October 25, 2012 | Portuguese

Study a Language, Reduce Blood Pressure

Learning a language minimizes life irritation.

This morning I walked across Central Park to a doctor’s appointment. Fall is clearly here. The park was crowded with tourists speaking languages other than English and leaves were dropping to the ground.

Strawberry Fields, Central Park

Strawberry Fields, Central Park

I listened to Spanish Pimsleur lessons all the way through the park (yes, I admit it; I was cheating on Portuguese) and into the doctor’s waiting room. After a brief interruption to check in, I sat down in the waiting room and resumed listening to Spanish.

About 10 seconds later, a man near me who was perhaps in late middle age answered his loudly ringing cell phone and began speaking in a loud cell-phone voice, with no awareness of the people in the room.

Normally a person talking loudly on a cell phone in a confined space with no escape would make me angry. It might make me walk over and ask him to take it outside. It was probably annoying other patients, but instead of increasing my blood pressure, it made me happy.

That’s because with the first word that came out of his mouth, I realized he was speaking Portuguese.

Even better, it was Brazilian Portuguese, which is what I’ve been studying.

I planned my attack for when he got off his cell phone. Unfortunately, the doctor’s office foiled my plans by producing an assistant to whisk him away to an inner office—still talking on his cell phone, incidentally, which under normal circumstances I find irritating and rude, but which today I just used as an excuse for eavesdropping.

My doctor was running really late. About an hour, I’d say. Normally this, too, would be an irritant, but my Spanish lessons were like superpowers. Anti-irritants! The lifestyle equivalent of antioxidants.

I would say a healthy percentage of life irritation is connected to waiting for stuff when you want to be somewhere else. It becomes irrelevant if you feel you are in, say, Mexico. Or Brazil. Or in some other world, as long as it is one where you are getting something fun and/or useful done.

I was still waiting in the waiting room when the Portuguese-speaking-man rematerialized post-appointment. As he was heading toward the exit, I waylaid him and asked him in Portuguese if he was Brazilian.

He was!

72nd Street Transverse, a Colorful Version

72nd Street Transverse, a Colorful Version

We had a little chat in Portuguese. It was cute. Towards the end of our mini-chat he asked me what city I was going to. I didn’t understand the question. This was in part because my Portuguese just hasn’t gotten that great, and partly because he made an incorrect assumption that a trip to Brazil was imminent. Which I’ve noticed is a common type of assumption when people see me studying. For some people it’s not really conceivable that you would bother to learn a language unless you are going to a country where everyone speaks it.

Anyway, we said a friendly goodbye, I and the waiting-room-cell-phone-talking man. Instead of hating him for annoying me, I liked him for talking to me in Portuguese.

About 20 minutes later, I was dressed up like an unstylish angel in a white paper gown with giant shoulders, waiting in an exam room for the doctor, when an assistant knocked on the door and walked in. She handed me a slip of paper on which she had written “Time Warner, 512, Golbo or Globo.”

She told me that the Brazilian man had called the office from his cell phone and asked them to tell the woman who had been speaking Portuguese with him that Time Warner Cable had a channel, 512, for Brazilians that I should watch. She said she had had trouble understanding what he was saying for the name of the channel (it is in fact Globo). She appeared to find it charming that he had followed up.

I also found it charming that she had followed up.

Who says New Yorkers aren’t nice? 

Comments (1)

Charles • Posted on Sun, November 18, 2012 - 11:10 pm EST

I’ve always found New Yorkers friendly and willing to talk.  But, I’ve also never met a rude Parisian.

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