Language Fail – Episode 2: The time my colleague asked me for condoms at 2pm during work…

I know what you are thinking, these language fail stories always seem to be sexual. I’m not a pervert, I swear.

I work for a Brazilian company. Brazilians supposedly speak Portuguese. However sometimes I have no idea what I’m being told as Brazilian slang is almost undecipherable to a proper Portuguese person, let a alone the son of an immigrant. I mean I have a hard enough time understanding slang from Portugal as it is (see previous post), so Brazilian slang is simply beyond me, so much so that my first two months in Abu Dhabi I was constantly teased without actually realising it.

There is a constant battle between Portuguese and Brazilians on what is the correct way of saying things, however sometimes, like in South Africa, things are often called by its brand and not by its real name, as I found out the hard way with the following exchange…

[Fabio walks into my office after lunch]
Fabio: Tonito, do you have a durex for me?
Tonito: What?! Why?
Fabio: I need some.
Tony: Now?!?!
Fabio:  Yes. Just give me some durex.
Tony: Where did you have lunch for you to need durex now?!?! [Maybe he found a girl while at lunch]
Fabio: At the college, but what does that have to do with anything? [The college next door was all male]
Tony: Right, Fabio, point to me on my desk what is Durex…
Fabio: [points at sticky tape] This!!
Tonito: Ummm… That’s sticky tape… Durex are condoms.
Fabio: Stupid Portuguese!
Tonito: How the hell are we the stupid ones??

He wanted sticky tape, which they call durex in Brazil due to a brand of sticky tape. I thought he wanted a condom, as everywhere else durex is a condom brand. I found out later that this was obviously a common exchange between Brazilian and Europeans and Americans. There is even an example in our office in Portugal, where a Portuguese secretary was very offended with her Brazilian boss when he asked for durex, that she threatened to report him for indecent behaviour.

A common mistake?

Lesson: Never get offended straight away and always ask exactly what they want!

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