essay).
For this reason I will continue to say that I am Brazilian, not Latin.
Translator’s note: I want to first of all thank Pedro for contributing to Cynics Unlimited for the first time.
The article made me laugh, because I remember reading some time in a book by the world-famous Italian linguist Mario Pei that sometimes Brazilians got huffy when American tourists tried to speak to them in Spanish. They would say, “We’d rather speak English, thank you.”
More seriously, as a Canadian I can kind of empathize with Mr. Silva because as a Canadian I’m sometimes mistaken abroad for an American (that is, if I don’t have my little maple leaf pin on my purse). I’m always conscious of being “swallowed up” by the United States in terms of others’ perceptions of Canada.
My only bit of difference with Mr. Silva is that being part Italian, I suppose I think of “Latins” as anyone who speaks a language descended from Latin, which would include Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and even Romanian (even though Romania is a bit apart from this group because of their religious, cultural and historical differences from the other four).
Pedro’s Note : I do agree with your point of view, and in fact I have the same notion of definition of the word Latin. However, the word “latino” used in North America usually refers to people from Latin America (Spanish Latin America) and it translates to English as Latin as well. So when I used it on my text I was saying that I don’t feel like being a typical stereotyped Latin American. But yes, I’m Latin in the sense that my mother tongue is a Romance language.
Finally, read Pedro’s original article in Portuguese at http://www.pedrosilva.com.br/blog/iam-brazilian-for-gods-sake/.