I woke up this morning reveling in the knowledge that we now only have one full work week, two weekends, and a day on either side before we go home. The symmetry of that arrangement pleases me.

Later on, as I walked down to the gym, I looked on my adopted city with all the beneficence of a short-timer. It seemed no less foreign, but today the foreignness itself was much more manageable, knowing that soon I will be surrounded by nothing but familiarity.

All the same, this new halfway-home perspective also reveals my growing familiarity with my new world. The trainers at my gym now recognize my sweaty face enough to give me a smile and a nod, and a few of them even greet me by name. I recognize the homeless men on each side of the Avenida, and I know the ladies who run the nail salon and the bakery down the street. None of them know me, of course, but I know them well enough to recognize the people that make up my world, and to feel at home with them.

Yesterday was a fairly regular day — work in the morning, gym in the afternoon, then up the hill to my Portuguese lesson. Once again I was joined by my Greek friend, and we spent a productive 90 minutes loosely focused on a paragraph that my tutor made up and dictated to us as a test for our vocabulary and oral comprehension. Afterwards, she asked if it had been easy or hard, and I commented that I’d have a much better time understanding if everyone here spoke that slowly!

Sometime during our lesson, we started discussing tailors and the English word “sew.” I’d never realized that it’s a very difficult word for non-native English speakers to pronounce, because it looks like it should read “soo” instead of “so.” This led to a wonderful story from my tutor about a former job she had at a call center, where they took orders for products advertised on day-time TV — infomercial type stuff, all of it aimed at housewives busy doing their cleaning and laundry on a weekday afternoon.

They sold one product that was a hand-held sewing machine, called (in English) the “Sewing Wonder.” Of course no one could pronounce the name of the product, including the customers, so everyone referred to it as the “Sooing Wonder” (although I hope no pigs were harmed in the making of this infomercial.)

One day, my tutor answered a call from a lady wanting to order a “Stevie Wonder.” My tutor, trying not to laugh the whole while, took down this dear lady’s information and payment details, then assured her that indeed her Stevie Wonder would be with her in about two weeks. Apparently her boss, who had monitored the conversation, was none too pleased with this transaction — even as he couldn’t help but laughing. He admonished her, saying that no, we must say the name correctly: “Sooing Wonder.”

It’s good to know that amusing traps of language go both ways, and that I am not the only person committing hilarious linguistic blunders. Between nonfat mushrooms and sooing wonders, learning a new language provides non-stop entertainment for the whole family. In fact I’m tempted to start a band called “Sooing Wonder and the Nonfat Mushrooms.” What do you think? Will we make it big?

Luckily, I had a much better time of battling the language barrier when I went by my favorite fruiteria after class. I steeled myself and attempted my first public foray into the past tense, spending about a minute preparing a very simple sentence to tell the guy that the grapes he’d sold me last week were in fact excellent, as promised. Of course he didn’t remember having done so, and couldn’t understand my accent in the first place, so he rewarded me that blank “HUH?” look that I am growing so very used to receiving.

Flustered, I then tried to repeat my carefully constructed sentence, without much luck. He initially thought I was complaining about the grapes he’d sold me, so I hastily assured him that no, they were muitos boas, obrigada! By this point he was holding up a huge bunch of grapes to demonstrate that no, you crazy lady, they are just as good this week — and what could I do after all that but agree to buy them? Luckily they are indeed excellent, and we do go through a lot of grapes, since we’ve adopted the Portuguese habit of eating them after dinner.

As I was paying for my purchases, I apologized to the man for my lack of Portuguese. He told me not to worry, I speak very well, and Portuguese is easy to learn (ha!) He then did me the ultimate honor of asking if I was French, which I took as a huge compliment. Turns out I don’t walk around with a huge “Hi, I’m an American!” sign on my forehead. Amazing!

Much flattered and emboldened by my eventual conversational success (or at least the ability of my big blue eyes to overcome my inability to make myself understood), I went home, where Gabe had hot soup ready and waiting for my consumption. What a guy.

We ate quickly (and shockingly early) because we were heading out again shortly to go to our friend’s book signing — the pregnant half of the young Portuguese couple who came over for Thanksgiving last week. She has co-authored a history book about French kings and their lovers, which looks very exciting, but since it’s in Portuguese, I can’t really tell. I do know that one chapter title involved some king and his supposed homosexuality — sounds exciting to me! I also couldn’t understand either the lengthy questions the audience asked nor the authors’ answers (except the one that was in French), but it was a delight to see our friends and support her work nonetheless.

As we headed home, I said to Gabe, “Don’t look now [which immediately made him stop and look all around us — doh!], but I think we’re well on our way to making ourselves a nice little community here.” Lunch on Tuesday, movie on Wednesdsay, book signing last night, concert tonight, and then a slightly longer trip into the countryside this weekend… yes, I would say we’re doing pretty well on that front. Of course, because it’s just about time for us to leave! Isn’t that always the way?!

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