As like many of the people who get involved with SPEAK, I am a foreigner to this country. I have now been living in Lisbon for just over a month, and as a English girl from a small town in the West Country, my experiences of living here have, of course, been quite different to back home.
Of course there are obvious differences; it is much hotter here than in Britain, which for Brits is amazing, but also a little heartbreaking when it is too hot for a comforting cup of tea when I get home. And then there’s the challenge of finding your way around a new city, a matter in which Google Maps has been my saviour. But one of the biggest things has to be the language barrier. I had been learning Portuguese for 2 years before I came here, and one of the main reasons I came was to improve. The need to communicate is something we are born with, so it is very disheartening when people cannot understand you, especially when you have been studying said language for some time. When I first arrived here, I hadn’t spoken Portuguese in a few months so I was a little rusty. It didn’t help that I am clearly British with my pale skin, accent and over-use of the words ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’, however it’s still a little soul destroying when I attempt to speak Portuguese and the recipient responds immediately in English.
Saying this, it makes the achievement of successful two-way communication SO much more satisfying and rewarding. A couple of weeks ago, on my way to work, a lady asked me for help to use a photo booth. I would say she was in her 50s, and she had tried to insert her money but the coins weren’t being accepted. I had never used this machine before, so after I had managed to work it out for myself, I had to explain to the lady, in Portuguese, why it was not accepting her money and help her to get it working. Although I felt bad rushing off to get to work on time, I left feeling very pleased with myself having understood what she needed and her actually being able to follow what I was saying in Portuguese. Note to foreigners: It does get easier, and the sense of achievement will give you a great confidence boost!
Other things I have noticed here are the interesting cultural differences. Just today I was walking to work and got whistled at by someone. Not that this doesn’t happen in the UK, but it’s not that common, plus it normally happens when walking past a building site, not just walking down a shopping street! This technique seems to be popular with waiters too. Not that they whistle you into their restaurants, but they will use compliments and flattery to entice you into choosing their restaurant, an amusing yet slightly unsettling practise which is not found in the UK. Also not common where I’m from; people approaching you in the streets and at tables of outdoor restaurants with hats and sunglasses, sometimes wearing as much of their merchandise as possible to demonstrate how great it can look. Not just because the need for these accessories in the UK is minimal, but I’m pretty sure you need some sort of license to sell like this, and approaching people who are sat down at restaurants is a definite no go.
Needless to say, whilst I am familiarising myself with this city and new customs, I think it will be a while before I can be mistaken for a true ‘lisboeta’. But to all my fellow foreigners, do not despair! Just bring on the pasteis and dive right into the new culture!