Fruit and language barriers

Fruit, and language: two things in Brazil that are very different in the U.S.

As I’ve been exploring the city, I’ve had the opportunity to eat out frequently. It’s actually more of a necessity because I’m out of the house for around 14 hours a day. Brazilian food is much more different than I thought it would be. Some things are better, some are worse (not that many). But fruit, fruit is incredible here. On my list of things to do/see/accomplish is to taste all the unique fruits in Brazil, most of which come from the Amazon.

There are some pretty strange fruits here, but yesterday I stuck with a familiar one – my favorite: the mango. Like I said, not everything is better here, but mango certainly is. So much more sweet, rich, and less costly as well. A full mango is about four reais (R$4), equivalent to $1.67 USD right now. My friends’ host mom, Tanya cut up two of them for us. The pieces melt in your mouth. We found ourselves scraping the rest of the fruit off the skin with our teeth. They were that good.

So mangoes are great here. I was also asked by Tanya which other fruits I like. I’m still dealing with a bit of a language barrier, so I did my best to describe some of my favorites. Bananas, açaí (to be written about), laranjas (oranges). I had no trouble listing these – they’re cognates, which means they sound the same in Portuguese as they do in English. But I also tried to tell her that I liked coconuts. Coconuts are a very popular fruit down here, so her restrained laughter wasn’t directed at my fruit preferences, but there are two words which are spelled almost identically, but are pronounced with a slightly different accent. I used them interchangeably, because I couldn’t remember which was which. One is coco, the word for coconut. The other is cocô, pronounced with emphasis on the second instead of the first. That word literally translates to shit. I actually didn’t realize it until later, and have since stopped asking for cocô in my fruit smoothies. Tanya was gracious in understanding what I meant to say and saved correction for another time.

This is the first of (I’m certain) a long list of embarrassing mistranslations I’ll have here. But I’ve got this one down pat. So, for those of you who may come to Brazil, just make sure you use the right word when you want a refreshing coconut water at the beach. I think everyone understands what you mean, but you’ll save yourself some embarrassment by getting it right the first time.


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