It’s sort of the middle of Santiago tourist season, with people who want to see the farflung corners of the country traipsing around the nation’s capital, simultaneously asking themselves, how in the world did it get to be so late with the sun still so high in the sky (it gets dark after 9)?, and has anyone seen the moisture in my skin, it was here just a minute ago? That’s right, summertime in the southern hemisphere, with the little stands of mote con huesillo flourishing, with their homemade stools and benches made of rebar and wood or little seats upholstered in naugahyde. The poor naugas, I’ve always really felt for them.
As the middle of tourist season marches on, the number of Brazilians in Santiago goes from just notable to nearly astonishing. Brazilians are good travellers, for the most part, liking to get out and about, generally patient and adventurous at the same time. There’s also a smattering of really truly wealthy Paulistas (from Sao Paulo) who like to come and shop ’til they drop, on tour busses to the fanciest malls in the city, whereupon you will occasionally hear announcements over the loudspeaker urging people with Portuguese names to please hurry back to the bus because, ahem, it’s leaving. You can also find these same people enjoying seafood that is pricey here (like centolla, king crab and locos, similar to abalone) but which in Brazil is just off the charts expensive. You can find them in places like Donde Augusto in the mercado central, taking pictures of the gloved waiter (those centolla legs are sharp!) breaking their meal into bite-sized portions.
But what I like best about the Brazilians is listening to them talk. Spanish in Chile is kind of mild, kind of mumbled, almost unpronounced at times. But not Brazilians. Their Portuguese is well-enunciated. It comes out in short burts, punctuated with these great vowely slides that if you didn’t grow up saying them, will never come naturally. (trust me, I’ve tried)
A lot of Brazilians speak a decent amount of Spanish, and even more of them can muddle along in Portuñol, the bastard child between the two. Very occasionally you meet someone whose Spanish is completely uncontaminated by their Portuguese. But they’re hard to find. Mostly you find people who occasionally pepper their Spanish with a Portuguese word or three. And for the most part, it’s not a problem.
But one of the hardest habits to break for Brazilian Portuguese speakers trying their tongues at Spanish seems to be the word pegar. In Portuguese this can mean get, obtain, grab, pick up, take etc. It’s a great word. The only problem is that in Spanish, it means a couple of things, mainly hit, stick and get a contagious disease. Just today I heard a Brazillian woman in the supermarket saying she had to pegar some milk (in Portuguese). Got it, pick up, grab. But when I was in Bolivia I heard a family repeatedly ask the concierge at a hotel if someone would come and pegar (hit?) them at the hotel. And he stifled a stiff-lipped grin (because Bolivians are generally terribly polite), and assured them that yes, someone would definitely come and hit them at the hotel. Which only perpetuates the problem.
But it’s really engraçado. Which in Portuguese means funny, and in Spanish sounds like it means greased. Which is engraçado, too.