Getting Lost In Translation: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Needless to say, this fiasco had worked up quite an appetite; we came across a Sub Way and not having had Western fast-food for what seemed like forever, we dived in. Thankfully, I managed to bumble through the order thanks to the salad names being written on the glass counter, unfortunately, however, paying didn’t prove to be quite so simple…

The girl at the counter spun me a huge reel of Portuguese, and when I didn’t understand her, she simply said the same thing three more times, her volume getting louder every time. On the third go, the sandwich maker turned to stare at us, at which point she threw up her hands, ripped the 20 real note from my hand and muttered “Ingles!” – I was left to shamefully pluck my sandwich from the counter, my face as red as the meatballs inside, and slink off in silence, vowing to buy a Portuguese phrasebook at the earliest opportunity!

Unfortunately, as the day progressed, our Portuguese sadly did not, and we continually found ourselves becoming unstuck. The worst situation was when we tried to purchase a SIM card and credit for our mobile phones. The girl at our hostel reception advised us to buy it from the street newsagents just around the corner. We found the shop, and we managed to communicate what we wanted by pulling our phones apart and pointing at the SIM card. However, the question of whether the SIM card was loaded with credit was totally lost in translation, and there were no amount of hand gestures that could communicate what we meant.

Back at the hostel, the receptionist helped Tom register his SIM card, but for some reason, mine wasn’t working and she advised us to go back to the Newsagents to exchange it. I explained to her that we’d never be able to communicate what we meant, so she pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down what we wanted in Portuguese and sent us off with our note back to the shop. After reading the note, the shop owner finally exchanged the SIM… Needless to say, the day’s expeditions had definitely made me realise how much English speaking people take it for granted that so many people around the world speak our language!

In the afternoon, we decided to head to Sao Paulo park. We flagged down the local bus and when the driver didn’t so much as even look at us when we got on, we realised he wasn’t expecting payment, and so we were pretty happy that we’d bunked a free ride! We eventually realised that we were in a section of the bus that didn’t let passengers out, only on… in a panic that our stop was coming up, we wildly looked around us and finally saw a revolving metal gate towards the back of the bus and to the left sat a cashier! We payed 3 Reals each, and finally made it the correct part of the bus!

“Oh my goodness, we can’t even figure out how to get the bus!” I exclaimed as the incriminating vehicle pulled away emitting a great big puff of black smoke, as if in agreement with me! Sao Paulo Park was beautiful; the large rippling lake was set amongst emerald grass and trees, backed by a spectacular city scape – Sao Paulo’s vast array of skyscrapers tickled the clear blue sky.


The park was full of fitness fanatics – rollerbladers, skaters, joggers and walkers! As the afternoon wore on, Tom worried that it was soon going to get dark and we didn’t want to get lost in the pitch black on our first night. Luckily, the bus back was as smooth ride, and when we got back to our hostel I decided to head to the café next door for a quick beer. However, after sitting with my menu for half an hour and being ignored by the waiters, I decided enough was enough and vacated.

Later that evening I ventured back to the café with Tom to prove to him how diabolical the service was. As we were seated I was informed that pushing the big red button in the middle of the table meant “service…” It was the perfect ending to a day where I had been totally lost in translation!