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The momentous return!
After 5 glorious years living, working, falling in love and getting married in Belo Horizonte, Brazil ... in 1990 we came to live in England. But.. that particular reverse culture shock is not what this is about....
A year or so later, we decided to go back to Brazil for a holiday and to see family and friends. Now, while living in Brazil, I'd taken on and mastered Brazilian Portuguese - to such great effect that, when teaching private students English, I'd often had to produce my British passport at the outset as some sort of proof that I really was a true Brit! The problem was, even then - and in hindsight that probably should have been more of a clue than it was as far as this true tale goes - I just sounded 'like a Brazilian'.
So .. back to my current tale ... After a long and tiring flight, we landed in São Paulo and as ever the first port of call was the border police, the Polícia Federal who check passports and control who is coming into the country. My Brazilian wife goes quickly through the line for Brazilian passport holders - indeed, she's making her way to baggage reclaim while I'm still in the foreigners' queue, which, not untypically, is not moving very fast, to say the least.
When arguing with the Brazilian Federal Police was ... pretty pointless!
So, finally ... my turn comes around. I go up to the police officer at the desk and launch into my best local tongue, so to speak! I hand over my British passport, which of course I soon remember had actually been renewed by the British Consulate in Rio de Janeiro while I was living in Brazil. So the place of issue ..was Rio de Janeiro That proves to be frighteningly significant!
To my sudden horror, the first question I'm asked is 'where did you buy this passport?' I retort in my fluent Portuguese along the lines of 'What do you mean? I'm British'. 'No you're not. No British person speaks Portuguese like you do'. Are you beginning to see where this is inevitably going to go?! I then point to my place of birth - York - which I hasten to point out, trying not to sound either condescending or annoyed, is in England, where, I reiterate, I was born. That said, ipso facto, I have to be ... British. Bear in mind this whole conversation is happening in rapid Portuguese which of course, at this point, I can't suddenly 'switch off' .. unfortunately! And, clearly, the more I say in defence of my 'Britishness' in fluent Portuguese, the worse it gets.
Soon, I'm whisked away to the side while a superior police officer is called in. My passport is now handed over to him. He asks me where I'm from, to which I reply .. yes in fluent Portuguese .. that I'm from England, I'm married to a Brazilisn - who by this time is quite worried as to where I am and what is happening to me, by the way - and we now live in England but this is our first visit back to see family I also add the explanation as to how my British passport was issued in Rio de Janeiro. And .. he now wants to know how I got said passport. They leave me with a third colleague and go off to do who knows what. After what seems like an eternity, but is probably just a few minutes, they come back, look quizzically at me, not by any means for the first time, and thrust my passport back at me with a disgruntled 'Go on then'.
A minute later, I'm reunited with my panic-stricken long suffering wife, who by now is starting to pro-actively ask people where her lost husband is!
Grasping at ..lessons
There are at least (!) two key lessons I've learned from this experience. Firstly, you should choose very carefully when it's appropriate to sound like a native. And, secondly, whenever I'm trying to get back into Brazil .. I must always remember either to sound like a foreigner .. or just stick to English .. or, indeed, just say nothing at all! That last option can be tricky though if the police officer asks me a question. Then I'm back to 'bad Portuguese' or just English!
As a final note .. whatever else you think of this amusing anecdote .. do not let it put you off visiting the wonderful country of Brazil. Its people are amazing, its food is beyond delicious .. and there's just so much variety of scenery and people, you could easily make visiting Brazil your life's travel hobby!
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