The rest of my time in Portimao was spent hanging out with a very funny English girl called Sam, and together we observed the peculiarities of this area. Sam was here attending a beginner’s course in the Portuguese language because her boyfriend was from Portugal. Together we unearthed The Portuguese Conspiracy Theory.
The Portuguese Conspiracy Theory
Between our experiences in Portimao Sam and I realised that there is a conspiracy going on in Portugal that is kept from all tourists. The fact that we discovered its existence and stupidly mentioned it to the guy who worked behind the counter in the hostel worried the locals and seriously jeopardised our safety, but it is important that we tell every non-Portuguese person before we are silenced.
The most obvious sign of the conspiracy is the Portuguese language. Although the written word looks very much like Spanish the spoken word actually sounds like a cross between Arabic and Nordic. In other words they make it up as they go along. When the locals speak amongst themselves they are actually speaking Spanish, but whenever a tourist is present they break into a language that does not actually exist. The Portuguese speak their made up language very loudly. It is quite common to see Portuguese shouting at each other, mostly at the counter in a supermarket, but when a tourist approaches they break into laughter, confusing the situation and making it look as though they were having a jolly conversation.
If you think Sam and I are just being paranoid then consider my trouble with learning the language from Mario. Sam, who frequented the “English Café” on a number of occasions, was often served by the same waiter. On her first visit she attempted Portuguese and the waiter responded in English. On her second visit she spoke in English to the same waiter and he didn’t understand a word of her. He responded in Portuguese. On the third day she spoke a mixture of Saudi Arabian and Danish and received a prompt, efficient service from the same waiter who seemed pleased that Sam could speak fluent Portuguese.
The so-called Portuguese language is actually made up of 5 words, all pronounced differently. One of these words is ‘Zar’, which may be pronounced as ‘Zar’, or ‘Za’, with a silent ‘r’, or ‘ar’, with a silent ‘z’, or ‘ ‘, with a silent ‘zar’. The Portuguese have clear geographic distinctions in the way these five words are pronounced. Mario, from the north, had met a girl from the Algarve and they spent a lot of time arguing over who was pronouncing Portuguese correctly. Mario said people from the south speak like ‘sissies’ (his words!), whilst the girl argued that Mario speaks as if he were mentally retarded. They both agreed that people from Lisbon speak with potatoes in their mouths.
Whether the Portuguese Conspiracy exists or not is yet to be proved, but it highlights just how difficult the Portuguese language is to learn. With guttural and nasal noises used to emphasise certain syllables Portuguese is surely one of the hardest languages to pick up.