I watched a YouTube video yesterday about the French language, which turns out to vê useful for Portuguese too. She was taking about the use of the phrase bien fait. It literally means “well done” but although it is sometimes used to mean that as part of a larger sentence, when it’s used in its own, it doesn’t carry the same significance as it would of an English person said “Well done”. In other words, if you see a French person makes a heroic effort, saves a kitten from drowning, say, getting soaked in the process, bien fait is not the phrase you need.
The reason is that they use it to mean “serves you right” or “you got what you deserved”, so our heroic kitten-rescuer in the previous paragraph would think you were mocking her or saying she deserved to suffer through dampness because of being so reckless as to try and save a kitten.
So this morning I was reading Winepunk (a sci-fi short story compilation based on an alternative history of the Monarquia do Norte in the early twentieth century) and I came across this passage
“Among them, the engineer sees scores of war-wounded, still in uniform. [Bem Feita] for signing up in the hope of an ephemeral moment of glory”
It’s pretty obvious from. The context that “bem feita” here means the same thing as bien fait: “It serves them right”. He thinks the war wounded deserved to be injured for signing up to the army in pursuit of glory.
Acabo de passar uma semana em França. Adorei mas havia um problema: Ainda que falasse francês muito bem quando era novo, muitos séculos vieram e passaram desde aquela época. Os meus livros vetustos empoeiraram e o meu cérebro enfraqueceu e endoideceu. Ainda por cima, tinha passado anos a ler, falar, escrever e ouvir em português. Por isso, cada vez que falava, palavras portuguesas a cairam da minha boca. juntamente com as francesas. O resultado: uma espécie de “Françugês”.
“Bonjour SENHORA” eu disse. “Je voudrais UM bouteille d’eau E UM café POR FA… hum, DESCUL… pardon… S’il vous plait”
Mas o que mais me interessou foi o efeito de quando regressei à minha terra: receei estar igualmente confuso quando voltasse a falar português mas não houve nenhum problema: nem sequer estava enferrujado: era como se fosse uma semana a praticar português. Ao que parece, os circuitos linguísticos do meu cérebro receberam um treino em francês que aumentou a minha competência em português!
Well, I think this is the longest gap between blog posts for quite some time now. I have been wibbling about doing other things, busy with work and actually took a whole week off portuguese to brush up on my french for a family holiday. It was sort of a strange experience. On the one hand, I was surprised by the experience of accessing the francophone bits of my brain. I’ve forgotten a lot in the 34 years since my O’Level of course, but I used to be pretty good at it back in the day, and the language has pretty deep roots in my head, such that I’ve always been able to hold my own in conversations I’ve had as an adult. But to continue the deep roots metaphor, the whole plant has been buried under a thick mulch of portuguese vocabulary. I had to read a couple of comic books to reawaken it, and even then I’d find portuguese would just tumble out of my mouth at every excuse. I consistently said “et” like the portuguese “e” and standards like “merci”, “pardon” and “oui” would all just give way to their portuguese equivalents even if I was a few sentences deep into a conversation. Words that are similar between the two like “fácil” and “facile” got a bit blurry too.
What was weirder still, though, was that the day after I got back, I had a portuguese lesson after having not spoken, read, heard, or written a word of portuguese for about 8 or 9 days. Normally if I have a delay like that I find I’m really rusty and can’t get a word out, but it actually flowed pretty well, and I can only conclude that whatever mental equipment I use for producing portuguese was getting a good workout from producing the bizarre Françuguês I was bellowing at the longsuffering garçons of Nantes.